So you think all car clubs are about glossy paint, gleaming chrome, custom dashes and flawless upholstery? Think again. There is one genre of car club—more of a car cult, actually—that is the black sheep of the otherwise upstanding family of automotive enthusiasts. The ‘rat vehicle’ genre has been steadily increasing in variety and popularity since the Mad Max movies of the 1980s. It’s a classic example of life imitating art.
In the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max, gas has become so scarce that people will kill or die for it. Marauding bands of road punks, travelling in conveys of chopped, weaponized armoured vehicles, roam the countryside to steal gas anywhere they can.
Forget Mel Gibson—it’s these vehicles who are the stars of the show. From rusted rat rods to flat-black motorcycles with sidecars, these vehicles have inspired countless car hobbyists to put down the Turtle Wax and pick up a can of black spray paint.
Ratting out a vehicle is a fun, easy and inexpensive process that can be done to almost anything on wheels.
First, you must learn to ignore the little angel on your shoulder who keeps whispering, “You shouldn’t be doing this,” into your ear. (If you watch Death Race with the volume high enough, you won’t be able to hear him.) Next, choose your colour—flat black, grey, primer or rust are favourites. I have found John Deere’s Blitz Black to be a premium paint with a durable hard finish.
For a great effect, drip red candle wax over the body before applying paint in the rain—on hot days, the wax will ‘bleed’ through. You can accessorize with almost anything: World War II goggles, netting, checker plating, horns or even stuffed animals if your kids want to get in on the action. Who knows, you may be spray-bombing their bikes black before you know it.
While we are far from the type of gas crisis portrayed in the wasteland of the Mad Max movies, there is no doubt that we are facing hard, unpredictable economic times. With the price of fuel on the perpetual rise, many consumers are wary to commit to a $700 per month car payment, $500 of which is lost in depreciation; however, they still want a vehicle that will turn heads. For those with enough imagination—not to mention a good sense of humour and a courageous streak—rat vehicles are a fun option. Whether you’re driving a sputtering Yamaha XT100 motorbike or you just inherited grandma’s 1982 Chevy Citation, you’re only a spray-can away from really being noticed on the road.
While rat culture and attitude are currently most popular in Europe, the wave is spreading to the United States and Canada. Bucking the trend of most car enthusiasts, rat cultists like to brag about how little they’ve spent on their vehicle and how high the kilometres are. There isn’t a shiny accessory to be found. Their mantra? “Chrome don’t get ya home.” Even leading North American manufacturers are getting in on the game. Harley Davidson recently started producing a beautiful matte black paint on their high-end bikes, straight from the factory.
Indeed, the future of flat black is brighter than ever. There is a new Mad Max movie in the works: Mad Max 4: Fury Road due out in 2012 and fans are already revving their engines. Events like Wasteland Weekend (wastelandweekend.com) in California, shows like Mad Max Cars (madmaxcars.com) and clubs like Rat Bike Zone (ratbike.org) keep rat culture alive on the Internet. So drag home that back-alley special, shake a can of spray paint and then—in the tradition of rat culture—just drive it. There’s only one condition — if you’re ever caught washing it, you’re out of the club.
Don Macleod is an automotive enthusiast who writes about anything and everything with wheels. You can email him at email@example.com.