Hot Rod Lincoln

Released 1955
Format 7-inch 45 rpm single
Label Souvenir (SOUV-101)
Writer(s) Charlie Ryan

“Hot Rod Lincoln” is a song by American singer-songwriter Charlie Ryan, first released in 1955. It was written as an answer song to Arkie Shibley’s 1951 hit “Hot Rod Race” which describes a race in San Pedro, Los Angeles between two hot rod cars, a Ford and a Mercury, which stay neck-and-neck until both are overtaken by “a kid in a hopped-up Model A”. “Hot Rod Lincoln” is sung from the perspective of this third driver, whose own hot rod is a Ford Model A body with a Lincoln-Zephyr V12 engine, overdrive, a four-barrel carburetor, 4:11 gear ratio, and safety tubes.

Ryan’s original rockabilly version of the song was released in 1955 through Souvenir Records under the artist name Charley Ryan and the Livingston Bros. A second version was released in 1959 through Four Star Records, credited to Charlie Ryan and the Timberline Riders. Ryan based the description of the eponymous car on his own hot rod, built from a 1948 12-cylinder Lincoln chassis shortened two feet, with a 1930 Ford Model A body fitted to it.

Ryan raced his hot rod against a Cadillac sedan driven by a friend in Lewiston, Idaho, driving up the Spiral Highway (former U.S. Route 95 in Idaho) to the top of Lewiston Hill; he incorporated elements from this race in his lyrics to “Hot Rod Lincoln”, but changed the setting to Grapevine Hill (a long, nearly straight grade up Grapevine Canyon to Tejon Pass, near the town of Gorman, California) to fit it within the narrative of “Hot Rod Race”.

A cover version of “Hot Rod Lincoln” was recorded by country musician Johnny Bond and released in 1960 through Republic Records, with Bond’s lyrics changing the hot rod’s engine from a V12 to a V8. Bond released a sequel in the same year called “X-15”, set in 1997, about an air race in an X-15 plane.

Another cover version, by country rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen on their 1971 album Lost in the Ozone, became the most successful version of “Hot Rod Lincoln,” reaching No. 9 on the Billboard charts, No. 7 in Canada, and being ranked No. 69 on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1972.

Other cover versions

In addition to Johnny Bond and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, many other artists have recorded cover versions of “Hot Rod Lincoln” in the decades since its original release, including:

Pat Travers, on Pat Travers (1976)
Asleep at the Wheel, on Western Standard Time (1988); this version reached no. 65 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs
All, on Allroy’s Revenge (1989)
Jim Varney, on The Beverly Hillbillies soundtrack (1993)
Les Claypool, on Crank It Up (2002)
Lawrence Ramsay, on Blowin’ Cash (2010)
Chris Casello, on Chris Casello Trio (2013)
Bill Kirchen (Lead guitar in Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen) on “Hot Rod Lincoln Live.” (1997)