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What Exactly Is A Rat Rod And Where Did It All Begin?

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What Exactly Is A Rat Rod And Where Did It All Begin?

Post by SMOKNZ on May 6th 2015, 12:09 am

This is a long read, so if you have some time, it's worth reading. Although some of the comments below are a little argumentative or controversial, these are comments from the general population of Hot Rodders. There are also pics attached.

The Rat Rod Phenomenon

The words or term "Rat Rod" started for Motorcycles after WWII. They were bikes with different parts that looked ratty and they became to be known as "Rats" or "Rat Rods." In the late 80's Rat Rods were adopted for vehicles.

In the last decade the largest craze in the hot rod world has been a very interesting trend known to many as “Rat Rods.” The hot rods that are built in this particular fashion are commonly known for being highly exaggerated versions of 1950’s style Jaloply hot rods. By highly exaggerated jalopies, we mean cars that are built to look poorly done on purpose, usually thrown together from old junk parts, and are usually poorly constructed as well as being built with little regard for safety. Ask the average gearhead what a “Rat Rod” is and they will tell you it is a pile of junk on wheels.

SmoknZ's comment: However, Rat Rods weren’t always these poorly built junkyards on wheels. Rat Rods have actually evolved over the years and have gone through several changes and many of todays examples are both some of the best and some of the worst I've seen. When the rat rod movement began it started out being closer to the traditional hot rod movement that exists today.

But the question remains “If Rat Rods weren’t always how they were today, how did they become that way?” In order to find out why Rat Rods have become the exaggerated and thrown together cars they are today, we have to look back at the history and the beginning of Rat Rods.

The Proto Rat Rod

The history of “modern day” rat rodding really began back in the late 1980s. The late ’80s was a crazy time when Guns ‘N Roses, Hair Metal, U2, and Michael Jackson were playing on the radio, a time when Vin Scully was calling baseball games on Saturday nights, a time when John Elway, Dan Marino, and Joe Montana were dominating the NFL as the best quarterbacks in history while former quarterback Dan Pastorini was racing Top Fuel against Don Garlits. Yeah, there was a lot going on, and back in 1987 the Hot Rod world was dominated by a trend that was known as Pro Street.

Pro Street started out in the late ’70s, known as Street Machines, which were modified street and drag strip cars. However by the early ’80s it evolved into Pro Street which is when gearheads started building cars that were meant to look like a Pro Stock car for the road. However, par for the course, some took it too far and what started out as something cool, fun and unique ended up becoming a pricey machine by the late 1980s.

By 1987 most of the Pro Street cars were now trailered to shows, never driven on the street, had insanely unnecessary oversized rear tires, and lots of chrome and blowers on stock internal motors. The whole idea of having a Pro Stock car for the road turned into having an exaggerated looking wannabe drag car. The worst part of it was, besides for not being driven, none of these Pro Street cars were affordable to the average gearhead. Many owners were now spending 5- and 6-figures to turn their old ’68 Chevelles and Camaros into chromed out, trailer queen show cars with zero functionality.


All of these trailer queen, chromed, high-dollar cars that dominated the car shows inspired Jim “Jake” Jacobs from Pete & Jakes Hot Rods (the guys who built the California Kid Ford) to take a bunch of old parts such as a ’32 Ford Frame, a ’28 Ford two door sedan body and a few others to build a hot rod and tub them out.

Jake combined his Deuce frame and put the Model A Sedan body and he removed the roof. He then put a chopped windshield above the dashboard and a ’32 Ford grille on the front of the car. The tub was powered by a hopped up small-block Chevy that was hooked up to a 1939 Ford 3-speed transmission. For the interior he just threw in an old bench for a front seat (no back seat) and drove the tub unpainted to the 1987 Goodguys West Coast Nationals.

When he arrived at the Goodguys West Coast Nationals in his unpainted Ford tub, everyone at the show was starring in amazement with their jaws to the floor! They couldn’t believe that this unfinished hot rod had just driven up and entered a show full of chrome and high-dollar pro street cars. While this amazed the people in attendance, what Jake did next amazed the crowd even more.






After he parked, he pulled out a few cans of red car paint as well as a couple of brushes from the back of the car and began hand painting his car in broad daylight in the middle of the show. Soon a crowd began to form around Jake and his rod, people started grabbing brushes and started helping Jake paint his tub shown above! People began talking, joking, bench racing while painting the Tub that was soon nicknamed the “Jakelopy.”

The Jakelopy was not the car first called a rat rod, but it was the car that inspired the rat rod movement all together. What Jake and his Ford Tub did was it showed the gearhead world what hot rodding was all about–having fun, enjoying yourself and building a car on a budget.

Jake showed everyone that hot rods didn’t all have to be the most expensive cars in the show (sure, we love those too, but there is room for all types and forms of customs). They could be built using affordable and older parts, exactly like how they were built back in the ’50s.The best part about the Jakelopy was that it was driven everywhere. Jake would drive it to town and even drove it to Bonneville to make a pass and then drove it home!

Jakes wasn’t the first car to be called a rat rod!.

