What The Hell Is A Rat Rod?

Looking for a rant about rat rodding?  Or maybe pictures of Kari Knox’s sweet Rat Rod Beetle?  Don’t read it here-check out this article at the all-new SundayCruiseFever.com!  You’ll not only get bigger, better pictures, you’ll have the chance to get the full Sunday Cruise Fever experience!

They’re everywhere.  Every time you pick up the paper or turn on the TV news, there they are.  They’re a disgrace to our culture, a drag on our society, and they’re just plain trash.  Our world would be so much better off without them.


Buzzwords, that is.  Those so-called “cute” mutations of useful words that chip away at the grand institution known as the English Language.  They ingrained themselves so deeply in our society that the New Oxford American Dictionary is now adding them as real words.  


Which brings us to a word that many of us are familiar with: Rat Rod.  A word that started innocently enough, but is fast encroaching on buzzword status.  In the beginning, a few cars would be done up in this style, serving as transportation for folks that live the rockabilly lifestyle.  Others started to “get it,” and made similar vehicles.  This led to more people catching on and building their own rat rods, creating a new phenomenon in our passion.  Now, thousands of vehicles are being done up in the rat rod style, driven to car shows by their white collar owners who paid gobs of money to have it built for them.


Before we go on a rant here, let’s step back and try to figure out what the term “rat rod” entails.  According to Wikipedia, the term is defined as “a style of hot rod or custom car that, in most cases, imitates (or exaggerates) the early hot rods of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.”

Translation: Cars that look like cars from the days when cars were cars.  Sure there’s more to it, but that’s about what it boils down to.  Of course, there’s more to the look as well.  Pinstriping seems to be important, as is John Deere black muffler paint for anyone that’s not lucky enough to have rust on their rides.  Flathead Ford V8 engines seem to be the driving force, but there’s a few that get away with small block V8s and old straight 6 mills.  Apparently a straight axle is mandatory, but many cheat their way around this requirement.

But where there’s rules, there’s rebellion.  And given that rat rodders take pride in being rebellious towards the institutions of hot rodding, shouldn’t some rat rods go against the checklist they’re forced to pass?  For example, should the mid-’90s Caprice pictured below be considered a rat rod?  It has the primer, it has the pinstriping, and it has a complete lack of visible billet parts.


But wait-it’s a mid ’90s Chevy Caprice.  Yes, the car that the police probably busted you in at least once.  Should a car known for transporting “The Man” be the hot rod for people that aren’t supposed to be down with “The Man?”  Hey, at least it wasn’t a Volkswagen Beetle rat rod.

But this is:


And you have to admit, it’s pretty freakin’ awesome as a car.  But is it a rat rod?  Flat black primer?  Check.  Chop top, like they did in the day?  Check.  Steel wheels, chrome hubcaps, pinstriping, and crazy metalwork on the hood, the way the old masters would have done it?  Check.  Well, if it looks like a rat rod, and smells like a rat rod, it must be a rat rod.  Right?


Viva Las Vegas, the biggest rockabilly gathering in North America says no.  The car show portion strictly prohibits VW’s of any kind, no matter how they were done.  Does this mean it’s not a rat rod?  And if not, what is it?

The correct answer is “who cares?”  Who cares if someone thinks your car isn’t “rat” enough to run with the slick-haired boys?  Building a hot rod is about personal expression, creating a car or truck that’s meant to show off your attitude and personality at highway speeds.  And if what you create doesn’t fit the rules that someone else laid out for you, all the better.  Conforming can seem like an easy way to live your life, but it’s certainly not a way to achieve fulfillment.  The same goes for your ride.  Driving a menopausal blue Chevy Lumina might get a nod from grandma, but how much more fun would you have had if you opted for something with just a little more patina.

All the cars seen in today’s post came from Sunday Cruise Fever’s first book, “Class of 2008,” available May 2009.  There’s 88 pages of cars and trucks like this, from all-original Model T’s to prototype Dodge Chargers.  To get your own copy, contact the author, Jordan, at (204) 997.8827, or jordan.morningstar@gmail.com.  Alternatively, hunt him down on any cruise night or car show and get a copy from him personally!

Want this unique content in your magazine, newspaper, newsletter or website?  Contact Jordan Morningstar at (204) 997.8827, or jordan.morningstar-at-gmail.com to find out about licensing images and text for your media outlet.


3 Responses to “What The Hell Is A Rat Rod?”

  1. 1 Shane Teeple
    November 25, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    THe Caprice is a local Brandon car. What you don’t see in the picture is a flame job with what I believe is spray in bed liner!

  2. November 26, 2008 at 1:33 am

    Yep, nothin’ says bitchin’ like rubberized flames. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to get a clear picture of the flame job. I guess it’s something you have to see to believe

  3. July 15, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Rad rods are the purest form of the appreciation of Cars. No overpriced paint jobs or fancy bells and whistles. Get off your cell, put down the ipod, and just drive the car. Listen to the engine not the radio. Do that when you get home.

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