SAUGERTIES, N.Y. — Peter Duvaloois’ rat rods are way cooler than your car.
The fast machines, pieced together from vintage parts and scrapyard finds, also are rumblier, rustier and turn more heads on the highway.
That’s pretty much the point of rat rods, which look like post-apocalyptic hot rods. While both are generally low-slung and loud, rat rods wear their rust proudly and never touch a buff cloth. Duvaloois is among a horde of creative gear heads expressing their affection for vintage vehicles by rearranging them into something both new and old-looking.
“I’m not particularly interested in how fast the truck will go,” Duvaloois said with a laugh. “I’m interested in how cool it looks getting there.”
Duvaloois is building a rat rod based on an orange ‘35 Ford public works truck at his garage, called the Rat’s Nest, about 90 miles north of New York City. The 63-year-old retiree has raced stock cars and built hot rods, but he likes the more easygoing, don’t-worry-about-fingerprints-on-the-paintjob vibe of the rat rod crowd.
“I’ll go to a show and a lot of times you’ll have the shiny cars there and the signs all over them: ‘Don’t Touch! Don’t Touch!’” he said. “I’ve had a whole Boy Scout troop go through my truck.”
Rat rods have been around for decades; some say the name stems from hot rodders dismissing the “ratty” looks of other cars. While there is no formal definition, many have low clearances, open wheels and round headlights flanking old-school grilles. Volume counts, too.
A rat rod is simply a blue-collar hot rod, argues Rat Rod Magazine editor Steve Thaemert.
“We’re returning to the roots of hot rodding, basically, where you’re trying to build something cool with what you had,” Thaemert said. “You wanted it to be fast and you wanted it to be loud and aggressive, and it didn’t have to be perfect. It was a poor man’s entry into hot rodding.”
Thaemert believes rat rodding is more popular now. His magazine’s Facebook page has more than 1.5 million likes, and the Web is full of pictures of enthusiasts’ creations. Hundreds of rat rodders rumble in from around the Eastern Seaboard every summer for Duvaloois’ Hudson Valley gatherings.
Duvaloois’ current rat rod project should be ready to roll by the August gathering. The public works truck from the nearby City of Kingston is chopped down, shortened and has a ‘50 Olds Rocket engine under the hood. Duvaloois doesn’t use blueprints; he says he can’t draw. He uses paper cutouts and temporarily tacks the vehicle together to make sure it all fits.
This is the fourth rat rod Duvaloois created in seven years. His first was built from a ‘46 Chevy pickup a friend was going to scrap. The friend said there wasn’t much left, and Duvaloois replied that’s just what he wanted. He combined the hood, cab and grille from the old Chevy with a ‘52 Dodge hemi engine, a Camaro 5-speed transmission and other pieces.
“I get such a kick out of driving this thing,” he said during a quick jaunt.
The old pseudo-Chevy gets 23 miles to the gallon on the highway, though mileage seems to be less important than the reactions he gets from passing cars.