Tag Archives: rat rod

Shoutout to the Car Community

The Checker is finally almost ready for the road. The license plates are on, and it should be ready for a test drive before the end of the week.

As the finished product begins to come together, I have gained a new appreciation for the amount of work that goes into rebuilding a classic car. For example, this classic Volkswagen Bug is going to need a complete overhaul before it is ready for the road again.

(Classic Volkswagen Bug. Photo from Queen of Diamonds: First Project Car of 2017)

With enough determination, any car can be brought back to life. Even after spending 100 years rotting away in a forest, this 1906 Stanley Model H was able to be restored.

For many enthusiasts, a car is much more than just a method of transportation. Cars often carry sentimental value, such as Danny’s 1976 Ford Granada.

The process of building a classic car is incredibly rewarding. This post from Copart Auto explains what makes the entire process so fulfilling – from finding the car, to bringing it back to life.

Creature Comforts

Checker Marathons were used as taxis in many major cities back in the 60’s and 70’s. They were designed as fleet vehicles with rugged frames and a massive interior.

Most rat rods are bare bones when it comes to the interior. To the surprise of many hot rod enthusiasts, this rat rod’s interior is fully furnished. When we first picked it up, both rear arm rests were rotted out, as well as most of the body under the back seat.

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The floor was covered in various Bondo patches, and there were still quite a few holes where we could see the ground from inside the car. Once we got all the holes patched up with sheet metal and street signs, we had a lot of space to decide what to do with. We both agreed that a Persian rug would be the best option for a carpet.

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The original heater was also not operational, so we found an old Cadillac heater on eBay for a good price, and it fit under the dash quite nicely. Many older cars run on six volt systems, however the Checker runs on a 12 volt system like most modern car batteries. This heater had a 6 volt blower, so we had to put a 12 volt blower in the heater so that the extra thermal load wouldn’t immediately fry the blower motor when we turn on the heater.

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The armrests in the rear were still missing, so we made new ones out of wood.They’re filled with spray foam too, for added stability and structural support. The door panels were also in bad condition, so we added new fabric to the door panels and used it to cover the arm rests as well.

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The original pieces remaining in the back seats are the two metal ashtrays that we managed to save and install into the new armrests. My dad also did some custom airbrushing and added some lightning.

Fossil Fabrication

Working on old cars can be a very frustrating task. Although it seems as if this car is frozen in time, most of the bolts are frozen too. As we get closer to the completion of the Checker, one question has been arising quite frequently: “what have we gotten ourselves into?”

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After reading this blog post about the vintage car culture of Cuba, I was reminded why I love these machines so much. Some people see cars as simply transportation, but car enthusiasts see them as living fossils, preserving the technology of their day. In Cuba, it became be very difficult to import cars after the embargo, meaning that most of the cars in Cuba are restored classics because they couldn’t import new cars. The embargo has been recently lifted, but the effects of the embargo can still be seen today.

Cuba’s entire car culture is literally frozen in time. The only way for them to drive is to fix the classic cars that were already in Cuba before the embargo. They can’t order parts either, so they are forced to fabricate their own parts and salvage components from other machines, such as boats, lawnmowers, and other cars. If we take care of our cars and maintain them, they will last for generations, like the two-stroke 75cc Coco taxis of Cuba which can still be seen today.

It can be quite disheartening when unknown issues arise, eating up more time and money; but problem solving is what it’s all about. It’s a really cool feeling when you figure out how to solve a mechanical problem. Driving is awesome, but turning the wrench is the most rewarding aspect of custom car culture.

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The license plates for the Checker should be arriving from the RMV any time now, which is perfect timing since the weather is finally starting to cooperate. We’re still trying to straighten out a few frustrating issues with the emergency brake and reverse lights, but the beast should be roadworthy within the upcoming weeks.

 

Welding on the World Wide Web

 

After we ran out of license plates and scrap metal, we started to look elsewhere for steel. There are quite a few sellers on eBay with large selections of steel. This eBay store specializes in selling plasma-cut low-carbon steel shapes, which are perfect for rat rods because low-carbon steel will rust quickly if it is not painted or coated. We were able to find a few spiderwebs on eBay that matched the theme quite well. After some hammering and welding, it was a perfect fit.

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Once we had scoured every eBay store and international seller we could find, my dad came across an ad for SPEEDCULT. This place has it all: a blog, an Instagram page, and even an online store that specializes in selling the exact pieces of steel we were looking for at very reasonable prices.

After seeing what SPEEDCULT had to offer, we couldn’t resist putting some of their art on the Checker. We ordered several really unique pieces from them and they all turned out to be extremely cool. They are made of heavy, thick quality steel and they are all cut with laser precision. For all of your rat rod needs, I highly recommend SPEEDCULT.

Rat Rod Bodywork

Once we got the Checker back home, it was time to tear it down and to figure out what species of creatures were lurking inside the body of the car. We were extremely surprised to see that no mice or insects decided to inhabit the Checker, which is very rare for a car in this condition, especially since it has been sitting for so long.

We started sanding down the body, which revealed a larger issue. Many people have owned this car before, and they all had very different ideas of how to do repairs. We found many rot holes that were filled with Bondo, rags, and spray foam. Almost every screw and bolt has been replaced with one that is a different size. Many of the actual components of this car have been replaced with parts from different cars, including the engine, brake system, and most of the drivetrain.

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Back in the day when this car was built, car parts had much better interchangeability in general. There were less makes and models, making it easier for parts to be compatible. For example, we were able to replace the headlights of the Checker with headlights from a 1958 Bel-Air because they are the exact same units. This made it very easy to find and replace parts due to more compatibility at the time – however, fifty years later, these replacement parts are beginning to fail, and the ease of finding some of these compatible parts has significantly decreased. If we need a new master brake cylinder, we can’t just install one from another 1968 Checker Marathon because this car’s engine and brake system has been replaced with GM components. This means that a Checker Marathon master brake cylinder will not fit this Checker Marathon anymore, making it harder to identify and replace.

We started to look at the price of body panels online, and we suddenly realized why Beau was willing to sell this car to us. There was so much rot and rust that it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace all of the bad panels. Luckily, my dad had a different idea. He has been collecting antique license plates ever since I can remember, and decided that the Checker would be a creative way to put them to good use. After grinding away all most of the rust, we covered all of the holes using license plates.

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This is the moment when the vision started coming together. Every time we saw another rust spot or rot hole, we covered it with another license plate. We even fabricated a visor out of rebar and welded it over the top of the windshield.

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Here’s the finished product, complete with a cow skull. Don’t worry, no small cows were harmed in the making of this visor, it is made of acrylic.

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Eventually he started to run out of license plates, so we went to our stash of old car parts and found my old Chevy Cavalier hood. It was basically worthless because I cut fifty holes in it to install four hood scoops, which I thought was a great idea at the time. Since it was made of steel, we cut it to pieces and screwed it to quarter panel of the checker.

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Rust is dangerous when it compromises the integrity of a panel or component, but surface rust can be quite beautiful to look at, and is not as much of an issue. We did some research and found out that if you spray a mixture of salt, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide onto bare metal, it causes the metal to rust and oxidize within minutes. Since we’re mad scientists, we sanded the entire car down, and soaked it down with the strongest rust solution we could make. Once the car was completely covered in rust, we clear coated the entire car so that the surface rust we created could not continue to rot away the body of the car. Rust requires oxygen to eat away the steel of your car, so if you cut off the rust’s oxygen supply, it can’t do as much harm to your vehicle.

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