A Mostly British Obsession

Car Jingo That Bugs Me, Chapter 1

Rat Rod
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.


  1. chuck goolsbee

    There are a couple of genuine Rat Rods that show up for the impromptu car shows at the Burger King in Arlington. One is an old Volvo… one of those rounded nose, bulbous rear things that was built in the 50s or 60s but looked as if it leapt… no, that’s the wrong word… stumbled off a drafting table from 1936. Don’t know the model, but I’m sure you get the gist. Anyway, it is flat black, with a detroit V6 crammed into it, cheesy nose to tail and genuinely looks… well, ratty.

    The other is an 80s Chrysler K car (i think) that is ratted almost beyond recognition. It is painted in a black & white (and primer) pseudo police livery, with a cheesy spoiler and a patina of ugly so thick that the underlying car is unrecognizable. It is however, loud, and no doubt brings grins to the faces of its occupants.

    To me that is the essence of rat, take a turd and give it an F-ing loud and perhaps even fast drivetrain, then grin like a simian as you hang out with the shiny cars.


  2. Roger

    Chuck, those are genuine rat cars, for sure. But the stuff I’m blathering about is the typical stuff seen on eBay–stuff that is really an attempt at building a hot rod, but falls short in execution and appearance.


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