Rat rod

Rat rod

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A rat rod is a style of hot rod
Hot rod
Hot rods are typically American cars with large engines modified for linear speed. The origin of the term "hot rod" is unclear. One explanation is that the term is a contraction of "hot roadster," meaning a roadster that was modified for speed. Another possible origin includes modifications to or...

 or custom car
Custom car
A custom car is a passenger vehicle that has been modified in either of the following two ways. First, a custom car may be altered to improve its performance, often by altering or replacing the engine and transmission. Second, a custom car may be a personal "styling" statement, making the car look...

 that, in most cases, imitates (or exaggerates) the early hot rods of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. It is not to be confused with the somewhat closely related "traditional" hot rod, which is an accurate re-creation or period-correct restoration of a hot rod from the same era.

Most rat rods appear "unfinished" (whether they actually are or not), with just the bare essentials to be driven.

The rat rod is the visualization of the idea of function over form. Rat rods are meant to be driven, not shown off. Sometimes the customization will include using spare parts, or parts from another car altogether.

Definition


Originally a counter-reaction to the high priced "customs" and typical hot rods, many of which seldom were driven, the rat rod's beginning was a throwback to the hot rods of the earlier days of hot-rodding, built to the best of the owner's abilities and meant to be driven. Rat rods are meant to loosely imitate in form and function the "traditional" hot rods of the era. Biker
Motorcycling
Motorcycling is the act of riding a motorcycle. A variety of subcultures and lifestyles have been built up around motorcycling.-Benefits:Robert M. Pirsig's book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a paean celebrating motorcycling...

, greaser, rockabilly
Rockabilly
Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music, dating to the early 1950s.The term rockabilly is a portmanteau of rock and hillbilly, the latter a reference to the country music that contributed strongly to the style's development...

, and punk
Punk subculture
The punk subculture includes a diverse array of ideologies, and forms of expression, including fashion, visual art, dance, literature, and film, which grew out of punk rock.-History:...

 cultures are often credited as influences that shaped rat rodding.

The typical rat rod is a late 1920s through late 1950s coupe
Coupé
A coupé or coupe is a closed car body style , the precise definition of which varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, and over time...

 or roadster
Roadster
A roadster is a two-seat open car with emphasis on sporty handling and without a fixed roof or side weather protection. Strictly speaking a roadster with wind-up windows is a convertible but as true roadsters are no longer made the distinction is now irrelevant...

. Early (pre-World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

) vehicles often have their fenders, hoods, running boards, and bumpers removed. The bodies are frequently channeled over the frame, and sectioned, or the roofs chopped for a lower profile. Later post-war vehicles are rarely constructed without fenders and are often customized in the fashion of Kustom
Kustom (cars)
Kustoms are modified cars from the 1930s to the early 1960s, done in the customizing styles of that time period. The usage of a "K" for "Kustom" rather than a "C", is believed to have originated with George Barris.-Styling:...

s, leadsleds, and lowrider
Lowrider
]A lowrider is a style of car originated by Chicano communities that sits lower to the ground than most other cars. Many lowriders have their suspension systems modified so that their ride can change height at the flip of a switch...

s. Maltese crosses, skulls, and other accessories are often added. Chopped tops, shaved trim, grills, tail lights, and other miscellaneous body parts are swapped between makes and models. Most, if not all, of the work and engineering is done by the owner of the vehicle.

Recently, the term "rat rod" (or rat car, as modern cars are not actually hot rods like the name suggests) has been used to describe almost any vehicle that appears unfinished or is built simply to be driven.

Chassis


Frames from older cars or light trucks are sometimes preferred for the chassis
Chassis
A chassis consists of an internal framework that supports a man-made object. It is analogous to an animal's skeleton. An example of a chassis is the underpart of a motor vehicle, consisting of the frame with the wheels and machinery.- Vehicles :In the case of vehicles, the term chassis means the...

, because they provide a sturdy base for subsequent alterations. Older cars in poor condition are often advertised as candidates for rat rod conversions. In some cases the owner will design and build the frame themselves. In other cases, a "Rat Rodder" may use a small pick-up chassis such as an Chevy S-10 and place an older car body on it, to get the look of the classic, with the reliability of the modern vehicle.

Paint and finish


Almost by definition, rat rods appear unfinished, with primer-only paint jobs at most. Satin or matte black and other flat colors are also common. Other finishes may include “natural patina
Patina
Patina is a tarnish that forms on the surface of bronze and similar metals ; a sheen on wooden furniture produced by age, wear, and polishing; or any such acquired change of a surface through age and exposure...

” (the original paint with rust, blemishes, and sometimes bullet holes left intact), a patchwork of original paint and primer, or bare metal with no finish at all in rusty or oiled varieties, honoring the anti-restoration slogan that "it's only original once". Many rat rods also have free hand pinstriping done by the owners with a pinstriping brush
Pinstriping brush
Pinstriping Brush is the tool of traditional free hand pinstripers use for pin striping. Freehand pinstriping is the most difficult method of pinstriping and the brush is an important tool for design. Pinstriping brushes have several different designs, Swords, Daggers, and Flats, as well as...

