Trends are born of necessity. The look and feel of the pre-war lakes racers reflected slash-and-burn physics. The formula was less weight equals more speed. The method was rude as hammers and can openers to get the car to go as fast as possible without killing the occupants. These were sub-$50 American castoffs driven hard by young men with the world ahead of them but without the cash to buy the European dream car they glimpsed through the bomb sites. In the ’70s, the sheetmetal turned to gold, and the owners turned gray and old. Eventually, the iconic ’32, ’33, and ’40 Ford hardware became untouchable figments of the American Dream.
This is an ever-tightening spiral that is doomed to reset every generation. The muscle car was next. The ’60s zapped every kid in the nation with nitro, tire smoke, and fire-engine red. In the ’90s, the cost of a real muscle car—not a garden-variety Chevelle or Mustang but a factory killer with the Hemi, LS7, or FE 428—skyrocketed to astronomical dollars, slamming the door on the next generation of kids.
Revolt and repeat. Grandpa’s ’32 is untouchable, but the Model A outnumbered beer cans in that era, and Generation X—the offspring of the baby boomers—gathered them and created the Rat Rod. At the same time, they hiked the price of both the Model A and the modern Harley, building glamorous choppers using millennial windfall money, again forcing the price above the reach of the next group of kids: Generation Y.
Revolt and repeat. Gen Y built the bare-bones chopper movement, spiking the prices of the generic Shovelhead, Panhead, and Ironhead away from the next generation that have yet to emerge from their video-game-console coma to realize the fizzing total-body adrenaline blast delivered by a properly built street machine, race car, or V-twin death trap.
Between Gen Y and the next generation is the new thing we call the Rat Machine movement. We put one on the Feb. ’12 cover and since then have seen them slowly blending into the enthusiast culture. The void of classics from about 1976 to 2005, and the abundance of off-brand and base-model ’60s and early-’70s sheetmetal still available online is feeding it. Instead of buying a restored or museum-quality muscle car, the young enthusiast is buying the rusty, rotted, and sometimes dangerous castoff, plugging in a late-model engine from a wrecked 2000-something V8 techno-blob, and a new classic is born: the Rat Machine—cheap, stripped, and packed with amazing computerized mods for absurd power and handling. Again, in terms of fit and finish, they look and feel like the original lake car but fly like the fastest race car of their father’s generation. Revolt and repeat.
Car Craft Magazine
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