Ridin’ Dirty

Everything new is old again.
Relax, the bodywork is sound on these deceptively wrapped hot rod racers. The rust bubbles, dirt and grime are all part of the complete wrap, purposely created to make the cars look like they were driven hard and put away wet.

As usual, curiosity got the best of me, and I braved the mid-January cold and slush to visit Cincinnati’s KOI Cavalcade of Customs, an event that has long brought together top hot-rodders, hand-painters, pinstripers and craftspeople from every corner of the automotive landscape. How could I miss that?

While attending the Cavalcade, I always look forward to seeing the eternally popular Rat Fink and Von Dutch motifs. Ed “Big Daddy” Roth was an ST columnist in the ’70s, after all. 

Various stylized flames, in every imaginable color, always pique my interest. Although fun to gawk at, they just wouldn’t look right on my SUV. And despite their incredible precision, neither would the beautifully crafted pinstripe displays. 

I go through this same thought process during every show I attend. This year I was hoping to find something new, something I’d never seen before. 

Surprisingly, the coolest new stuff I found was old, or at least looked old. Let me explain. As I walked past a filthy, rusted-out 5.0-liter Mustang, I casually ran my fingers across its particularly rusty front fender. Much to my surprise, the fender was smooth and freshly wrapped. I looked around with new eyes at the small grouping of rusty racers. They were all wrapped to look that way. I had the feeling of entering an episode of The Twilight Zone, but in a good way. 

Automotive faux-finishes have been in vogue since the early days of the hot rod movement, but this is a new spin on the idea. These exquisite “rat wraps” can give a pampered garage-queen a bit of street cred, as modern digital printing techniques render every rust bubble in perfect, eye-fooling detail. 

And, if I ever need my family-hauler to look like it just completed the 24 hours of Le Mans, or a demolition derby, I now know just what to do.

Signs of the Times May 2020

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