. Contrary to tastes of many car builders, rust is often acceptable and appreciated by a rat rodder.

Interior


Interiors of rat rods vary from fully finished to a spartan, bare bones form. Mexican blankets and bomber seats form the basis of many rat rod interiors. Most are designed to be functional without many comforts although this will vary with the owner’s taste.

Drive train


Though a variety of engines may be used, the most common to be found in a rat rod are flathead V8's, early Chrysler Hemi engine
Chrysler Hemi engine
The Chrysler Hemi engine, known by the trademark Hemi, is a series of V8 engines built by Chrysler with a hemispherical combustion chamber. Three different types of Hemi engines have been built by Chrysler for automobiles: the first from 1951–1958, the second from 1964–1971, and the third...

s, or more modern small block V8's from any manufacturer, especially Chevrolet
Chevrolet
Chevrolet , also known as Chevy , is a brand of vehicle produced by General Motors Company . Founded by Louis Chevrolet and ousted GM founder William C. Durant on November 3, 1911, General Motors acquired Chevrolet in 1918...

. It is not uncommon to see straight-8
Straight-8
The straight-eight engine or inline-eight engine is an eight-cylinder internal combustion engine with all eight cylinders mounted in a straight line along the crankcase...

s straight-6
Straight-6
The straight-six engine or inline-six engine is a six-cylinder internal combustion engine with all six cylinders mounted in a straight line along the crankcase...

s, straight-4
Straight-4
The inline-four engine or straight-four engine is an internal combustion engine with all four cylinders mounted in a straight line, or plane along the crankcase. The single bank of cylinders may be oriented in either a vertical or an inclined plane with all the pistons driving a common crankshaft....

 and V6s. These engines may exhibit varying displacements and modifications. Diesel engines are occasionally seen as well. These engines are rarely fitted with emission controls, as they were not manufactured originally with them or are not required under special licence.

Most rat rods are rear wheel drive, with an open driveline. The rear-ends are typically passenger vehicle pieces, as are the transmissions
Transmission (mechanics)
A machine consists of a power source and a power transmission system, which provides controlled application of the power. Merriam-Webster defines transmission as: an assembly of parts including the speed-changing gears and the propeller shaft by which the power is transmitted from an engine to a...

. The Ford Banjo rear-end is popular, as is the "Quickchange" type as used in many early hot rods.

Suspension


A beam axle
Beam axle
A beam axle is a suspension system, also called a solid axle, in which one set of wheels is connected laterally by a single beam or shaft...

 is commonly accepted as the only type of front suspension that will look right when exposed without fenders on a vehicle with open front suspension. Independent front suspension is discouraged, and most rat rods use a 1928-1948 Ford I-beam axle with a transverse leaf spring. Although any solid axle is acceptable, the Ford axle is preferred due to the availability of spare parts.

Springs vary from transverse, parallel and coil
Coil spring
A Coil spring, also known as a helical spring, is a mechanical device, which is typically used to store energy and subsequently release it, to absorb shock, or to maintain a force between contacting surfaces...

 setups in the front and rear. Parallel is not seen as frequently as the more common single-spring transverse setup, though both are used commonly. Coil springs are often deemed unsightly without fenders, but are still occasionally seen. Rat rods also will often have airbag suspension, which allows the driver to raise and lower the car, a useful feature giving the extremely low ground clearance of many rat rods..

In many cases the front suspension is mounted well forward of the radiator. This may be derived from a similar practice in early drag racing cars.

Origins


The December 1972 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine was dedicated to the "beater", a low-budget alternative to the over-polished, slickly-painted, customized early car. The beater could easily be considered a progenitor of the rat rod with its cheap upholstery, primer instead of paint, and lack of chrome or polished metals. However, owners of these beaters often had a high-dollar machine sitting in their garage.

As with many cultural terms, there are disputes over the origin of the term "rat rod". Some say it first appeared in an article written in Hot Rod Magazine
Hot Rod Magazine
Hot Rod is an American monthly magazine devoted to hot rodding, —modifying automobiles for performance and appearance.-History:Hot Rod is the oldest magazine devoted to hot rodding having been published since 1948. Robert E. Petersen founded the magazine and his Petersen Publishing Company...

by Gray Baskerville about cars that still sported a coat of primer. Some claim that the first rat rod was owned by artist Robert Williams
Robert Williams (artist)
Robert Williams is an American painter, cartoonist, and founder of Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine.Williams was part of the Zap Collective, along with other underground cartoonists such as Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton...

 who had a '32 Ford Roadster
Roadster
A roadster is a two-seat open car with emphasis on sporty handling and without a fixed roof or side weather protection. Strictly speaking a roadster with wind-up windows is a convertible but as true roadsters are no longer made the distinction is now irrelevant...

that was painted in primer. Hot Rod magazine has since verified this. Although the term likely started out as derogatory or pejorative (and is still used in this way by many), members of the subcultures that build and enjoy these cars have adopted the term in a positive light.