For some, assuming the term “Rat Rod” was named after Ed Roth’s car culture icon Rat Fink is a logical guess. If you’re even remotely into cars, you’ve seen the old tee shirts, with Rat Fink (a rather grotesque rodent) driving an insane hot rod with giant rear slicks, headers and all the visual horsepower Roth could throw at the canvas.
According to Rod Authority, the term was actually coined by the late Hot Rod magazine editor, Gray Baskerville after seeing one of Ed Roth’s employs, Robert Williams roll up to a car show in a modded and rodded 1932 Ford Roadster affectionally named Eights & Aces. It didn’t take long for the movement to catch on and pull hot rodding back down from the rich man’s toy garage it had parked in to the driveways of your everyday gear head. The real appeal was the ability that it was now cool to take just about anything and do whatever it takes to make it a cool hot rod.
While most primarily begin life as some sort of retro ride from the 30s, 40s, 50s or even 60s the lack of matching VIN number judging and six-figure chrome plated trailer queen end games really opened the road for rat rodders. While many embraced that and took their rides to full-on low-budget pieces of octane-inspired art as detailed in our sick list, others suffer from a failure to launch, which landed them in our terrible list. But, in the end, all that matters is having fun tinkering with a high performance ride.
19 Sick: Rats Don’t Just Drink Gas
When someone says "rat rod," images of raw metal, chopped tops, low slung bodies and big tires come to mind. Thankfully this rat, that started life as a 1931 Ford before the cats at Katastrophic Kustoms got hold of it, brings all that and more. The more being a 5.9L 12-valve Cummins diesel engine. The idea of belching black smoke all over the drag strip in thick stripes through the white swirls of tire smoke should make any gearhead smile.
The retro whitewalls, unmistakable Ford body and custom details such as the tail light brackets and wickedly spiked lug nut covers on the black chrome wheels capture everything you could possibly want in a rat rod.
From the look of the touring tread on the radials, this one is built more for cruising than racing, but just imagine pulling into the local mall on Friday night while everyone is cruising in their hopped-up Honda Civics, Mitsubishi Lancers, Honda Del Souls and Acura Integras. You roll in with this Rat Beast, Cummins engine roaring through the wrapped headers and people's heads won’t just turn, they’ll stick to the sight of this monster all night long.
18 Sick: Supercharged Big Block
Another fine example of Rat Rod mastery comes from Kaysey Weasel in the form of his 1930 Ford – or at least that’s what it was in a former life. Weasel chopped the top, slammed the chassis, stretched the front end and then loaded it all down with a 468 cubic inch Chevy big block, complete with a Mutha Thumper Cam driven by a Dyers Supercharger. This twin carb beast looks like it eats grocery getters for lunch and craps out the shredded remains of Smart Cars.
Kaysey's monster was featured in the 2015 Redneck Rumble in Lebanon, TN an event billed as the “biggest, baddest hot rod, rat rod and custom car show in the south”. If the Rumble features more cars like Kaysey’s, a car that screams “biggest baddest” from the muscle-bound duck hood ornament back to the rear license plate that reads “Wiplash,” it’s a show not to be missed.
When Kaysey fires this bad boy up, the blend of big block rumble through open headers iced with the powerful wind-up of the supercharger is music to a gearhead’s ears. The two sounds also make for a sweet soundtrack to a rod that’s a perfect mix of 1930s class and modern muscle.
17 Sick: Forget Steam Punk, it’s Diesel Punk Time
One of the folks on autoevolution.com dubbed this rod as Diesel Punk personified. For those who don’t get the reference, steam punk is a literary sub-genre of stories featuring steam-powered technology instead of electricity-based tech. From there, you get the idea. Just looking at this war machine with that understanding conjures all sorts of images of Mad Max Road Warrior battles in a post-apocalyptic world.
The studded steel plating on the body, gnarly, knobby tires, putridly patterned wheels and monstrous intake on the diesel engine make this one look as if it came out of H.R. Giger’s, (the man responsible for the designs of the Alien creatures in the movies of the same name) automotive nightmares. And that’s a cool thing!
