For custom car enthusiasts everywhere, the evolution of the hot rod into the rat rod is essentially common knowledge, but it’s easy to forget the true origin story of this kind of car and the culture that’s broken away from the more generic hot rod. See our origins and history of the hot rod post for more detail on hot rods.
Rat Rod Style
Rat rods (see our rat rods for sale section for examples of rat rods) are generally styled more like the cars of the 40s, 50s and the early 60s but they’re not re-creation or restoration cars. Rat rods are more customized, used mainly for show rather than racing and tend to have that edge to them that sets them apart from the more traditional hot rods. The best way to identify if you’ve got a rat rod is determined by the way it seems to have been thrown together. The ramshackle look is what defines the rat rod, and although the car looks like it might not work, I can assure you it does.
Similarly to street rods, rat rods are an off-shoot from the hot rod, the first true rat rod appeared in the early 90s when Robert Williams wanted to recreate the cars from his childhood. The term rat bike was already circulating and referred to a bike that had been put together on a budget. So when Williams rocked up in his modified 1932 Ford Roadster, Hot Rod editor Gray Baskerville dubbed the car a ‘rat rod’ and so the name stuck.
The Roadster, named Eights & Aces, fit the idea of a cheaply put-together car and others began to mimic his design style. The younger generation became once again involved as the custom car hobby became cheaper.
The 1990s saw a shift in the design style of the rat rod when Steve Sellers built a 1950s Ford with an Ed Roth influence. The idea was to build a car that Rat Fink – Ed Roth’s cartoon character – would drive. The result? An insanely wild car that looked like pure fun to drive.
Sellers wasn’t the only person inspired by Rat Fink. Marky Izadardi and his brother Alex built the Purple People Eater. Traditionally muscle car builders, and fans of the Pontiac, they started this build searching for a Pontiac engine that could be used in a hot rod.
The buzz around the Purple People Eater was crazy and it became the car that everyone was talking about. It was featured on the cover of Rod & Custom in 2001 and the fascination with rat rods exploded.
Modern Rat Rods
The modern style rat rods are somewhat different to the original influences and generally look more like rust buckets than their previous pristine ancestors. Despite its popularity, the rat rod trend does receive its criticism and is often regarded as a cheap and talentless industry to be in. But despite this many rat rods are built by master craftsmen with true skill in their field.