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In the mid-Nineties, the Rat Rod movement had become an entire lifestyle for a growing group in California. Sure, there were pockets of it smattered across the country, but just like car culture in post-WWII America, it had all started on the West Coast.
In those early days of the movement, the aesthetics were mainly derived from mid-century Americana: rockabilly music, cuffed jeans, Ike jackets, pompadours, pegged pants, pedal-pushers, bettie-bangs, the list goes on. Matter of fact, this aesthetic can still be found in American car culture, but it’s certainly flourished and grown to include facets of surfing, skateboarding, custom motorcycles, Punk Rock, Euro styles, Japanese pop culture, lowriding, tattoo culture, New Wave, early circle track racing culture, etc. Good to see car culture expanding in this way, even if the term “rat rod” has devolved into a derogatory term here at the end of the decade…
In 1995, a film student named Emily Dutton put together a low-budget documentary about the ‘rockabilly revival’ she discovered in Orange County, CA at the time. Artists Von Franco and Dan Collins, Dan-o and his surf band The Dynotones, Anthony Castaneda and Blue Murphy of the famed Doll Hut lounge, James Intveld and a host of those early adopters were showcased in a ‘day in the life’ type of format. Not only was it inspiring to see a group so dedicated to interpreting such a vibrant and important era of American popular culture, but these folks put their money and talent where their mouths were by building traditional-style hot rods and customs with well-researched and hunted vintage parts –– things that had to literally be unearthed and uncovered in order to build such cars in the mid-Nineties.
In an era a full decade prior to the YouTube explosion, “Desperate Generation” spread like wildfire throughout the car culture underground. Well, maybe more like a small grass fire, but hey –– it was the era of car phones, too, so what to expect, really? The documentary blew the roof off what was, till then, a small movement taking root just south of Los Angeles. But the O.C. hardcore punk movement had naturally progressed into this thing centered around these hot rods built with that ‘do-it-yourself’ punk ethic: early-style hot rods done on your own terms and not waiting to be finished to get on the road and raise hell in. Right on.
More than ten years later in 2006, Mad Fabricators Society –– a video production company that arguably has Emily Dutton to thank for its very existence –– got hold of the documentary and produced a new cut, complete with additional footage and made available on DVD. It had an impact on the new generation of Ratrodders, but it seemed to do so in some sort of nostalgic light: the quality and style of cars the film’s subjects built and drove seem to have been lost on this new crop of ‘rodders. But, thanks to MFS, the documentary is easy to find (here). Required viewing to complete Rat Rod 101.