Most racing games focus on modern cars, formula one races, and other exotic vehicles, but very few games are about racing old cars.
Released in 1989, Street Rod is based on a concept conceived by Magic Partners and developed by the Polish game developers P.Z. Karen Co. with help from Logical Design Works, and published by California Dreams (a publishing label of LDW). The game has a unique style and gameplay than most racing games at the time.
The game is set in 1963, and you play as a teenager at the begging of summer break. With some money in your pocket, and the passion for racing, you decide to become the coolest kid in town and beat “The King”, so you can become the king. The catch is that you have until the end of the summer to achieve all of this.
The strongest part of the game is its presentation. The graphics, atmosphere, the slang, look and feel are managed to create a nice 60s feel. There are even a few references to the 60s in the newspaper’s top stories. You start with a budget of 750$ and you purchase a car from the ad in the newspapers. Street Rod features Hot Rod and early American Muscle Cars, and you can choose from Ford, Chrysler, and GM. In addition to purchasing the car, you can also buy car parts. Once you have your car ready, you can head to town and start racing.
Once you arrive at Bob’s Drive In’s you can check out your opponents and choose the type of race you want to play. You can choose between a drag race or a road race, all with their own options. For instance, drag race only lasts for around 3/4 of a mile, and you can wager such as: “just for kicks” (no wager), and 10$ and 50$ wagers. The Road races last for a couple of miles, with several turns and obstacles on the road. Road races also have different wagers such as wagers form 25$ to 100$ and “pink slips” (ownership papers, you get the opponents car). When you are making a wager, in case your opponent refuses your initial offer, you can make another (or the same) offer. If they don’t accept your wager, just wait until another opponent arrives.
When the opponent shows, up you can check his engine (by clicking on the hood), to see what you are up against. If you want to race a specific opponent, you need to click on a guy leaning on the post, choose the opponent and they will show up immediately.
Before you can challenge “The King”, you must first have a good car and high enough popularity.
After the opponent accepts your wager, the race starts. The game shifts to a first-person view, with the very detailed interior of your car. Due to technical limitations, the interiors are the same for all cars. The gameplay is easy and fun to use, but the game uses an unusual control scheme. You can choose to play using a keyboard, a mouse or a joystick, but the keyboard layout is different from other racing games. If you play using the keyboard, all of the driving controls are on the numeric keypad. Fortunately, they are easy enough to use, but it may require some time to get used to it. One of the most important aspects while racing your opponents is bumping them. While this may seem unusual for a racing game at the time, this is actually a viable tactic in the game and if you don’t do it, your opponents certainly will. The best use of this tactic is at the start of the race and once you get ahead of your opponent, it’s best to keep them centered in your rearview mirror to prevent them from overtaking.
Several things can happen during the race, and make you lose your wager. This includes crashing your car, getting stopped by the police, the engine will blow out or your transmission will fall off.
Crashing your car during the race will make you lose your wager, and you can have your car repaired for a fee or sold for scraps. Another common thing that can happen during the race is having your engine blow out, or having your transmission fall off. The engine can blow out if you rev up the engine to the max while in neutral, and the transmission can fall off if you accelerated too much while changing gears. These can be easily avoided, as all you need to do is let off the gas, while you’re switching gears.
If the police show up during the race, you can choose to pull over or try to outrun them. If you pull over immediately you will get a smaller ticket (20$), but if you keep going you will get a larger ticket (75$). You can also outrun them, but this is very difficult to achieve and if you don’t have the money to pay for the ticket, it’s game over.
Street Rod unlike the most racing games at the time, gives you the option of customizing and tuning your car. You can customize or tune almost everything on your car, ranging from engine, engine manifold, carburetor, transmission, tires, removing and replacing bumpers, chopping the roof off and colors and stickers. The general rule about parts is the more expansive they are the better they are, but certain parts won’t fit with the other parts (for example you can only put a GM engine on a Chevy). Once you purchase the new part, you must first remove the old one, and tighten the bolts yourself.
You can also tune the engine, but due to the mistake in the manual, you must line up the pointer with the timing mark, to achieve the best effect. Your engine will gradually go out of tune, so you must check the engine after several races.
Transmissions in the game come in three types: 3 speed, 4 speed and automatic. You cannot tune the transmission, only replace them when the old one breaks down.
The game also lets you chop the roof or remove the bumpers, but this is purely decorative and if you want popularity points. Removing the roof takes several days, and removing the bumpers makes you more vulnerable during the race. Probably one of the most important parts, are the tires, and racing slicks give you the most control over your car.
You also have the option of selling your car or parts. One of the best things is that you can haggle, and if you sell your car for the price you requested, it is probably the best to reload and try a higher price.
Like previously mentioned the game tracks your popularity. While there is no way to see in the game, the game will track the number of races that you won, the money you have and how good is your car. The game also tracks minor details such as: did you pump your own gas or did you let the attendant do it (for twice the price, but is a cool thing to do), do you have a cool paint and a sticker, etc.
Once you are popular enough, you can challenge “The King”. The race against him is difficult and will test your skill.
Street Rod was developed for MS-DOS, Amiga and Commodore 64. The MS-DOS version is available in several graphic modes: CGA, EGA, VGA, Tandy and Hercules available in 320×200 resolution (expect the Hercules), and ranging from 2 to 16 colors. The MS-DOS version apparently doesn’t support any sound cards, and only PC Speaker is available.
Amiga version is the best looking and sounding one, but it plays pretty much the same as the MS-DOS and Commodore versions.
Street Rod also received an expansion pack named “Car Data Disk” and it replaces the original cars. The data disk gives you 25 new cars to drive, but you cannot race Street Rod original cars against Data disk cars.
Street Rod was a success, and one of the most profitable games for California Dreams. The game received a sequel in 1991, called Street Rod 2. For the most part, the sequel plays in the same way as the first one, but the game is set in 1969 and features American Muscle Cars and new features and races.
In December 2012, MK Consultancy, a company from the Netherlands acquired the rights to Street Rod and released it as freeware in 2014. Both games are available on their website, with Street Rod SE an updated version of the game which includes all of the cars for the Car Data Disk, and it was also released as freeware.
Street Rod is certainly a unique and original game for its time, and there aren’t many games that let you race old cars. One of the best games that the game does is conveying the feeling and atmosphere of the 1960s. The game isn’t very long, and it may take you around an hour or two to finish. Street Rod, even got a spiritual successor in 2014, in a form of a decent racing game called Motorama: Classic Racing, and if you like old cars give it a try.
So, if you like racing games and old cars, or are looking for good freeware, give this classic a try.