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Rat Rods may be similar to Hot Rods in the types of cars from which they begin, but that is where the similarities end. Rat Rods are fully custom cars, generally built from 1930’s and 1940’s coupes and roadsters. Most are built without fenders or hood (leaving an exposed engine), bumpers or running boards. Quite often the body is cut down, ‘sectioned’ to make the car smaller in length or width, ‘channeled’ to ride lower and ‘chopped’ for a lower profile. Unlike Hot Rods which are usually painted with glossy paint (often with flames), Rat Rods may sport only a primer coat or a satin or matte finish in black, brown, sepia or dark gray. Many Rat Rods may have a ‘patina’ (original paint with rust and wear showing, possibly even enhanced). Other rodders prefer no paint at all, allowing the metal to rust and weather naturally, or an oiled metal finish (retarding but not eliminating rust and weathering).
A Rat Rod is best described as function over form. Whereas Hot Rods usually have improved suspension, a stiffened body frame, increased power with improved handling, Rat Rods are usually engineered only for driving. All the essentials to run the auto are in place, although the parts and pieces can be from other types of autos, or not automotive at all – i.e. old license plates or road signs as floor boards or brass knuckles as door handles.
Most often Rat Rods are built by the owners/backyard mechanics of spare or scrounged parts. Some common themes in Rat Rod accessories include Maltese Crosses and Skulls. The interiors of Rat Rods commonly feature bare essential seating, bomber seats or old seat covered with Mexican blankets, no carpet and only the barest essentials.
It is thought by many that Rat Rods are today’s incarnations of what Hot Rods started as many years ago – an inexpensive means of transportation, by just about any means of assembly. Current Rat Rods are intentionally left to look unfinished and rough around the edges.
Rat Rods are akin to Rat Bikes – motorcycles built under the same ‘rules’.
Sometimes it is hard to define the lines between Rat Rods and Hot Rods – generally Rat Rods have finishes which seem incomplete, as opposed Hot Rods which seem finished to perfection.