Want easy DIY performance? Make a rat rod!

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rat rod

Why buy a car for performance when you could build a rat rod for cheap? Photo Credit: The Javelina/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA 2.0

A rat rod is one of the easiest ways for DIY gear heads to create a car that will turn heads, violate ear drums and flirt with breaking the traffic laws. They are one of the oldest American automotive traditions and they aren’t even that expensive, depending on the economy of scale.

Rat rod among American motoring icons

The noble rat rod is one of the proudest American motoring traditions and a stiffly-raised middle finger to convention, modern sensibilities and just about everything else that most people think about cars.

For the unaware, a “rat rod” is a type of “hot rod,” though a rat rod and your typical hot rod are a little different; it’s like the difference between Jimmy Carter and brother Billy.

DIY gear heads and other eccentrics have been making them for decades. The formula has never wavered. You simply take the tub body from an old car and attach it to a chassis. Add the other bits until it runs.

Then you hoon that SOB.

Everything is up to you

Every single detail of a rat rod is up to the person building it, which is what makes them so cool. Many are junk yard specials – sort of like how GM raids parts bins for most of its cars.

You get a chassis. Some build their own ladder-frame, others find one from an old body-on-frame car or light pickup. Then you attach a body; many are welded on. Popular options are Ford Models A or B, roadsters being preferred. Some prefer old pickup truck bodies. Conventional aesthetics dictates the body be from the 1920s to 1950s. However, rat rods are about NOT following the rules; pick what you and do what you want with it. Chop the top, don’t – whatever.

Then you add everything else. V-8s are popular engine choices; getting an SBC or Ford 302/5.0 is (relatively) cheap new and even cheaper from a junk yard. Transmissions to go with either of those engines are likewise easy to procure.

HotRod.com asserts a Ford 9-inch diff (Ford made them for decades) is one of the most popular rear end setups. Suspension and brake systems are likewise up to the builder. Beam axle suspensions in the front and leaf springs in the rear are popular, but you can use anything. Heck, use double wishbones upfront and Chapman struts in the rear; it’s up to you.

Then you add all the ancillaries, wheels, tires, link all the bits up, install all the wiring and see if the thing starts. Styling, interior…all up to the builder. Make it as swank as you want or not.

Whether it’s street legal depends on the state and the specifications.

A Unique Culture

Some might decry the rat rod as being an abomination. Hot rodders and people who are into concourse events probably will…because of their anal retentiveness and (likely) jealousy over how little a rat rod can cost to be built. Wikihow.com states that some can be assembled for $3,000. However, there is a subculture of rat rodders who love their cars, because many build them themselves. If you put the time and effort in, the sweat equity is likely going to make you love your car more than one you just buy.

Because the assembler – or the person paying the assembler – is the person who has control over the components. Thus, you can spend as little or as much as you want, and get as much or as little performance as you want.

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