Affectionately known as “Prius Repellant” it’s easy to dream up all sorts of wasteland adventures driving this battle rod down the road into a hoard of Walking Dead zombies. Who knows, Robert Kirkman himself may want to pick one of these up in case his wildly successful graphic novels and TV series turn out to be prophetic.
16 Sick: Built Ford Tough
Little did Rudy Rodriguez know that when he and his 1934 Ford truck were featured in American Rodder in 1991 that he was helping to pioneer an entire new world for aspiring hot rodders. While his apparently unfinished rod drew boos and cat-calls from the readers, when he was entirely finished with it in 2002 the sort of attention it drew was far more favorable. To some, this was a key moment in the evolution of the Rat Rod movement and moment gearheads would never turn back from.
Looking at this one might make you think it’s merely a slightly altered resto-mod, but Rudy’s Rod rolls on a 1932 Ford dropped front axle, transverse mounted leaf springs, powered by a 239 cu. in Ford Flathead V8 circa 1948 swallowing fuel through Stromberg 97’s atop a Harrell intake manifold. All that power hits the ground by way of a Ford C4 automatic transmission, held in check by four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes.
Before auctioning her off at the Petersen Automotive Museum, in LA back in 2009, Rodriguez was surely a hit with all the rat rodders every time he rolled into a show.
15 Sick: Rolls Rat
Have you ever found yourself staring at a Rolls Royce and thinking “Man, this thing needs a serious overhaul and a few dozen square yards of polished aluminum”? After tossing back a few too many adult beverages, English rat rod enthusiast Sam Hard did just that – well sort of. As the story goes, Sam was attending the SEMA show in Las Vegas when the inspiration to enter a car of his own came upon him. Hard decided to start with a Rolls Royce as he’s British and so is Rolls.
Enlisting the help of a few highly capable individuals, Hard located the Rolls and soon discovered it once belonged to English nobleman and exceedingly eccentric (re: whacky!) philanthropist, Lord Tredegar.
According to Barcroft.tv’s automotive channel, Tredagar owned fighting Kangaroos, kept a vast number of pink flamingoes as pets and attended parties with a parrot in his trousers (the bird would apparently unzip Tredagar’s fly and talk to guests through the zipper for effect).
While all that is exceptionally bizarre, the car itself is simply amazing. Boasting a 1970 Chevy LS6 engine yanked out of a Chevelle, propelling a light weight (it weighs in under 2000lbs) aluminum chassis and body to truly insane speeds. While no one has been brave enough to top out this shiny beast, you can bet it’s ready – and willing – to make it happen.
14 Sick: Local Boys Make Good
If you’re into the rat rod scene in Tennessee chances are you know all about Ricky Bobby’s Rod Shop. If you’re not from Tennessee and you watch the Discovery Channel’s Rebel Roads show, chances are you know all about Ricky Bobby’s Rod Shop. If neither of those describes you then you’re just going to have to settle for this cool pic of Bobby’s sweet ride.
Ricky Brown aka Ricky Bobby, entered into a discussion with the Discovery Channel when they were casting around looking for people to partner with for their show about Rat Rods and the surrounding culture. Once Brown/Bobby knew it was all a go, he and his team spent the next 28-days working 16-hour shifts to bring this brute to life.
As with most car-centric reality shows, Rebel Road culminates in a face-off between different car builders to see who’s rod is the raddest in the land. While we certainly don’t want to spoil anything for you, our money’s on the guy named after the Talladega Nights star. The show originally aired on April 28th, but since word is out that a second episode is coming, odds are you can catch a re-run on the Discovery Channel or check into streaming it through their site.
13 Sick: Maybe Klinger Could Escape In This Ride?
For those who don’t get the title to this picture, check out just about any episode of the old hit sit-com M*A*S*H (now on seemingly non-stop binge broadcasting on a variety of cable and satellite TV channels) and it’ll all make sense. For those who do get it, can’t you see Maxwell Q. Klinger barreling over the Korean landscape, his pink chiffon scarf flying in the wind as he guns it to outrun the band of MPs Colonel Potter sent after him?
The reality of this one is just as crazy. Hot Rod magazine’s Finnegan and Freiburgerset set out to drive from Los Angeles to an isolated bar in the middle of the Arizona desert in this low-budget off-road rat rod du jour.
