Monday, September 21, 2009

Rat Rod Update: How Not to Make a Shiny New Sign

Dad lined up his three Internationals the other day in the driveway, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a pic:
International Collection
All three of these started as basically the same truck.* The one on the left is all stock. Even the paint is original. The one on the right has a new paintjob, new engine, and some minor modifications to the suspension to allow it to ride lower. The one in the middle is the rat rod with all of the more excessive changes he's been tinkering with for eight months now.

Last week he finally managed to make it legal to drive on the road. After fiver trips to the DMV and two trips to the Highway Patrol they still managed to put down the wrong year on the title and registration, but at least he finally has license plates.

Here he is after washing the only part of the rat rod that can be washed... the wheels:
Dad Rod 2
The project is riddled with fun little details like the bungee cord that holds on the driver's side mirror:
Dad Rod
The main problem with the project at this stage was the lack of identifying markings. After a bit of deliberation regarding exactly what should be there, he finally dug out an old page from a phone book with an ad for my grandfather's garage:
Thorsson's Ad

The challenge, match the logo on the side of the tow trucks and make it look like it was originally painted on when the truck was new. Step One? Clean off the doors:
Door Cleaning
I got my friends Matt and Jen (they started Blacksheep Signs a couple years ago. Their work is solid and inexpensive and you can contact them at if you need some vinyl lettering made up for you) to cut out some adhesive stencil friskets using their vinyl cutter. Here's a shot of them picking out the parts of the adhesive sheets before we applied them to the doors:
Door Stencils

The stencils make the whole operation pretty simple. You place the sticker where you need it, peel off the backing paper, press the frisket down tight to the surface to be lettered, and then peel off the top layer of contact paper. Once the stencil is in place you simply paint over it, wait for the paint to skin over, and peel the stencil off the door as shown here:
Door Stencils 2
Here's a shot of me painting over the stencil while it was still in place:
Door Stencil Painting

Since nobody has seen the logo in color in about fifty years, we were able to excercise a bit of artistic license. Since the desired end result is to make it look subtle and aged, Dad decided to go with a white oval and do the lettering using a color pallette that wouldn't contrast very much against the base color of the door. Here's the stencil just before peeling:
Door Stencil Painting 2
And during peeling:
Door Stencil Peeling
And another shot before we distressed it:
Door Stencils Peeled
The next day, after the paint had hardened completely, we spent some time wet sanding and buffing the whole door to give it the worn-out look we were after:
Door Sign Distressed
I still think it needs more abuse before it really looks like it fits in with the rest of the vehicle.

For now he's trying to decide what the next major project will be. Leading contenders are a 1936 Ford Pickup, a 1942 Harley Davidson, and this thing:

Finished right, it will look about like so:

I have to admit that if I were him, I wouldn't be able to make up my mind either.

*Today he mentioned to me offhandedly that he needs two more International pickups to round out his collection. No joke.


  1. nice work ,, wondering what size is ur lettering

  2. O lol,, also what type of paint did u use,, thanks

    1. The lettering for the word "garage" is about 3 inches high. Maybe a bit more.

      The paint used in this case was oil-based Rustoleum.

  3. The suspension under the rat rod looks intresting what is it?

    1. I'm not sure what you can see of the suspension, but the rat rod has an airbag suspension system.

      The MG-TD in the last pic has the front end from something else grafted onto it, but I don't remember what it is.

  4. Hi Ever thought of selling the rat rod ? if so drop me an email at I saw it a Viva Las Vegas a few years back and took so many photos of it, great vehicle love it.

  5. Great piece, I'm doing a van in the UK. You've given me some good ideas. Shes nothing like yours. Seriously cool. I'll follow and keep up.