Engine dress up parts are like the proverbial chicken or the egg question. Did the shiny new pieces come about to enhance a stock engine? After all, pioneer hot rodders weren’t able to go to their local car part shop and pick up chrome goodies. Or did the parts evolve with the advent of modified engines, as if to show off the outside of an engine that was modified on the inside?
And then there’s a third question. Did the evolution of race engines spawn new pieces that have as much form as function? Pieces such as taller valve covers to fit over stud girdles. With such pieces, a race look was added to the growing list of styles.
We may never find a definitive answer to these questions but we know that dress up parts today do indeed help sell an engine. The breakdown is dress up parts are used in varying degrees and for varying reasons.
One way is to dress up a stock engine to look anything but. Another is to clearly showcase an engine that has been “worked on” to look the part. The third is to make an engine look like it has received extensive modifications by wearing the appropriate race-caliber or “serious” parts. Another alternative, however rare, is to take a complete U-turn and make a modified engine look bone stock – the engine version of the sleeper car. All in all, dress up parts comprise a kind of circle, encompassing the engine, its owner and builder.
Let’s break into this circle with the parts themselves and those who manufacture them by asking two simple but very loaded questions: “Why chrome and dress-up goodies? Do we really need them?”
According to Bill Pasco of Mr. Gasket, the answer is a definitive affirmative: “Yes! Or there would be no car shows. The Goodguys National car shows register thousands of members each year who bring their cars to shows all over the USA. They come to the events to display their version of ‘Beauty and Luster.’ Goodguys also brings in thousands of walk-in attendees in the form of car enthusiasts, engine builders, racers, performance people, restoration specialists and parts peddlers. They come to see that all that glitters is gold and/or chrome plated.”
So the demand is high, Pasco says, hitting another point. “Summit, JEGS, JC Whitney, Speedway Motors, Autozone, NAPA, Keystone, Advance Auto and many more sell an enormous amount of chrome parts and dress up kits. They sell them each and every year to all sorts of customers, both new and old. There is no shortage of fans.”
One look in the catalogs of the two biggest mail order and catalog sales giants seems to prove Pasco right. Summit and JEGS’ devotion to dress up parts account for well over ten solid catalog pages. Still more can be easily found in related categories such as air, cooling, fuel, hardware, ignition, plumbing and even transmissions.
Those are other prime areas to exploit as engine dress up pieces spread out from the engine to include hoses, pumps, brackets, radiators, remote assemblies, filters, transmission coolers and dipsticks and so much more. It clearly defies the lines between race cars and street cars and that’s a good thing.
Race cars use dress up parts to enhance an already modified motor. Pasco says it’s part of a drag racing tradition that has not escaped the attention of companies like his. “We find that most customers think looks are just as important as speed because after you beat a guy in a drag race, you pop the hood. You want to show him what just beat him and how good looking it is under there.”
Those cars and trucks that dance the line between race and show agree. Pasco says, “When you open the hood of a parked car, the looks are every bit as important as the engine’s performance. In fact, most people find the looks are even more important than the overall performance.”