Did we mention you can only get to the bar by way of half washed out, never paved dirt roads far more suited for horses and ATVs than hot rods? Well, that didn’t stop the Hot Rodders as they were bound and determined to turn this epic adventure into another episode of Roadkill.
Whether the pair did or did not eventually make it to their desert destination, and exactly what cost more – the gas to power the Chevy V8 they stuffed in the Jeep Rat or the bar beverages they purchased to slake their desert induced thirst upon arrival, may or may not be revealed on the show.
12 Sick: When Dangerous is Cool
Ever come across a car that just flat out looks mean? Not mean in a “my fourth-grade teacher was so mean” kind of way, or a “the old man at the end of the block yelled at me for walking on his grass” sort of mean, but a “Darth Vader and Megatron had a son who fights in the UFC” kind of mean. You know, the sort of mean that just looks cool. The sort of mean that screams danger, but the kind of danger that makes you want to endanger yourself, all your friends, family and anyone else brave enough to embrace said danger.
That’s what this car exudes – the sort of mean that makes gang movie bad boys desirable to sweet sorority girls.
The custom headers violently sticking out of the big block resemble the whiskers on an enraged tiger more than the sort of exhaust pipes you find on tame rides. The flame emblem emblazoned on the super charger’s belt adds to the idea that this beast might just burn you if you get too close. No sir (or ma’am!) there’s nothing about this rat rod that even remotely resembles playing it safe – which is why it makes our list of some of the sickest rat rods on earth.
11 Sick: Bat Rod!
While this ride here might share a few things in common with a few of the rats on our terrible list, the fact that it looks like Bruce Wayne tricked out a rat rod, named it the Bat Rod and uses it to fight crime just screams cool. Let’s face it, there are few fictional characters in history that captivate the imagination like Batman. He’s one part Steve Jobs, one part Mohammed Ali, one part James Bond and always cool no matter the circumstances.
Built from a 70s era Corvette – you know the ones that embody the “all show and no go” mantra - this fine ride took a turn down Electric Avenue with the super cool bat-fins, iconic retro front fenders and mandrel bends that snake out of the hood ready to blast bat-exhaust all over any criminal who dares to mess with it. Taking pieces from every era of the Batmobile, well minus the new militaristic versions in the recent Dark Knight movies, and blending them into one sweet retro rat bat rod, this one certainly earns its place on the list.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to go see if the crook down the street is finished with his joker jalopy.
10 Not Ok: Vette Rat
Part of the appeal of rat rods is taking something ordinary and going outside the box to mod together something really different and cool. This requires vision, artistry, quality mechanical skill and the ingenuity to bring it all together into a beautifully ugly ride. Unfortunately, not everyone who embarks on a rat rod adventure fully grasps this concept. And, of those that do, many simply fail to possess all those qualities.
Take exhibit A for instance. Here’s a guy who appears to have the vision, skill and ingenuity, but he lacks a sense of artistry. In fact, it would almost seem as if he suffers from the polar opposite. In this particular case, he’s taken something that was cool at some point – a late 80s C4 Corvette – and removed all semblance of cool from the vehicle along the way. While some of the components might be alright on their own, the sum of these parts is truly lacking in the cool department. To make matters worse, he appears to be wearing a Joe Dirt mullet wig in the pic – at least we hope that’s just a wig and not his true hair style. If it is, this takes uncool to a whole new level.
It’s no wonder this one was entered into an event called “Wiener Wednesday.”
9 Not Ok: Ed Roth’s CVCC
And then there’s the time that the man himself, Ed Roth, became associated with a pseudo-rat rod that not only lacked anything other than Ed’s name boldly painted down the side to announce its entry into the cool car sweepstakes, but most anything else people associate with rat rods. Sure the 1980s era Honda CVCC was a great addition to the economy car wars of the day, very little else about it does much of anything for anyone who has high octane in their veins. Understandably, the CVCC has faded so far into obscurity that a large contingent of modern day import turners don’t even remember it.
Maybe this one should as well. Even though it claims a relationship with Big Daddy himself, sometimes all the polish in the world can’t transform a turd into a cool ride.
