How to Build a Rat Rod

Like most things in life, building a rat rod takes patience, perseverance, sweat and a bit of know how. The beauty of taking a project like building a rat rod on is that the very definition of a rat rod is something that is imperfect and beautiful at the same time. Forget the $5,000 paint job and the perfect welding. We’re looking to build something fast, gritty and eye catching for under $5,000 bux.

Firstly, I don’t recommend going into a project like this without knowing a thing or two about cars. This guide isn’t meant to be completely comprehensive, just a basic step by step guide to get you from beginning to end.

How to build a Rat Rod

Step One

Find a Frame/Body

There are plenty of places you can look to find your chassis. The junk yard is the obvious bet and you can be pretty darn certain you’ll find something for under $500. The old saying, about this guy’s junk being that guy’s treasure is so true. A buddy of mine found a ’34 ford in what I would consider perfect condition (aside from the bullet holes…) and took it for a song at $3,000.

The best place to look for your "starter rod" is right here on in our barn finds section.

You might put an ad on craigslist that you’re looking for a heap. Odds are someone in your state is holding something up in their barn or garage that their great grandfather left to them. Some folks won’t know that what they have is worth $5K+ so don’t be a jerk and rip them off. Offer them 75% of what it would usually go for, this way, everybody wins.  Ya never know, they may have a brother with grandpa’s other old heap waiting for you in their garage!

How to build a Rat Rod

Step Two

Gut it & Cut it up

What do you like about your new rat rod? What don’t you like? Sit for a bit and enjoy the looks of your new friend for he’ll soon never look this way again!

Get out your grinder and your ratchet set, your gloves, some goggles and a few good lights. Throw on your “work clothes” and get dirty.
This part is about personal preference. I do recommend gutting the inside first. This way, when the sparks are flying you won’t have any fabric to light on fire.  Take the obvious necessary precautions… do this outside and have a fire extinguisher ready for you’re your gas tank catches fire (don’t let your gas tank catch fire.)

Whether you’ve got an old Chevy, Dodge or a Chrysler this is about what you want. Some of the coolest rat rods are raked so you can consider cutting of the “steps” and a nice portion of the front end. Beauty is, you don’t have to.  Cut port holes in the side or install ram horns in the hood… it’s up to you! Oh and don’t forget to carefully remove the parts you don’t intend to use, seats, steering wheel etc and sell them on craigslist or ebay. That’s a good way to make some of the cash you’ll need for parts later on.

But whatever you do be ABSOLUTELY SURE to send us a picture!

How to build a Rat Rod

Step Three

Resizing and ride height

Now that you’ve cut the sucker up you probably have something that looks much more like a mess than you did originally. Or, if you’re really skilled with a grinder it may look like the holy grail of rat rods. Whatever the case the next step is a crucial one. You’re going to size your rat rod. What does that mean exactly? Well, if you have a pick up for instance, now is the time to consider cutting the bed off, or shortening it. You can Lop the rewelded frame off 2-3 feet behind the Cab and cover that with a Shortened pick up bed, or a keg gas tank. You could also leave it as is. No rules.

You’re going to mock up the frame for ride height. The rear of the frame will need to be connected by a "Crossmember". The rear suspension can be a buggy spring or coil over Shocks. The rear end can come out of ANYTHING with the right width. Just consider the Lug Pattern. (measure your rear-end and allow for how wide the tires will be). The Front Suspension can be used with Semi Elliptical, or a Spring Behind kit. The Spring Behind will require Batwings to be fabricated and welded to the axle. Remember to weld them at a 7 degree angle for proper caster. Hairpin radius rods or a "Four Link" torsion set up will work. This will put you on 4 wheels with a Roadster body.

Step Four

Music to our ears…

Nextly (no it’s not a word), we need a drivetrain.
If you want to go the easy route, find a small block chevy and spend around $500-$1000. You could also go with an old Impala, Nova, Ford, Cadillac engine that runs. Just make sure it’s LOUD! Degrease and rattle can spray paint it. Pull ALL of the smog stuff off, maybe put on a performance manifold and Headers. NOW would be a good time to rebuild the Starter and Alternator, and replace the Water Pump, Oil Pump and Fuel Pump... Cheap Insurance. Mount the Engine, Trans and Driveshaft in your Chassis. Motor Mounts need to be HEAVY DUTY! The driveshaft will likely need to be shortened. Now, you COULD just about drive your rat rod (if it's wired and has steering).

A great place to fine all the parts and pieces you might need for your rat rod project is right here on this website in our rat rod parts and equipment section.

Step Five

The Rat Rod look

Rat Rods are unfinished, unperfected. They’re loud and fast so tweak it up to make sure you’re there.  You’ll want to prime the whole thing to give it a cohesive look. Paint it with a flat (or matte) paint and for crying out loud don’t pay to have it painted.  Scrawl your lucky number on the side and button her up. Don't forget to grab some rat rod wheels and tires for the finishing touch (I am partial to the original vintage variety).

Your done.

How to build a Rat Rod

Exclusive Illustrations by Mitch Guttormson