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Rat Rods 


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 primer.

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 Word?

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 cars.

What Do Rat Rods Look Like?Classic Rat Rod at Louisville Nationals

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 sometimes upgraded.

How Are Rat Rods Built?

    "Bare to the bone..." 

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 rat rod!

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 them often.  

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 engines. 

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.

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