Rat rod is a modern name for a certain style of car that
resembles the original hot rod style of the early 1950's.
Like with many cultural terms, many people dispute the origin of
the term "rat rod." Some say it first appeared in an article
written in Hot Rod Magazine by Gray Baskerville about cars that
still sported a coat of primer, or "suede" in hot rod slang.
Some claim that the first rat rod was owned by artist Robert
Williams who had a '32 Ford roadster that was painted in
However, it is documented on the Hokey Ass Message Board
(HAMB) that the first vehicles called "rat rods" were built by the
Low Flyers Hot Rod Club in the UK in the 1980s. This pre-dates
Robert Williams' claim that he built the first one.
What's In A
Regardless of when "rat rod" was first
coined, some owners of this type of hot rod wear the
term like a badge of honor.
Many other rat rodders do not consider their cars rat rods. The
term is considered derogatory to many traditional hot rod builders.
Comparing yesterday's shiny hot rods to today's primed, lower and
more radically designed hot rods, new fans of hot
rods use the term "rat rod" to describe these elemental
What Do Rat Rods Look
Rat rods are sort of an evolution of the jalopy - a
dilapidated antique car that appears uncared for or
neglected. Based on the same idea, bodywork of a rat rod
is made to look dilapidated, or even completely derelict, whilst
the underpinnings - engine, transmission and braking systems - are
How Are Rat Rods
"Bare to the
Many of the non-critical parts are often removed. Rat
rods are usually finished in primer-like paints and are often
correct for the period. Very often, rat rods are
conglomerations of parts and pieces from several different cars of
varying makes and models.
A typical rat rod is an early 1930s through 1950s coupe or
roadster with the body set low on the frame. Remove fenders, add
whitewall tires, big-little tire combos, expose the engine bay,
install home-made upholstery, add lots of power ... and you have a
As compared to a street rod, which may be custom designed
and built, a rat rod is a home-built, low-budget, unique
custom vehicle that has many superficial flaws and
imperfections. Rat rod owners typically enjoy and drive
Some rat rods are built using the same parts and methods
available to the early hot rodders of the late 1950's and 60's.
Just as early hot rodders strived to build their own cars to the
best of their ability, today's rat rodders also prefer to do so.
Emphasis is on functionality, not flash.
Use of billet parts is frowned upon. Original, vintage
parts are preferred, as are original, less common
Rat rods are often powered by flatheads, straight sixes,
straight fours and other relatively uncommon engines such as those
made by Cadillac and Studebaker. The Oldsmobile Rocket 88 is a
popular choice as well.