But wait, there is hope! All this thing needs is a rear-mounted Chevy 454 sandwiched into the rear hatch/back seat area, mounted to a transverse transaxle that bolts straight to the massively oversized back wheels. Then run some upside-down headers out the rear windows, slap a steam locomotive cattle catcher on the front end and >BAM< this thing goes from terrible to terrific. A car truly worthy of Big Daddy's legacy.
8 Not Ok: Thanks, But No Thanks
Once again, we have to refer to the four tenets of rat rodding. Just as with the last Vette turned rat, we’re seeing a few of the disciplines on display, but the lack of anything remotely cool is glaring. Sure he’s managed to take a Tahoe V8, strip the fuel injection system off and replace it with a carburetor. Topping off the carb is what appears to be a hand-made air cleaner assembly.
The folks at Jalopnik.com state that this guy assembled the whole thing for less than $1,800 and a pile of random junk he had at the house (anyone see this cat on the latest episode of Hoarders?) The knowing doesn’t make the seeing any more bearable.
In fact, the notion that he spent $1800 to ruin a Corvette is mystifying. While everyone needs a hobby, killing an American icon and resurrecting it as a junk wagon hardly fits the bill. What’s next, taking a one-wheel skate board to race at Talladega? That’s probably too sane for the next big thing. Really, this guy needs to think much bigger if he’s going to top this one. Who knows, maybe he can turn a Saleen S7 into a grocery cart…
7 Not Ok: Nix the MX
Whenever anyone utters the words “cool Miata” Dale Earnhardt rolls over in his grave. In some regards, you could argue that they’re the bridge between shifter karts and real race cars, and you might have a leg to stand on. But, when it comes time to hang with the rat rod big boys, such as we see in the list above, the Miatas need not apply. Often viewed as lacking the testicular fortitude to be considered a hot rod, the Miata still manages to surface every now and then when some misguided soul has poured way too much time, energy and bolt-on’s into theirs.
While most fail to really do anything other than look like they’re probably coin-operated, the folks who modded this one at last managed to give it some aesthetic charm. Notice the shaved door handle, re-covered in what appears to be brass and upholstery pins. Nothing says “quarter-mile monster” like a snooty brown leather executive chair. And, while some have a planned unfinished look, this one appears more like they haven’t completed the sanding on the front fenders to make them match the doors and quarter panels. Hopefully they’ve moved on to better rat-mod endeavors as the people responsible for this one seem to have great potential, it’s the Miata that doesn’t.
6 Not Ok: White Knuckle Misses The Mark
The White Knuckle Wharf Rat Rod (that’s quite the mouthful) almost didn’t make the list. Of all the rides on the terrible side of this one, the WKWRR seems to possess the spirit of a truly amazing rat rod, but somehow it doesn’t quite get there. Maybe it’s the inline diesel that looks like it belongs in a John Deere or Caterpillar instead of a street machine?
Maybe it’s the other, not so obvious qualities that give it the “farm vehicle” not “road warrior” vibe. Or, maybe it’s just how filthy – no not that kind of filthy, get your mind out of the gutter – it looks?
Chances are, all those qualities combine to keep this one under the threshold of wicked cool rat rod. It’s almost like the underdog that you want to root for, the one you secretly hope will win it all, but in the end doesn’t quite get there. Like a smoldering pile of charcoal that never really catches fire – it starts with the expectation of a cool outcome but ends up with a mild sense of disappointment and wondering what you’re going to do next. Sort of like the Batman Versus Superman movie.
5 Not Ok: Tow Mater’s Stoner Friend?
Have you seen the movie Cars? In it, there’s an old Volkswagen van named Fillmore, voiced by George Carlin. His apparent reliance on mind altering substances portrays a 1960s stoner stereotype that has a loose grip on reality at best. It’s hard to look at this entry into the terrible list and not wonder if this is the van Fillmore was based on, albeit with a bit of a Texas twist.
Sure, the cattle horns and chains give this VW a little bit of a tough guy vibe, but that bit is greatly outweighed by the fact that this thing looks like it would be equally at home abandoned in a field somewhere in east Texas as it would at a car show. In fact, even having it at a car show might make people wonder if it got there under its own power or was modified where it broke down in 1969.
While these vans do have a rather large cult following, it’s hardly a great stating point to make a smokin’ rat rod. Who knows, whatever field this one was yanked out of might have an old 1960s Chevy pickup or a Studebaker. Or, if they’re really lucky, a 1951 Hudson Hornet.
