"It's like the haircut has been waiting, all this time, to reclaim you for its own"
I was a Mod and she was a Rockabilly. She was my first love. She was cool, and really into getting her look just right. She was into vintage clothes way before the word “vintage” became a marketing term.
Because of her, I developed an interest in Rockabilly, and its crazy cousin Psychobilly, championed by the band The Meteors. I even went as far as having a Flat Top (cut by the great Andreas Sallas) but just couldn’t adopt the whole look. I still couldn’t, which is a shame, because I love Hot Rods and the Rockabilly culture that surrounds them. It’s just cool; in fact, the generation that originally created the look also invented the concept of cool.
Being a petrolhead, I love car films like Two Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti; I buy rare film memorabilia from fellow obsessive Andy Inglis, who also deals in his primary obsession of Cadillacs. American Graffiti features a “piss yella” Ford ’32 5 window coupe driven by the character John Milner, which makes me obsess about owning a Hot Rod every time I watch the film.
Some years ago I was lucky enough to be chatting to Ian Callum, and I knew for a fact that he had built a ’32 Coupe with a Ford performance small-block engine. However, out of all the cars in his collection that he discussed, he didn’t mention the coupe. Maybe he didn't want to admit his obsession with Hot Rods? So, I asked. His love for it was instantly obvious: he told me all about the build, and how he loved to drive her. So, if the man who has designed some of the most beautiful cars in the world loves Hot Rods, it can’t be too bad an obsession to have..
The latest generation of builders are creating amazing looking vehicles: the cars appear period-perfect, and the builders have gone to extreme lengths to ensure they’ve got the correct block and carb set-up, even down to the stickers. I spotted an ad on a specialist site the other day, in which the builder claimed to have used WW2 airplane fuel line clamps to dress the motor; that’s dedication to the “look”.
To get the look period-perfect, a whole industry has sprung up to give Hot Rodders what they need. In the new/old world of Rods, the cars are not trailer queens, they’re actually used: their owners drive them to and from events, and in the US, out to the Bonneville Salt Flats to race. Meets often happen at a local Mall car park really early, before the neighbourhood has woken up; and by the time the first shopper arrives, the Rods have trundled home.
The obsession for period-perfect rides and clothes has been enthusiastically embraced in the UK, with weekends like Hemsby and the Vintage Hot Rod Associations racing event on the famous Pendine sands. Hot Rods, and their meticulously dressed owners, always feature at The Goodwood Revival too, and are often captured on film by Nick Clements, the fashion and lifestyle photographer who documents the stylishly attired at the event. Nick is a fellow obsessive, and allowed The Obsessive to use these great shots.
The Rod culture is rich and vibrant, and has grown into a complete way of life for some, with its own music, art, clothes, tattoos, and a healthy interest in burlesque.
Whilst writing this article, I wondered if Andreas Sallas was still cutting his signature Flat Top: the small, corner-shop barber's is still there. I plucked up the courage and went to see him, finding him just shutting up to head home for lunch. He said he couldn’t cut Flat Tops anymore because he gets a pain in his arm. I told him that he used to cut mine and most of my friends' hair when we were kids. He sighed, told me he’d take some painkillers after his lunch, and that I should come back a little later.
Thirty years had passed since I first sat in Andreas's chair, and climbing back in felt strange, yet familiar.
For a 70 year old man, he moves around the head with speed and grace. Every movement he makes has precise purpose; no effort is wasted. The haircut quickly takes shape. Then, with a steady hand and keen eye, he refines the cut until I have a spirit level-like Flat Top.
He’s not a man of many words, but I could tell he was enjoying cutting my hair. He told me that people would come from all over the UK to get his Flat Top, and there would be hoards of bikers parked outside, waiting to get into his tiny barber's. No more than 20 minutes later, I’m staring at a much older me, with my old haircut: my personal nostalgia.
So, now I’ve got the Flat Top, I just need the Hot Rod.