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What is a Rat Rod according to Wikipedia? A rat rod is a style of hot rod or custom car that, in most cases, imitates (or exaggerates) the early hot rods of the 1940s, 1950s, and early-1960s. The style 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”, regardless of their status, as only the vehicle’s bare essentials are driven. These are built to drive, not exclusively for show.
Originally, rat rods were a counter-reaction to the high-priced “customs” and typical hot rods, many of which were seldom driven and served only a decorative purpose. The rat rod’s inception signified a throwback to the hot rods of the earlier days of hot-rod culture—built according to the owner’s abilities and with the intention of being driven. Rat rods are meant to loosely imitate, in both form and function, the “traditional” hot rods of the era. Biker, greaser, rockabilly, psychobilly, and punk sub-cultures are often cited as influences that shaped rat rodding.
The typical rat rod is a late-1920s through to late-1950s coupe or roadster, but sometimes a truck or sedan. Many early (pre-World War II) vehicles were not built with fenders, hoods, running boards, and bumpers. The bodies are frequently channeled over the frame and sectioned, or the roofs are chopped, for a lower profile. Later-era post-war vehicles were rarely constructed without fenders and were often customized in the fashion of kustoms, leadsleds, and lowriders; Maltese crosses, skulls, and other accessories were often added. The owner of the vehicle was typically responsible for most, or all, of the work present in the vehicle.
Recently, using the term “rat rod” has been derided as being incorrect when describing any vehicle that appears unfinished or is built simply to be driven.
Longtime rodding scribe Pat Ganahl took a broad look at the rat rod trend and had this to say:
“I see what are referred to as Rat Rods today comprising three elements: First are the traditional rods and customs. Those are cars built the way rods were built in the ’30s, ’40s, and early ’50s, with a primary emphasis on low-buck and home-built, using period-correct components ranging from flathead to nailhead engines, wide whitewall tires to skinny blackwall bias-plies, and black primer to hand-rubbed paint.
“Second are what I personally call Rat Rods, as a positive term… They’re artistic, fun, and sensational reinterpretations of late-’40s/early-’50s hot rodding as a culture that includes music, clothing, hairstyles, and tattoos. The cars are low, loud, chopped…with giant rear tires, lots of carburetors, open pipes, and tall gearshifts.
“Third are…what I derisively call Crap Rods today. They’ve always been part of the mix, unavoidably. I take exception to those who think that shoddy construction is somehow cool, or worse, those who know they can throw a bunch of junk parts together and peddle it as a cool rat rod to some inexperienced buyer who doesn’t know the difference.”
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