North America – and the Unites States in particular, represent, for a large part of the automotive enthusiast collective, a true Mecca of car engineering. Starting with the fabled Ford Model T up to the latest concept cars presented at international auto shows, the American automobile continues to be a fascinating subject for anyone whose heart beats in unison with the calculated motion of the cylinders.
One particular direction that the motoring culture went on to evolve into is represented by the rat rod. In itself, a curious and hyper-bastardized creation at origins, the rat rod has grown into a direct opponent of the most flamboyant form an automobile can take – the hot rod.
Appearing as unfathomable at first sight, the rat rod’s precise origins cannot be traced to a specific moment in time. However, the most prevalent example, featured in numerous publications and supported by several sources, seems to indicate the 1978 Jakelopy as being the forefather of what has become an integral part of the American motoring culture. For those of us who aren’t familiar with the story, Jim Jacobs (or simply Jake) found the street legal, drag machines Pro Street movement of the time as being no longer worthy of representing the true essence of a car. Featuring overly decorated bodies, often times drenched in chrome, vivid paint jobs and fitted with wide track tires, the cars were limited to solely being extravagant show pieces.
In an attempt to go back to the roots of the automobile, Jacobs decided to use his own expertise and build something that would go against the mainstream. The basis for his project was a ’32 Ford frame, on which he attached a two door sedan body belonging to a Model A, while a simple windshield represented the only “comfort” feature added to the project. Powered by a 350 cubic inch small block Chevy mated to a 3 speed Ford transmission, it was a back to basics masterpiece. Showcased at the Goodguys West Coast Nationals, the Jakelopy, as it was known hence forth, awed the crowd, as it had no fenders, neither paint applied on the body nor a lavish interior.
If the proto-rat was the Jakelopy, then Robert Williams’ Eights and Aces was the first automobile to ever bear the aforementioned name. Coated in red primer and keeping the original fenders from the ’32 Ford roadster, the car was constructed out of parts, so as to resemble his personal viewpoint of what a proper hot rod should be, but without having to spend unwarranted amounts of money to complete his build. Gray Baskerville, editor of Hot Rod, was the first to notice the Eights and Aces during a Southern California auto show and the term “rat rod” is attributed to him. Referring to Williams’ car, the term wanted to define an accessible ride fabricated from spare parts, with an abysmal final cost.
From there on, there was but a step until what started as a counter reaction to costly, pretentious vehicles, exploded into something that has been regarded as the equivalent of underground music.
The rat rod signified the beginning of something that could be built in a back yard, out of scrap and spare pieces, for a marginal cost when compared to the ostentatious hot rods. An ode to the original processes of manufacture, it somewhat mirrored in reverse the meticulous fabrication method of Rolls Royce limousines, in a deliberate manner, synonymous with freedom of expression.
Over the course of time, the rat rod had expanded its definition – although, truth be told, there was no formal designation attached to the term. The barebones structure of old still seems to be prevalent, as some vehicles are fabricated from whatever materials lie closest to the builder, while others, in stark contrast, feature intricate decorations.
The rat rod has also become too bastardized, perhaps, as a number of examples at auto shows demonstrate, being an amalgam of pieces strewn together with little regard to the safety of the driver or to the integrity of the structure, under the excuse of being authentic.
If another form of the rat rod exists, the 1927 Ford Model T “Rat Rod” we built that was featured on the American Hot Rod series exemplifies it. The car is not, as one would expect, a gratuitous display of rust and poorly welded pieces, but instead builds its identity upon the heritage of the Eights and Aces. As it spiritual predecessor, it began its existence as an early Ford, more precisely a ‘27 Model T, a car my dad greatly admired.
Aside from the obligatory dismantling, the car went through a meticulous process, as the body was stripped of the old paint, revealing its metal underpinnings. More than six inches were chopped from the top, following dad’s indications of achieving a wedge shape, process that included both the metal work and the manufacturing of custom windows. Powered by a massive Corvette V8 power plant, the red primer coated “Rat Rod” was present at the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, where it made its debut.
Being much more than a function over form process, the “Rat Rod’s” transformation from an inactive part of history to a genuine piece of carefully thought out manufacture is remarkable. Paying homage to the one vehicle that managed to spark an entire cultural movement, incommensurably expanding on the international scene and long passing its humble origins in the United States, The Boyd Coddington Rat Rod project will remain a vanguard of things to come.
Later on came Gil Losi’s “Ratster”. The Ratster hardly fits the true definition of a Rat Rod, and is actually a Boydster 3 dressed up like a Rat Rod. We’ll get more into Gil’s Ratster in the next story about the entire evolution of the Boydster 3.
As long as there are people, there will be preferences, tastes, choices and reasons, as different as they can ever be. Keeping this in mind and applying it to the rat rod’s development over the years, we can observe different trends and directions, evolving, extinguishing and re-surfacing under another form or another, but one aspect remains unchanged: the passion for motoring. The passion for making something with what little you have, but used to the fullest, in a more conventional or radical manner, with new or used materials, keeping the original image of the base vehicle or modifying it beyond recognition.
In the same manner in which each person hides a story behind his persona, so does a rat rod under the rugged aesthetics and that, in lack of any better argument, should suffice in granting this integral part of American culture a place on the pedestal of automotive development.