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What is a Rat Rod?

RatRodHot-rodding and car customization are as much an art as they are hobbies. It’s not uncommon for custom-car enthusiasts to pour tens of thousands of dollars into a project, creating gleaming road machines that look like they belong in a museum instead of on the open highway. They display their creations at car shows. They enter them in competitions. But actually drive them? Not when a stray piece of gravel could mar their perfect candy-apple paint jobs!

Of course, not all hot-rod and custom-car creators are obsessed with perfection. At the opposite end of the spectrum from the museum-piece artists is a group of down-and-dirty car fanatics affectionately known as rat rodders.

No one quite knows exactly where the term “rat rod” comes from, but it’s been around since at least the mid-1970s. Some trace the concept’s origins to a December 1972 issue of Rod & Custom magazine devoted to “beaters,” stripped-down, low-budget alternatives to the traditional high-polished hot rod. Soon thereafter, the term “rat rod” began to show up in magazines as a term to describe cars that still had at least one panel covered in unpainted primer. Originally derogatory slang, the term “rat rod” has since become embraced by fans who value function over form, who restore old cars to drive and race, not admire behind velvet ropes.

So just what makes a car a rat rod? Here are some clues:

• If a car is a coupe or roadster from the late 1920s to early 1960s, it could be a rat rod.
• If a car is pre-World War II and has been stripped of its fenders, hood, running boards and bumpers, it could be a rat rod.
• If a car’s original top, grille, bumpers, taillights or other accessories have been swapped with other models’, it could be a rat rod.
• If a car’s paint is badly faded, is flat instead of glossy and/or primer is clearly visible, it could be a rat rod.
• If a car has visible scratches, dents and even bullet holes, it could be a rat rod.
• If a car displays Maltese crosses, skulls or similar Hells Angels-style accessories, it could be a rat rod.
• If a car’s interior features Mexican blankets or bomber seats, it could be a rat rod.
• If a car’s engine is an old Chevy flathead V-8 or modern small-block V-8, it could be a rat rod.
• If a car’s suspension is a 1928-48 Ford I-beam axle with a transverse leaf spring, it could be a rat rod.
• If a car’s front suspension is mounted well in front of its radiator in the style of classic drag racers, it could be a rat rod.

Rat rods harken back to the earliest days of hot-rodding, when kids would cobble together racing cars from whatever pieces they could find at the local junkyard. There’s nothing fancy about them. Nothing pretentious. But if you’re a car fanatic, getting behind the wheel of a rat rod and burning rubber down a straight piece of asphalt is truly a thing of beauty.

Learn Street Rod Fabrication at WyoTech

If hot rods and custom cars are your passion, WyoTech’s Street Rod and Custom Fabrication concentration can prepare you for a career in this exciting field. Offered as part of WyoTech’s Collision/Refinishing Technology career education program, Street Rod and Custom Fabrication is available at campuses in Blairsville, Pa.; and Laramie, Wyo.

As part of the Street Rod and Custom Fabrication program, students learn the use of basic hand tools and specialized equipment like the English wheel, power hammer, bead roller and louver press. Custom-paint training covers the application of specialized finishes like pearls and candies. Students also learn techniques for special effects, including the layout and design of graphics.

For more information on WyoTech’s Street Rod and Custom Fabrication concentration, contact WyoTech today!

Financial aid is available for those who qualify.

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