The First True Rat

In the early 1990s an artist by the name of Robert Williams was known for his major contributions to Pop art and Low Brow art which included paintings such as the famous Hot Rod Race and Appetite for Destruction, the cover art for the Guns ‘N Roses album. Robert Williams had already made a name for himself on Juxtapoz magazine and also worked for many years as the art director for Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and has continued to do pieces of famous art featuring hot rods and the kustom culture.

Williams who owned several hot rods in the past, decided that he wanted to build a Ford hot rod similar to the hot rods that he remembered seeing around his neighborhood when he was young. He remembered that most of the cars had a simple color primer, proper stance (not lowered or channeled too much), clean body lines, and a motor that had minor modifications that was loud and would make enough noise to terrorize all of the houses on the block like Reb Stew's Pontiac. Usually the hot rods were never finished but that was alright with their owners since they were built by teens on a budget.

To begin his build, Williams found a 1932 Ford roadster body to use as his platform. He left the car fully fendered as Williams remembered when he was young that most of the rods he was used to seeing were full fendered. He then painted it with red primer and added the famous “Dead Man’s Hand” graphics on the front panel that said “Aces & Eights” which is what he nicknamed the car.

When Williams took the car to show off at the car shows in Southern California, Hot Rod editor Gary Baskerville refered to the car as a “Rat Rod” when he first saw it at one of the shows. Baskerville said the term “Rat Rod” was a spin on the term “Rat Bike” which was a term used to describe a motorcycle thrown together on a cheap budget. Baskerville felt that Aces & Eights fit the description of a rat bike and it was one in hot rod form so the name stuck.

Soon more people saw Aces & Eights and began using the term Rat Rod and several people got inspired by the car and soon wanted to build one of their own. This inspired the younger generation to become interested in hot rods once again as it could be an affordable hobby.



Williams ride "Aces & Eights" was the next step in the beginning of the rat rod movement which Gary Baskerville believes officially began around 1992. After this car, several more rat rods would be built, but they were still not quite the rusty rods that we have today. Aces & Eights was pretty much a late 50’s era correct hot rod that was only painted with primer. Not so much a poorly welded junk rat, the weld jobs were professional, the mods were done right, and overall the rod looked clean. Williams hot rod would inspire a new style of Rat Rod that would begin in the mid to late 1990s.

Rat Fink Rat Rods

By the late 1990’s Grunge music had died off a bit and it had been replaced with the likes of Blink-182, Green Day and Gangster rap. A movie known as Saving Private Ryan forever changed the way younger generations viewed WWII, while Seinfeld and the Simpsons were the most watched shows on TV. Also during the late 1990’s Rat Rods had slowly caught on in the gearhead world and had become a common sight at car shows.

Most builders during this time were building their Rat Rods to be period correct similar to Robert Williams car. However, a few builders began taking a different approach with their Rat Rod builds. They would build cars that technically were period correct hot rods, but not correct because they weren’t based off cars in real life. These cars were period correct because they were based off the Hot Rods in Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s artwork.

One of the best examples of this style of Rat Rod is the well-known Ford Hot Rod the “Sellers Seaweed Coupe.” Steve Sellers purchased a 1950 Ford business coupe as a project car and he turned it into one of the coolest and most memorable Rat Rods of all time! He wanted to build his coupe similar to the Shoebox Hot Rods of the late 60’s but with a bit of an Ed Roth influence to it.

Sellars lowered the rear of the car to the point where the tail would drag. He also dropped in a small-block Chevy 350 that had a top end done like the 1960’s, complete with an Edelbrock X-1 intake and 6 classic Stromberg Carburetors. He then painted his car copper while covering it with green seaweed style flames.

All of these made the final product of a car look like a 1950 Ford that Ed Roth would have drawn and Rat Fink would use as his daily driver. Sellers debuted the car at the 1997 Billetproof Car Show where everyone in attendance starred in amazement at his ’50 Ford. They couldn’t believe that a car that looked this wild, and looked exactly like something Rat Fink would drive, was sitting right in front of them. It looked like a car that wasn’t serious and was just pure fun to drive. Steve would drive the Seaweed Coupe everywhere as his daily driver over the next few years.








He wasn’t afraid to drive it hard either. One of his favorite things to do when he arrived at shows would be to fire off the flame throwers from his exhaust that made 10 foot fireballs (which was huge back then). He would do this as he exited his car when he arrived at shows. His flame throwers became so popular that a picture of him exiting the car with the fire balls shooting out of the exhaust became an iconic image in the hot rod world of the ’90s. Steve’s copper 1950 Ford showed the "Rat Rod" AND the "Hot Rod" world that you could build a creative, crazy looking car without spending a lot of money and be able to drive it every single day.




Other pics that I like







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Re: What Exactly Is A Rat Rod And Where Did It All Begin?

Post by Blue Eyed Devil on May 6th 2015, 1:56 am

What an utterly complete load of bullshit...
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Re: What Exactly Is A Rat Rod And Where Did It All Begin?

Post by Reb Stew on May 6th 2015, 7:21 am

Laughing

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