What Are Rat Rods and Why Do People Hate Them?
Aptly-named rat rods are, well, ratty. Could there be any other name? Maybe septic speeders, rolling wrecks, or tetanus traps? Whatever, the genre of rat rod has been around for decades. It is a sub-genre of classic hot rodding, anointed as such in the late-1980s. Many enthusiasts love them, but maybe more don’t. So why do people hate them so much?
What better? Restored or rat rods?
From some car lovers’ perspective, there’s nothing better than a fully restored 1959 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, or a 356 Porsche Speedster from the late 1950s. Or how about a Boss 429 Mustang or Plymouth Road Runner? One thing these classic cars all have in common when seen at shows, is they’re shiny, almost perfect examples of autodom’s finest.
So, with that as most enthusiasts’ premier, seeing a rusty hulk with a bulging engine and no creature comforts is the opposite. That’s understandable, but you have to see it from the rat rodder’s point of view. He or she has different priorities when building a rat rod.
For them, it is partly being outrageous and tacky, and having fun driving their contraptions. There is also an economic priority in many cases. These DIY cars are built on the cheap. That’s why you see so many that started life as sedans or pickup truck cabs. They’re plentiful, which makes them cheap to build.
Why aren’t rat rods built like hot rods used to be?
Since the 1950s, hot rods have slowly improved in every aspect of the hobby. From technology to paint, fit and finish, they are in many cases better than Concours restorations. In fact, there are Concours shows for some of the memorable rods of the 1940s and 1950s at places like Pebble Beach.
But with the spike in quality comes expense. Unless you can do everything, and do it on par with the professionals. And no one can. Eventually, you have to seek professionals for upholstery or paint, and probably chrome plating.
And then there is the time factor. None of these projects are quick. Some take decades to complete or go through several hands before finally getting completed. Life happens, and if a baby is on the way or a house payment is due, working on that 1940 Ford coupe takes a back seat. Pretty soon it has been sitting in the garage for 14 years.
What they want, like, and can afford
Rat rodders want something fun, simple, easy to build, and cheap. It is an entirely different mindset. Most builders are younger. They don’t care about a $40,000 paint job or $25,000 interior, and wouldn’t want to spend that much if they did. What they really want is to take the basic concept of a big engine, an old car, exaggerated looks, and blow off some steam.
It’s in-your-face fun with torches, gasoline, and sticking a big, loud V8 between your legs. And do it in a car that looks far from complete, but is done to the builder. There is nothing more to come, except for oil, gas, and thrills. No right or wrong engine, finished welds, or even any upholstery.
So it is two completely opposite ways of looking at an old car project. Neither is right or wrong because you’re building what you want, and in some cases, learning how to move up the skill ladder. It’s the difference between Pablo Picasso and Leonardo de Vinci. They’re both artists, and both have their following, but we doubt the two groups appreciate the other’s take on it.