Hot rodders, since the beginning of car customizing, have modified their cars to impress others while pretending they are doing it without concern for how it will be received, B.S.
Look at how trends change over the years within the same type of cars (say pre-war street rods), the cars don't change but the trends do. What was cool in the 70's was outdated and lame in the 80's, those billet bolt-on street rods looked stupid a few years later, who paints 1940's cars pastel colors? Pro-street muscle cars became yesterday and pro-touring became the new cool.
The same thing happens with all groups of cars popular for customizing.
We are all a bunch of trend-following, fashion-concerned, follow the crowd sheep.
So how is it different today?
People try to impress strangers on the internet rather than strangers at the cruise scene. Not too different really.