“Hot Rod Lincoln” was recorded in 1955 as an answer song to “Hot Rod Race“, a 1951 hit for Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys. Hot Rod Race tells the story of a late-model Ford and Mercury who end up racing along the highway, neither driver gaining an advantage, and staying “neck and neck” until they are both overtaken (to their amazement) by a kid in “a hopped-up Model A”.
“Hot Rod Lincoln” was written by Charlie Ryan, who had also recorded a version of “Hot Rod Race“, and W. S. Stevenson. It begins with a direct reference to Shibley’s earlier ballad, stating “You heard the story of the hot rod race that fatal day, when the Ford and the Mercury went out to play. Well, this is the inside story and I’m here to say, I’m the kid that was a-drivin’ that Model A.”
Ryan owned a real hot rod that was built from a 1948 12-cylinder Lincoln chassis shortened two feet and with a 1930 Ford Model A body fitted to it. Thus the song explains how in “Hot Rod Race” a kid in a Model A could have outrun late-model Ford and Mercury sedans. Ryan actually raced his hot rod against a Cadillac sedan driven by a friend in Lewiston, Idaho, driving up the Spiral Highway (former U.S. 95) to the top of Lewiston Hill. His song, however, keeps the same location as “Hot Rod Race“, namely Grapevine Hill, which is an old-time local southern California nickname for the long, nearly straight grade up Grapevine Canyon to Tejon Pass, near the town of Gorman, California, between Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
The first release of “Hot Rod Lincoln”, in 1955, was recorded by co-writer Ryan, recording as Charlie Ryan and The Livingston Brothers. Ryan’s 1959 version, on 4 Star, as Charlie Ryan and The Timberline Riders, is probably better known.
Hot Rod Race” is a Western swing song about an automobile race out of San Pedro, California, between a Ford and a Mercury. Released in November 1950, it broke the ground for a series of hot rod songs recorded for the car culture of the 1950s and 60s. With its hard driving boogie woogie beat, it is sometimes named one of the first rock and roll songs.
Written by George Wilson, it became a major hit for Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys (Gilt-Edge 5021), staying on the charts for 7 weeks, peaking at #5 in 1951. Trying to repeat his success, Shibley recorded at least four follow-up songs.
Shibley’s record may have climbed higher and outpaced any of the others, but his second verse opened up with:
- Now along about the middle of the night
- We were ripping along like white folks might.
Eastern radio stations, never a fan of Western swing anyway, refused to play it.
Dolan changed the verse to say “plain folks”; Hill to “rich folks”; and Foley to “poor folks”.
The song ends with:
- When it flew by us, I turned the other way.
- The guy in Mercury had nothing to say,
- For it was a kid, in a hopped-up Model A.
These lyics set the stage for an “answer song” called “Hot Rod Lincoln“, first recorded in 1955.
and here are a few more songs for you to rev up your engines…
Herman, Hermy-Hey Hot Rod
Bobby Paige-Little Hot Rod
Bruce MacDonald-Drag Race Mama