Rat rod were born in the 1970s, in the era of Steve McQueen, when men were men, women were women and cars were fast. It’s an homage to the original hot rods from the 1930s to 1960s, but without all the shiny and chrome exterior details. Rat rod are about power, speed, and noise. They are the polar opposite of garage quines whose owners spend more time polishing than actually driving them.
There isn’t a general definition of rat rods. Each custom rod builder will have their own explanation. Some even consider the term rat rod offensive and avoid using it, like Jim Marquez, a rat rod builder and member of the Junkyard Pirates car club:” “I prefer the term hot rod.
Now there are cars that are built specifically to be called a ‘rat,’ and most of them would be made to look rusty, weathered, beaten and shot up. I wanted a mean, fast, scary car, and that’s what I built. Everyone who saw it said, “Cool rat,” but to me it was just a hot rod. A car made for nothing but going fast.”
That being said, there are some elements a car must have to be considered a rat rod. First of all, forget about that fancy three-tone paint job. Dented panels? Great. Rust and primer clearly visible? Even better? Engine? The bigger, the better. Ground clearance is also something you need to eliminate as much as possible.
Perhaps the best definition of a rat rod was given by Pat Ganahl of Pat Ganahl’s Rod and Custom says:” 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.”