El Cheapo: Building A Rat Rod For $1,500. Episode 14 – Loose Ends

This will be the wrap-up issue of our $1500.00,  ’48 Ford El Cheapo rat rod. The next instllment will be the complete photo shoot.

The list of completion items are larger than you might think. The belts, hoses, headers, seats, etc., will of course come from recycle yards where parts are sold by the pound (not the piece). The speedo came out of a Mac Truck and the mechanical gauges out of an early piece of muscle car that had met its maker in a head-on collision.

The speedometer came out of an old Mac Truck and had the same fittings as early Chevys.

Use What You Can

Mechanical gauges are the simplest to use, just hook them up to the engine, find a keyed hot wire, and you’re good to!

Nothing is sacred when scrounging for parts. The thing I love about mechanical gauges is the simplicity of them. The oil gauge goes to a simple fitting on the back of the motor, the temp gauge to a fitting on the front of the block, and the amp gauge to a keyed hot wire and you’re off to the races. The old Mac Speedo was the same fitting as early Chevys, so a speedo cable was easy. The old head lamps came off of a vintage boat and the taillights are Walmart trailer lights to the tune of $6.95 each.

A vintage boat gave up the headlight and the taillights are trailer lights from Walmart that only cost $6.95 each!

The radiator shell came off a tractor and the shocks were a swap meet find for $5.00 each. The seats are boat seats. They’re short but ride good on the longer trips, and are dirt cheap. The grille-shell insert is expansion metal from the outdoor cookers at Home Depot. The steering damper was the best $30.00 I’ve ever spent — it cuts out the death wobble big time. The headers are fence pieces. Each pipe has a Harley-Davidson baffle in it to keep sound down.

The gas tank is a Farmall tractor tank turned on its side and a new filler neck welded in. The brake lines are simple — a roll of brake-line tubing and a $15.00 flaring tool kit. The seat belts were pulled from a wrecked car that didn’t have much more than that left. I assume they held because I didn’t see a head bulge in the driver’s side windshield. Seatbelts wouldn’t be required on a 1948 Ford, but I like the feeling of false security. Believe me, if this 48 Roadster crashes, an asbestos suit would serve me much more than seat belts, but then again people get killed in Cadillacs!

Shifters on these rats can be pulled from recycle yards or swap meets. One thing I have learned is a $20.00 stick shift with the back leg cut off works perfect. I’m talking about the no-name 3- or 4-speed shifters, either will do just fine. There is enough throw on these old shifters to make all the gear changes on an automatic trans. The name brand shifters are expensive, but nobody wants the oddballs so they’re cheap, and shift as well as the high dollar ones.

A Driveshaft On The Cheap

Got some old sheetmetal laying around, bend it around a telephone pole and you have a driveshaft tunnel!

If you save about 10 inches of yoke off the front and rear of the driveshaft from whatever vehicle you buy for your  rearend and tranny, you can have a custom driveshaft made pretty cheap! By taking in those two pieces, the shafts are usually around $50.00 to have them put together with a tube measurement. A driveshaft company will be four times that, but a mom-and-pop type machine shop will be around $50.00. They can balance it just like a shaft shop can, so why not save the bucks?

A tunnel to cover the shaft and tranny can be handmade. You can arch a tape over each and get an idea of your length and width. With a piece of 18- to 22-gauge sheetmetal you can get your cuts, and hand bend them around a cylinder or telephone poll if you wish. You just keep bending and checking and soon you will have your shape.

Keeping Rodding Alive

I realize some are laughing at all of these antics. To get real quick though, simply think back to when you were in your 20s and didn’t have 2 nickels to rub together. This is what created the rat rod world to start with. If I need a part, I can go buy it, but everyone is not in that boat.

The sad part is, the young guys love hot rods as much as any $80,000.00 builder, but don’t have that kind of skin. For this reason, I like to point out ways to keep it cheap. It helps the young get into a world they otherwise could not afford to be in. This is a good thing by the way, because it pumps new life blood into our dying world of rods. Get behind some young guy and encourage them to keep going.

A Farmall tractor tank turned sideways made a perfect gas tank. Just need to weld in a filler neck.

We’re down to the end of this build, so three things remain: firing it up, test driving, and making the paperwork legal. We will start with the firing up. Maybe in your case, someone pulled the distributor to keep from damaging it when pulled. How do you know where it goes for sure?

Fire It Up!

Get a buddy to bump the key a little at a time, figure out where the number one cylinder is on your motor. On a Chevy it will be the first cylinder on the driver’s side. With plugs out, put your thumb or finger over the spark plug hole as he’s bumping it over. You will feel 2 puffs against your finger — one will be lighter and one heavier. The light puff is an exhaust stroke and the heavy one will be the compression stroke. When you feel the heavy stroke, have him stop immediately.

You’re now up on number one. With the cap off of your distributor point the rotor button towards number one and drop it in gently. Your vacuum advance should be pointing toward the right rear. With the distributor in, put your cap back on, remembering which terminal the button is pointing to. That will be your number one wire. Look up your firing order and wire it from number one. We use to call this static timing. I don’t know what it’s called today, but this will start the motor.

If you don’t have a timing light, this next trick will put it in perfect time. As you’re slowly rotating the distributor, watch the fan blade. When you see the illusion the blade is spinning backwards, stop right then. It will be in perfect time. The example I use is the old cowboy pictures when you would see a stage coach going by and the wheels appeared to be turning backwards. I assure you if you will stop the second that fan blade looks like that, you will be as much in time as if it would have been timed with a light.

Use everything you can find and you can build a car for $1,500!

Getting It Titled

The next issue is the title. More than likely, if it’s an old body found out in a field like mine was, there will be no title. If you can get a notarized bill of sale and a serial number — even if it’s off the motor you’re installing — most states will honor this. If not, you can go to a salvage yard and buy a title off of a wrecked vehicle around the same age. Guys also sell titles at swap meets.

If this fails, get a bill of sale in a no-title state. Alabama was one of these that had no titles until about 25 years ago, so a bill of sale is as good as a title and other states will honor that. Last but not least, every town has a theft and recovery department. They will send out a state trooper to inspect the car. You will have to have a receipt for every part and you will be issued a title that says 2018 Homemade Car. This is a major turn-off when trying to sell, because who wants a 1940 Ford that says homemade. However, if that’s the only way, so be it.

Take It For A Test Drive

For your first test drive, take it around the yard, not the block. If successful, then you can do the block and then neighborhood. There will be kinks you will find and need to work out as you go. It’s good to know what the rod will (and will not) do before getting on the expressway.

I hope you have as much fun as the law allows with your new hot rod. Next issue, we will show you exactly what a $1500.00 rod looks like. With this, I hope you will build yourself one, even if you already have a high-dollar rod. You don’t have to worry about doors being slammed into or getting mud on them. It is the most carefree fun you will ever have.

Check out our photo shoot in the next issue. Check us out at Ringrods-Hotrods.com or Tommy Lee Ring on Facebook. Also check out our 100 Cool Tips on the Tommy Lee Ring Youtube Channel.

About the author

Tommy Ring

Tommy’s love for Hotrods was passed down from the elder Ring who wrenched on cars and welded. Tommy’s living came from music as a road musician in venues across America. Tommy also worked as a studio musician and wrote for a jingle company, yet always had a project Rod going on the side. In 2009 Tommy opened RingRods HotRod Shop and in 2012 began writing for RatRod Magazine. Tommy also has a Rod Building Video sold worldwide. Tommy has been featured on TV, Radio, Podcast, and in several magazines.
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