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Rusty, dusty, and cool

Road Kill Rod Up invades Carman

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The third time was the charm for the Road Kill Rod Up in Carman last Sunday. Steady rain dampened the car show's spirits in the past two years, but thanks to sunny skies and an increasing interest in old school hot rods, this year's event attracted more than 70 vehicles manufactured prior to 1965.

Compared to many of the larger car shows throughout the province that often feature more than 500 classic and special interest vehicles, 70 cars may seem like a small number, but it's the type of vehicles the show attracted that made all the difference.

The show was presented by Bill Harrison, owner of VaVaVoom Garage. Harrison -- or Uncle Bill, as he's known to many local auto buffs -- lives in Altamont, a tiny community east of Carman, and owns what is best described as a field of dreams; his rural property is home to hundreds of rusty and dusty old cars. He sells complete cars and parts to old car fans far and wide. He's shipped parts as far away as Australia.

Although the old car hobby has been rumbling along here in Manitoba for decades, the rat rod car hobby is fairly new to these parts and Harrison can lay claim to being a local pioneer.

Some in the hobby actually take offence to the term rat rod, but it's the most universally accepted term for these vehicles. According to Wikipedia, a rat rod "is a style of hot rod or custom car that, in most cases, imitates (or exaggerates) the early hot rods of the '40s, '50s, and '60s. It is not to be confused with the somewhat closely related traditional hot rod, which is an accurate re-creation or period-correct restoration of a hot rod from the same era.

"Most rat rods appear unfinished (whether they actually are or not), with just the bare essentials required to be driven.

"The rat rod is the visualization of the idea of function over form. They are meant to be driven, not shown off."

That said, there were more than a few rats were shown off in Carman, and although many of the vehicles appeared as though they were just pulled out of Harrison's field, the reality is that in most cases these cars were carefully restored by their owners with not just attitude, but drivability in mind.

Brent Hoitink, president of the Riff Raff Car Club, a close knit group of men and women who have embraced the old school car hobby, had his 1923 Chrysler on display and there was a crowd around it all day. Although he painted the car with rattle cans of white spray paint, it's impossible to miss the considerable work that went into his custom creation, including a chopped roof and the insertion of a Hemi motor.

Hoitink built the car himself and it features many parts from many different vehicles. Typically at local shows the car receives far more attention than many hot rods with flashy paint and custom interiors that cost tens of thousands of dollars to create. For Hoitink that's the attraction.

"This element of the hobby allows the builder to be creative on a budget," said Hoitink. "Just because a car isn't covered in candy coated paint and chrome doesn't make it any less attractive."

In fact, one could argue that the rust and dust actually adds to the overall appeal. We wouldn't dream of repainting an antique piece of furniture; all those scuffs and scars give it character, and that's exactly what many of the vehicles on display at the Road Kill Rod Up had in spades.

In addition to the cool old cars, the rat rod movement also incorporates vintage clothing, rockabilly music, and even old bicycles. For many it is more of a lifestyle than a hobby.

Another vehicle that received a lot of attention was the 1934 Ford truck built by Chris Baker. Although Baker is covered in tattoos and his truck looks as tough as nails with 'HOODLUM' for a personalized license plate, the reality is you couldn't find a nicer guy. Baker was fielding questions about his truck all day, and although it looks a little rough around the edges the mechanical quality of his build is top-notch.

For his part, Harrison should be commended for putting on this show. He worked hard all summer planning and promoting the event and it was a raging success. Although he claims it will be the last show, here's hoping that the Road Kill Rod Up invades Carman again next year.

As much as they love the amazing big-buck hot rods -- and there were a few on display to tempt our eyes -- the reality is building or buying a car like this is not economically feasible for many. That's what makes a show like the Road Kill Rod Up so important. It represents an affordable and creative element of our local car scene and injects much needed youth into our hobby.

There's something undeniably cool about a young dude in a tough looking old car. Here's hoping that we'll be seeing more of them in the not too distant future.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 12, 2011 F8

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