Pete Millar penned this cartoon...
Pete Millar penned this cartoon way before the rat rod phenomenon, but this sure is a statement of what many builders are aspiring to today.
Not too long ago I'd written a few choice words regarding my personal stand on the whole "rat rod" thing. Well, it seems they were somewhat misconstrued by a reader or two-or at least I perceived their negative responses to be misconstrued. So if I may, let me further explain not only my general perspective, but the magazine's as well.
Over the years, rat rods have been embraced, abhorred, and for the most part, misunderstood. While the exact origin of the term is unclear-some claim it was Gray Baskerville, while others credit a member of the Shifters Car Club back in the early '90s-there's really no arguing that it was derived from a style of Harleys built a couple decades prior, "rat bikes". (For a "third party" perspective, take a look-see at the letters column in the April '11 issue of Hot Rod.) At the offset of this so-called new fad, it seemed there was a general distaste for rat rods from the hot rodding community in general-but that would not be the case for long, and soon the whole fad came full circle.
What was once simply just another way of describing an unfinished or in-progress hot rod (or for some, myself included, they were finished!) snowballed into its own niche of the hobby; a soon-to-be lifestyle that went way beyond its core automotive roots. Eventually, the phrase rat rod got so overused it became a blanket term referring to pretty much anything with black primer and red wheels. Even worse, there developed this seemingly unwritten rule among rat rodders: the crappier the better. And that's where I start having serious issues with what I consider to be today's typical rat rod ... or in this case, "crap rods".
For those of you with a '50s or '60s sedan with flat black paint, red steelies, and whitewalls, don't take offense to my comments regarding rat rods-at least not in regards to your car in particular ... they're not rat rods. Neither is a primered or bare-metal fenderless roadster with uncorked lakes-style headers-they're just roadsters with loud exhausts and no shiny paint. And as previously mentioned, oftentimes this was and is the intended finished state of the car for many owners. (While I don't intend on running open headers, I have no plans of painting my highboy '33 Tudor, but I'm sure it'll be called a rat rod on more than one occasion, which is sad.)
Not to be confused with the above-mentioned are the cars cobbled together from any and everything (occasionally with parts having no business on a street-driven vehicle to begin with) that are really nothing more than personal "statements". OK, so here's where I think the line between hot rods and rat rods can get real cloudy, as I feel that all of our cars are personal statements in some form or another-I guess it's what the statements ultimately translate to. In the case of my perception of today's rat rods, they're statements that don't need to be made in Rod & Custom; to me, they're negative, and the last thing this magazine needs is any more negativity ... at least not any more than what I interject in my editorials, right?!