Rust vs. Chrome

Rat rodders, at times, seem to view their shinier cousins with certain contempt. Car collectors with their gleaming Mustangs and shiny Chevelles don't hold much appeal for them. A lot of the rat-rod spirit comes down to pushing against conformity, and the period-correct fanatics who insist on "numbers matching" cars undoubtedly enforce a certain level of conformity. A rat rod is a one-of-a-kind car, and that might be the best thing about them from a rat rodder's point of view.

Rat Rod Parts

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One of the major draws of rat rodding is the low cost. Compared to the street-rod scene, where enthusiasts can spend thousands of dollars on individual chromed billet parts, very few rat rods cost more than $5,000 total. A lot of rat rodders build cars for much less because they are able to use junk parts that they fabricate into something useful.

Bruce Oliver started out with a few body parts from a 1932 Willys truck that he found in a junkyard. Over the years, he collected parts from a Plymouth, a Ford, a Chevy, a semi truck, an Oliver tractor and even an airplane. "The front axle is 1931 Ford, with '49-'54 Chevy spindles, Mustang II rotors, GM calipers and topped off with Plymouth wheels," Oliver said. "Many other parts were freebies. There was a lot of buying, selling and swapping involved in this to keep the costs down. The final cost, roughly, was around $2,300."

While you can find suitable frames and bodies for a rat rod almost anywhere, most come from the southwestern region of the U.S. There, the dry air and mild winters preserve metal parts far longer than in the north. Wet weather and road salt leave cars rusted and rotting -- you won't find many abandoned or wrecked cars that can be salvaged from much earlier than the 1950s in the northern states. Indeed, this is probably why the rat rodding scene is much bigger in the southwest than it is up north.

Like many rat rodders, Jim Marquez takes almost as much pleasure in the hunt for the car as he does in building and driving it. "The body of my 1929 Dodge was in a field in Texas. I had been searching everywhere to find a four-door body. I made many trips around the west coast searching anywhere an old body might be laying that I could get," he said. "There are hundreds of cars scattered around the Nevada deserts. I come across them all the time, but to find one that some kids haven't thrown rocks at and busted up or has not had rednecks shooting holes in it is pretty rare. I know of a spot in northern Nevada where there are literally hundreds of car bodies used as ground fill to divert irrigation water."

Finding the car is only half the battle. Next, find out what skills you'll need to put together your rat rod.