What is a "Rat Rod?" It is typically a coupe or roadster and can also be a truck or sedan derived from the period that stretches from the 1920s through the late-1950s. The vehicles of the era were often minus fenders, hoods, running boards and bumpers. The bodies were exquisite pieces of channeled and sectioned; the roofs were chopped.
The "Rat Rod" first came to prominence when it was apparent that a new sub-culture had caught hot rod fever. This rebellious sect of car lovers turned their back on the over-priced customs and built vehicles that were a throwback to a more classic period. While the regulars scoffed at the upstarts for their derisive style and approach, these rodders instilled freshness in the hot rod world.
Over the years, the two distinct camps of rod enthusiasts have taken a stand. One group with their influx of money has continued to buy vintage cars and have them built according to personal taste and specifications. For the most part, these classics are not meant to be ever driven, but to be put on display for show. The other group of rodders have built their muscle cars and ripped down the road at full speed impressing one and all.
A further division of the two groups is found in the type of style that each one supports. The traditional car owner have their hot rods or custom cars re-created to accuracy or period-corrected restoration to connect to a car of some specific era. A rat rod imitates and sometimes exaggerates the early rods of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s with customized editions.
The Origin Of The Term Rat Rod
Some trace the name back to an article in the 1972 December issue of Rod & Custom Magazine that featured a vehicle affectionately termed the "beater." It was the poor man's version of the slick, customized models featuring primer (no paint), cut corners on upholstery and a severe drought of chrome and polish.
Another version is derived from the rat bikes that were assembled like Frankenstein machines much like the first hot rods were put together in Southern California to race on the salt flats. It wasn't a long jump to go from rat bike to rat rod in order to give the "beater" a different name.
What Does A Rat Rod Look Like?
Aside from the lack of paint, cheap upholstery and no chrome or shine what else does a rat rod possess? The chassis are usually taken from the frames of older trucks and light trucks because they are easier to convert. Another advantage is taking a part from a wreck is cheaper and it is very apparent that most owners of rat rods are lower income enthusiasts.
The rough finish that includes a lack of proper glossy paint features rust, blemishes and bullet holes, which make the rat rod an instant centerpiece of conversation. No matter how much money an owner possesses or spends, the ultimate goal is to have others talk about his or her car. The attention is relished.
In order to continue and match the degenerate look of the interior, the exterior is sparsely furnished with bomber seats and Mexican blankets. It is a far cry from the rich, plush interiors of those classic car owners who spare no expense. However, despite the rag-like look, rat rodders are as boastful of their machines as are those with much more expensive vehicles.
The Rat Rod has gained prominence in every corner of the hot rod building world. Many enthusiasts have adopted the simplistic form not so much as a means of being rebels, but because they are easy to build and one is allowed to add many different types of personal touches. It is this ability to customize a car on a totally individual basis that is the magnet that entices so many.
What are some of these individual markings? One of the major one is the finish of the car. The lack of paint allows the owner to create whatever his or her imagination can conjure. This includes stripes, designs like skulls or crossbones, personal numbers or insignia and everything under the sun.
Some creators have left the rat rod without any paint except for one specific line or dot in order to complete the totally personal invention. These people have taken the basic concept of building and owning a hot rod, which is fun into a different dimension.
The upholstery is also another point of creation that allows the individual to go a little crazy and wild. There are patterns of zebra material or the imitation of some other animal, different types of comfortable seats including lazy boy chairs, as well as other tastes that would never be found in a classic car that is strictly for show.
The Rat Rod is here to stay. There is a strong camaraderie of proud owners who feel that the throwback style is more humble than the polished, expensive classic cars, but just as important in their own way. In a world where everything gets more expensive many hot rod enthusiasts are forced to cut corners and build machines that can rip down the road without looking pretty.