Keg gas tanks. Beer tap shifters. And aircraft cockpit front seats. Armed with imagination and ingenuity, a community of car builders have created their own sub-culture, Rat Rods, slowly becoming more mainstream, and more ingenious.
The Rat Rod’s origins are inconclusive. Its definition, indefinable. Although several try, no one can rightly take credit for initiating the movement. And no one can agree who created the first vehicle. These points are commonly in dispute and have been thoroughly debated across the internet. But there’s one point where everyone agrees. The Rat Rod is a vehicle of resourcefulness, artistry and originality.
The homemade, hand-built Rat Rod is cobbled together with old parts, traded, swapped, scavenged and scrounged from junkyards, scrapheaps and swap meets. The result is flawed perfection, a customized car inspired by the hot rods of the 40s and 50s, with influences from punk and rockabilly culture. Throughout the country, approximately 30,000-40,000 Rat Rodders unite in their common goal, whether it’s creating a new breed of hot rod, or a defiant statement of self-expression.
Some say Rat Rod, a term possibly coined in the mid-80s by an auto-industry journalist, was born as a counter-response to the high cost of custom. With good ol’ American inventiveness, a welder’s torch, fabricated or found parts, and an antique car frame, the Rat Rod is off and running. Unlike a classic restoration project, the parts aren’t pristine. The paint job, if you can call it that, is half-complete at best, often done with spray paint, and may even appear unfinished. The builders choose to have primer and rust showing through. It adds character, authenticity, and further emphasizes the incorrectness of it all. The car is pieced together in a mix-and-match fashion with no strict loyalty to make, model or year. It’s an intentionally inaccurate representation of the original. If it fits, it sits.
While each is wildly different from the next, there’s some commonality to the Rat Rod. Many have an outrageously over-lowered and shortened body, chopped roof, flat paint, hammered-out dents and rust. In fact, rust is so much of a Rat Rod hallmark, there are websites devoted to achieving an authentic, rusty red patina, or preserving existing rust. Some go by the creed “Rust is a Must.” Others subscribe to the motto “In Rust We Trust.”
Is a Rat Rod street legal? It can be. And if it’s not, that only adds to the nonconformity, lawless, rebellion that goes along with unwritten club rules.
On a cloudy spring day in central Washington, Rat Rod builders from across the state gathered together on a small town street to share and shoot the breeze…
1929 Ford 2-Door Rat
1931 Model A Ford
1938 Chevy Rat Rod Truck
1946 Chevy Pickup
1927 Ford T-Bucket
1940 Ford Pickup
1936 Cord Westchester
1967 Piper Cherokee
1941 Chevy Pickup
1929 Ford T-Bucket