Car show

Rat Rods


According to Wikipedia, (I know, not the best source), a Rat Rod is a style of Hot Rod or custom car that, in most cases, imitates, (or exaggerates) the early Hot Rods of the 1940’s through early 1960’s. I happen to think this definition is pretty accurate.


Now some feel that a Rat Rod is earlier and can originate from parts all the way back to the early teens, while others feel that if you don’t paint a car and add a lot of patina (rust), it is a Rat Rod. Most, however, agree that a true Rat Rod is something you build, outside of the conventional box. Maybe it is a truck, or a car, but in its entirety, it is yours. The very idea is that your imagination runs the build.


I have been fortunate to talk with several builders who have chosen to build Rat’s, instead of going to the expense of building a Street Rod or Hot Rod. Some of these builds have been magnificent works of art that had massive engines and scary interiors. These cars have been amazing, no matter what they were called. The engineering has been over the top and the creativity has been immense. I have always found it refreshing to see what someone will come up with next.


Rat’s were originally a way a guy could build a car without spending too much on it. He would borrow parts from different cars, sometimes creating his own with a torch, grinder and welder. Paint was optional, as it wasn’t important to making the car run, or go faster.  Sometimes, he would just remove the “extra” stuff that wasn’t needed to make it fast, often using those parts, in selling or trading, to get what he needed, or he would scour junk yards and swap meets, often using the age old bartering system to get the correct parts for his build.

Simple was the idea, a frame and running gear, a good transmission and fast engine, then build around it. What a concept. Make it go fast, everything else is optional.


Some of the first I ever saw were painted with primer, or a flat paint. Black and gray seemed the colors of choice, but, tractor colors ranked right up there. Sometimes, they would have rust in areas or a rusty “bleed through” in the paint, making it look weathered, or adding patina.

Art deco seemed to be a major choice, as well. Logos, or signs, for the doors, trunks or hoods. Using old metal signs, or license plates, to fix a floor board, or to “patch” an area. These seemed to be some of the best works of art.  Of course, skulls seem to find their way onto a lot of Rat Rod’s, as lights, gearshift knobs, air cleaners, etc.


Generally, it seemed that original “steel wheels” were the wheel of choice, painted the same as the car, or left rusty. Sometimes even painted a bright color. Large white walls seemed very attractive and added a lot to the look, especially if the car was dropped to the ground.

I think one of my favorite things about the Rat Rod is what attracts me to most Hot rods and Street Rods. The engine. Yep, the beast that makes it go fast and loud. Often, you can get a great view of the entire engine, as the bay is purposefully left open. The engine generally has been rebuilt, the parts cleaned, but when it is installed, you don’t find chrome, or parts that look nice and clean, you find muscle and meat, you find an engine that isn’t afraid to roar.

All images were taken from Google. These are not mine.

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