Hot Rod Lincoln
"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 San Pedro, 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.
The 1972 release by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen went to #9 on the Billboard charts and #7 in Canada. Cody's version opens with the spoken lines, "My Pappy said: Son, you're going to drive me to drinkin' if you don't stop drivin' that hot rod Lincoln." Cody's version also uses a slightly different guitar riff at the beginning, and adopts parts of Johnny Bond's version, including the reference to eight cylinders. Cody's version is largely true to the original with changes that most people don't notice. However, the first line "You've heard the story of the hot rod race when the Fords and the Lincolns were setting the pace ..." completely misses telling the listener that this song is the story of the kid and his Model A that outran the fellows in the late-model Ford and Mercury in the earlier song, Hot Rod Race.
Arkie Shibley, who recorded a series of Hot Rod Race songs, died in 1975. Charlie Ryan died in Spokane, Washington, on February 16, 2008, at age 92. He was a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
The actual "hot rod Lincoln" was auctioned off at the 2013 Barrett Jackson Auto Auction.
Many different versions exist, with the words slightly altered by each new group.
George Thorogood and the Destoyers covered the song, referencing Fords and Lincolns (as opposed to Fords and Mercurys) and a V-8 engine instead of a V12.
Roger Miller also recorded the song, with a few words changed.
In his live show, Bill Kirchen (original guitarist on the Commander Cody recording of "Hot Rod Lincoln") performs an extended version of the song in which he inserts a series of short guitar solos in the styles of many famous rock, blues, power pop, punk, and country guitarists.
Lawrence Ramsay released a version of "Hot Rod Lincoln" in March 2010, on the album Blowin' Cash, featuring the guitar works of Dauwynn Cyncore.
Nashville based R&B, Surf, Swing, Sci-Fi guitar player Chris Casello covers Hot Rod Lincoln on his debut album Chris Casello Trio. The version is complete with guitar based sound effects like cows, seagulls, police cars, hippies and more.
- Rockabilly Hall of Fame — Documents the history of the song through dozens of covers, including lyrics.
- www.rockabilly.nl — Short article about Arkie Shibley and his difficulties in releasing "Hot Rod Race".
- www.hot-rod-lincoln.com — The official site of Charlie Ryan