4 Not Ok: Go Home Jeep! You’re Drunk.
In an obviously misguided attempt to join the party, it seems the folks at Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram decided to enter the rat rod sweepstakes. No one apparently gave them the memo that a production rat rod is an oxymoron. While they seemed to be after that unfinished, heavily altered appearance, it still just looks like a CJ or Wrangler that hasn’t fully run down the assembly line. The stacks sticking out of the hood add a little hot rod mojo, but this thing is still far too polished, clean and “new” looking to really be a true rat rod.
Maybe the folks at CJDR should try a retro Wagoneer with a tank treads on the back, or an M715 with a big block and headers. How about a Scrambler with giant back wheels and tires tilting down towards a slammed front end pushed by a Ford Powerstroke? Looking through the list of Jeep products through the years brings up a pile of options, most of which would be far cooler than anything Jeep themselves can shove down a production line. Let’s face it, you can’t mass produce underground counter-culture coolness, no matter how hard you try.
3 Not Ok: Ashes to Ashes, Rust to Rust
This one makes the gear head heart heavy. At some point the car, or more accurately cars, this one started out as were abandoned and forgotten by the original owners. Then, someone came along, brought a toolbox full of love, ambition and attention to it and built what looks like it would have been a pretty sweet rat rod. Then the unthinkable happened: the rod was abandoned once more. Sort of like the lonely single who gets stood up on a blind date at a romantic restaurant, only to meet an incredible person there who ducks out on ‘em after saying they need to hit the restroom. It’s just sad.
It's hard to tell from the picture what all this one is missing, or if it even still runs. Maybe all it needs is a powertrain, some wheels and tires and a new lease on life.
Putting a Chevrolet 350/350 drivetrain in it probably wouldn’t be that hard as the wheelbase appears similar to that of the late 1960s Corvettes and early 1970s Camaros and Firebirds. Then a sweet set of five-spoke rally wheels reminiscent of the old Cragars. Wrap the wheels in some rear Mickey Thompson drag radials and front skinny Minnie’s and this one could be resurrected – again.
2 Not Ok: From Low Budget to No Budget…
There’s doing hot rod restorations on a tight budget or doing them on a low budget. Then there’s doing them on no budget at all, which almost seems to fall into the mockery category. It’s hard to tell if the owner of this rat rod fail is trying to mock the movement or just broke as a joke. Either way, this ain’t cool. Guessing from the picture the modder in question is a stock worker at some retail outlet or goods warehouse where they helped themselves to some cardboard boxes and a few rolls of packing tape. These are hardly the rat rodders material of choice.
Another angle to take is maybe this belongs to a great rat rodder, like one of the owners in the sick list above, and a co-worker pulled a prank on them by “modding” their grocery getter. Perhaps it’s the great grandson of Lord Tredegar. If so, the boxing kangaroos are just off-screen battling with the local MMA star while Polly the Parrot calls the fight from the owner’s fly, feathers stuck in the zipper and all.
Chances are, the real story is nowhere near as entertaining as these flights of fancy, but we can still dream…
1 Not Ok: And the Winner is…
Admit it, when you first saw this one you threw up in your mouth a little bit, didn’t you? Then, you looked away, but had to look back – the train wreck effect where you just can’t not look – and threw up in your mouth again. After the second round of choking back your last meal, you felt the need to share it with a friend, laughing as they had the same regurgitated reaction. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The first question this one begs is why on earth anyone would put the time and energy into modding a Pontiac Grand Am. Secondly, why take the truck cab and hood, which had a ton of potential, and Bondo it (or is that plumbers putty? It’s hard to tell) to that same piece of scrap metal Pontiac never should have built in the first place.
After that, the rabbit hole turns into a black hole, sucking in all sense of rat rod reason. In fact, the only way this makes any sense at all is with the assumption it was done as some elaborate prank. However, the flaw in that theory is that all pranks require some semblance of humor and this thing isn’t funny at all – at least not in the laughter inducing way.
Sources: IMDB.com, Discovery Channel, Truck Trends, Hot Rod, Auto Evolution and Jalopy Journal