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Rat Rods Are for Welders

Having attended the Iola Old Car Show last weekend (held in the Wisconsin city of its namesake during the second weekend of each July) I was inspired by the amazing talent of automotive welders. What impresses me and interests me most is what can be done with an old rat rod.

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Picture Credit: www.rotrodstuff.com (Gray Boy's Garage)

What is a Rat Rod?

For those of you who don’t know, a rat rod is a hot rod or custom car which imitates or exaggerates the cars of the 1940s-1960s, and occasionally cars dating back as far as the 1920s. These restorations are not your traditional re-creation. A rat rod often incorporates spare parts or parts from other vehicles. These cars are at least an exercise in creativity, mechanical ability, and are a work of art in their own right. Rat rods may have an unfinished look and that’s okay. They are built to be functional and to test your automotive skills. These are not something you park in the garage and show off once in a while.

What is the Appeal of a Rat Rod?

Rat rods started as the answer to the high-priced hot rods and evolved into an outlet of creative expression. These cars are a reflection of the owner’s abilities and vision. Combining an imitation of form and function of traditional hot rods with biker, greaser, rockabilly, and punk culture results in a fun and interesting product.

What Welding is Done on Rat Rods?

A rat rod is truly the project for a welder. Unlike projects that come with instructions, original or replica parts, a rat rod may have you welding a 1929 Dodge body onto a 1952 Chevy pickup frame. Owners do most of the work themselves and may be attempting something that has never been done before. Mechanical skill and car knowledge is required. You need to improvise, solve problems, and be creative.

If you’re looking at an early car, 1920s-1940s, many have no fenders, hoods, running boards, or bumpers. A coupe or roadster body may be channeled over the frame and sectioned. Roofs may be chopped for a low profile. Cars from the mid 1940s on are converted to Kustoms, leadsleds, and lowriders. Owners may swap parts from tops, trim, grills, and taillights to larger body parts. Rat rod enthusiasts look for older cars and light trucks for their sturdy chassis. Some talented welders will design and build their own frame.

Popular drive trains include flat head V8s, early Hemis, small block Chevy V8s, and straight 4, 6, and 8 cylinders. You’ll find lightly modded to heavy modded engines and the occasional diesel. Rear wheel drive models with open drivelines are favored. Building engine mounts is a common rat rod task. As is connecting parts from entirely different autos.

Beam axle front suspension is expected with the open look of most rat rods. Early drag cars inspired the forward mounted front suspension. The Ford I-beam axle from 1928-48 is often preferred. Independent front suspension is discouraged.

Rat Rod Projects for Welders

If you’re ready to get started, your best bet is to visit a few car shows and several junkyards. Once you find your inspiration, you’ll know it. Be ready to get your hands dirty, spend a lot of time in the garage, and throw a wrench or two at the wall.

Since rat rods usually appear unfinished, go ahead, show off your welding. Rat rods may occasionally be primed or given a satin finish, but most owners like the natural character of rust and blemishes. Enjoy the look of bare metal, either rusty or oiled. Try your hand at painting, if you must.

Be sure to check out killbillet.com for “The Rat Rod Forum Dedicated to fun, low budget, traditional, rusty, patina Rat Rods and Old School Hot Rods built with junk yard parts."

 

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