I’m sure at some point in the history of the hot rod, it was a radical concept to eschew the fine craftsmanship that went into the best rods and purposefully make something kinda raw and unkempt. The “rat rod” was born. (Being a rat-rodder probably made you a bad-ass, and allowed you to sport the du jour “bad guy” facial hair arrangement.)
But today? Try a search on eBay for “rat rod” and you’ll come up with almost as many results as listings for actual hot rods–that’s not exactly being an outsider.
Why so many rat rods? My take on it, having looked at a few: when you only get halfway through a project and quickly throw the rest together to sell it, or realize your car is so ugly that flat black paint can only improve it, or your workmanship is so bad that no amount of shiny bolt-ons can hide it, you simply pull out the “rat rod” label and all your problems are solved! Likewise, if you’ve got a hunk of scrap iron in the vague shape of a car, well, it couldn’t be much effort to make it into a rat rod, so that tag line gets added to the advert. I saw a fine original 1929 Packard (a project, to be sure) advertised as a potential rat rod just a couple weeks back. I mean, c’mon.
To me, it smells like giving up. I may not be the most talented restorer out there, but I try my best to have high standards–why put in the effort otherwise, on restoration or anything else? (Indeed, when I was single, any woman quizzed about my abilities after a night of infernal pleasures at Chez Rusty would think for a bit and finally say with a sigh, “well, he tried his best…”) To start a project aiming for mediocrity is sad.
I bet the original we’re-making-a-statement-dammit rat-rodders resemble Chief Iron Eyes Cody when they look over a drive-in filled with the modern descendents of their movement.