I find myself lingering more these days at car shows near the rat rods and rat customs. They were an initial shock, but that has worn off and I am starting to appreciate the genre a little more. Some still jangle the nerves, but mostly they’re all right.
I suppose a rat is really a sort of mathematical equation – the sort of problem that seems to be too hard to solve in conventional terms but yields if you are prepared to ignore a few of the decimal points. The decision to take this road must have to be made early in the piece before starting too much in the way of restoration and rebuilding…and then the energy that you might have spent trying to smooth the last wrinkle out of the sheet metal can be turned to entirely different purposes,
I have noticed that there are several parallel lines of development in the rat – it is not all just one tub of rust:
a. The patina patootie. This is a car that has lost enough of the original paint that the builder is going to have to engage in a desperate festival of filler, undercoat, and expensive top coats….or…just stop rust on the bare bits and seal the rest and hope that it passes. Some original factory colours are suitable for it – some just look manky. If nothing, it can be a long-term stop-gap before a more extensive redesign.
b. The barn find. Make of that what you will. Some of the genuine barn finds are wonderful, and some are just very sad. I have yet to see a new car barned deliberately but I daresay someone will do it eventually. I hope my fillings can stand the tooth grinding…
c. The organic rat. This is a rat that is genuinely made of whatever was in the shop at the time. If it looks a little rough and the parts do not really seem to match to a design, it doesn’t matter. It rolls and trying to make the assorted bits fit keeps the builder out of the pubs.
d. The OTT. Here there is no end of material to work with and it is generally stuck together pretty well – well enough to pass the pits, anyway. But sometimes it seems as though the pudding has been over-egged. There are skulls, bones, German helmets, bullets, rats, and brazing-rod spiders webs nearly everywhere. A Munster’s coach from Mandogalup, if you will. Fun to look at but somewhat déclassé.
e. The inadvertent rat. It all started out as a project that was going to have candy apple paint, drawer-pull grill ornaments, and white roll-and-tuck upholstery but it never seemed to happen.
As with most of these things it is as well to separate out the failed restoration from the failed custom rod and to be kind to them…they are only failures now but that does not mean to say that they cannot succeed in the future. Likewise you would need to look carefully at some Asian cars to see whether they are trying to rat or not. It is hard to rat with lighted wheel wells and multiple spoilers. Very hard to rat with WRX’s and Nismo stickers and extremely hard to rat with Mercedes and 888-888 license plates. Not if your father catches you…
As a side note, I remember the Asian Student cars of the 1960’s as compared to the ones they drive now. I should be interested to see what they might make of a Renault 4 or a Skoda Octavia of the period. Or a Standard…One thing, the chaps in my 1967 class were, to a man, ratty drivers.