A rat rod is a personal statement.


These stripped-down hot rods have a bad-ass vibe that is a fundamental part of the philosophy behind them.


Rat rods are designed specifically to be rough around the edges and they do not include any amenities that would make the journey comfortable in any way, shape or form.




Clearly, a rat rod is all kinds of cool with a buckboard ride. There will be no comfortable lumbar-friendly custom leather seat in a rat rod to cushion the blow of the primitive, unforgiving suspension; in fact there may not even be padding on the seat.


At their very essence, rat rods are a couple of metal seats welded onto a car or truck frame from the 1920s or 30s.


Sure, a few guys have attempted to severely stretch the definition of rat rod to include any vehicle (from any era) with a primer or well-worn paint job, but they have missed the point-by a mile.




A slammed 70s or 80s-era sedan in primer paint is not a rat rod. These cars retain the comfortable engineering provided by Detroit, even in wanna-be rat rod paint schemes, and have no kinship with the real rat rods.


A real rat rod has the look and feel of a stripped-down version of a pre-war vehicle because they were built in the Roaring 20s and Dirty 30s, a time when vehicles had barely evolved from the workhorse Model T.




Realistically, a rat rod will have a few options to add some flair to the overall look, but none of them will be creature comforts. Instead they will be bling items like skull-shaped shifter knobs, along with grenades and bullets to dress up the old chariot with added charm.


There will likely be plenty of open air in the rat rod because many of them have open roofs and/or no weather-stripping improvements from the original rubber. The wind noise in a rat rod is a minor issue, in view of their minimalist exhaust systems.


A rattie will likely have an upgrade to V-8 power in the engine and the choices typically range from small block to big block to flathead, in the best tradition of post-war hot-rodders whose pioneer efforts in the minimalist hot rod philosophy drives their 21st century rat rod disciples.




Rat rods attract plenty of attention at car shows because they are a personal statement by their owners and sometimes the statement is a pretty wild one.


We follow the crowds at shows to get stories that attract attention and rat rods are a good source. Their owners are a mixed bag of ages that range from 20-something to 60-something and they share one common denominator: they love their ratties.




What they don’t love is any long distance trip in their stripped-down buggies because in their purest form-complete with metal bomber seats- these babies are not built for human beings.


They will crush your spinal cord and probably your soul if you are foolish enough to drive them on a cross-country tour.




Getting there is none of the fun when it comes to rat rods, but be prepared to enjoy life as a car show rock star once you do get there in a rat rod.


Jim Sutherland

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