Vegas Rat Rods is probably one of the best reality shows based around automotive modification, simply because the mods are actually pretty astonishing to see. Comparing their mods to rats is pretty fitting, as they aren’t always the prettiest mods you’ll see on reality TV, but they sure pack a punch.
The main man behind the show’s direction and success is none other than Steve Darnell, who interestingly got his start in wrenching by repairing bicycles after his amateur wrestling career fell short. He then graduated to engines and, well, the rest is pretty much history.
Vegas Rat Rods airs on The Discovery Channel and has had three successful seasons. The beasts they unearth and bring back to life are pretty amazing—but some are better than others, of course.
But before we move on, a brief word on our Mad Max reference: Mad Max is a series of films, the most popular of which, of course, were the original three, known for launching the career of the cinematic gem, Mel Gibson. The films were an uproarious lament glorifying a certain type of aggressive action film and the vehicle (pardon the pun) was the perfect one to carry Mel Gibson to superstardom. Recently, the franchise was reintroduced, starring Tom Hardy, and was also a good showing. Specifically, the films (all four) showcased an impressive array of desert vehicles that were absolutely out of this world.
The aesthetic that director George Miller brought to the big screen is one that Vegas Rat Rods has definitely emulated. Here are 10 of their builds that would be perfect on the Wasteland and 10 complete duds.
20 STRAIGHT FROM MAD MAX: MACK ROD
Now, if you're familiar with the films, then you'll most assuredly be convinced that this beast definitely belongs within the frames of the action-packed franchise. From Max's own vehicle to the vehicles driven by the villains, this one would fit pretty much in any capacity. The exposed engine and the bodywork, seemingly left untouched, would tie in perfectly with the dystopian post-apocalyptic action drama and quite nicely, at that. This build was converted from an original Mack big rig, a 1938 model specifically. They did an excellent job here of keeping the antique style intact, all the while supercharging it to the future and beyond.
19 TOTAL DUD: SALT FLAT ROD
We see wholeheartedly what they were trying to do here, and as far as regular mods are concerned, it's a great effort and it actually looks pretty cool, as well. But if we're comparing this to the vehicles in the Mad Max franchise, then we've gotta call this one a dud. After all, it's way too bland to measure up to the cars we saw in those films and way too delicate-looking, as well. This vehicle actually was in the series premiere and was the first project audiences were treated to. As we said, it was a great mod-job, in and of itself. It was built from a 1931 Ford Model A. Impressive work, yes, but Max just wouldn't approve.
18 STRAIGHT FROM MAD MAX: IRON ROD
Here, even the name fits. We can just hear one of the characters referencing one of his or her vehicles in this way: "I'll get you, Max! Me and my 'Iron Rod; will get you, just you wait!" Or something along those lines. Anyways, it definitely looks the part too, and after all, image is pretty much the most important thing in Hollywood, no? The vehicles in the films are mysteries in and of themselves, as the world depicted is a post-apocalyptic society and everyone seems to have powerful vehicles at the ready. The only thing missing is the fuel to power them. But this vehicle fits in well, as we've said, and just look at the flatbed behind, all those tools ready to whip up another beast or built a new one altogether to join the ranks.
17 TOTAL DUD: RANCH ROD
Now, although this one does have a rustic look to it, we'd have to put this good old boy on the negative side of this list. That's not to say the mechanics involved in restoring it weren't or aren't impressive, but again, it isn't worthy of the comparison to the vehicles in the film franchise. This one was built using spare parts from a few vintage Dodge trucks and this hot rod was the ultimate result. At the end of the day, it looks perfect for ranch work and hey, even a spin through some difficult terrain, but Thunderdome and beyond? We don't think so, Tim.
16 STRAIGHT FROM MAD MAX: DITCH DIGGER
And speaking of Thunderdome, we know this one's rather plain Jane, as they say, but there's a certain quality we like about this one. We can see the characters from the franchise coming across an old truck and modifying it enough to use for obvious reasons. It seems to pack a punch and is indeed powerful, as is quite easy to see. But perhaps most fitting is the word "Thunder" on the door that did it for us. It's the perfect vehicular prop for the third installment of the film. This build, however, was built for a construction business run by a local family and was not at all a vehicle of ultimate post-apocalyptic mayhem.
15 TOTAL DUD: ELECTRO ROD
Even the name rubs us the wrong way here. It sounds a tad corny actually. The style, in and of itself, is nice, but not at all for the desert. It would fit most at home in some epic saga from the 1930s, maybe a story depicting the life of Bonnie and Clyde or even the likes of Al Capone, but not the desert hooligans we're talking about here today. Again, we must say, however, that the mechanics behind this build are indeed awesome and what Steve Darnell and friends were able to do to this 1928 Buick is something beyond genius when it comes to straight up mods, and they deserve their props.
14 STRAIGHT FROM MAD MAX: 1968 CHARGER
Before there were films like The Fast and The Furious, Gone In 60 Seconds, and of course, the upcoming Hobbs and Shaw, Hollywood relied on an older style of movie making. They made actual props and their stunts were coordinated carefully, using actual stuntmen. These days, a lot of those films get made using loads and loads of computer work, and although there's nothing wrong with that, we'd have to say that it kinda looked cooler back then. The reason Fast and Furious came up was the Charger seen here. In the film, Toretto drives many of these and the souped-up off-road version from the seventh installment got a bit of attention, but we'd say that this build from Vegas Rat Rods takes the proverbial cake and eats it, too. And yes, we do see this one in Mad Max.
13 TOTAL DUD: TUXEDO ROD
Well, the name says it right here—in bold, black lettering. There sure weren't any tuxedo-wearing characters in the classic Mel Gibson films, nor in the Tom Hardy revival, and for good reason. It probably would have turned out to be a different film altogether, and probably not as good. Wardrobe matters, folks! It can sometimes set the mood, but anyway, again, the build is impressive as a stand-alone modification, but to say that it can measure up to the types of vehicles on the positive side of this list would be extremely inaccurate. Besides, if Max came across this in the desert and was being chased by a bunch of the Marauders from the film, he'd just as soon walk rather than be seen riding this thing.
12 STRAIGHT FROM MAD MAX: DESERT RAT
Based on a 1930 Ford Model A, this one plays the part and it plays it well. What Steve and his band of mechanics did to this beast is pretty impressive and takes first place for us, as what it looks like now and what it originally looked like is pretty much a night and day comparison. With this one, it's almost as though Darnell actually had the Mad Max franchise in mind when he was building it. We can't be sure and we'd have to ask him the next time we run into him, but we'd put some money on it, as the similarities this one has to some of the vehicles in that franchise are staggering and it gives off much of the same vibe that those cars in the film do. Great job, Steve Darnell and team.
11 TOTAL DUD: FRUIT ROD
If I want fruit I'll go to a watermelon patch and have a field day; I sure won't go to the guys and gals at Vegas Rat Rod. They could have named this truck anything else. But all kidding aside (I wasn't kidding about the watermelon patch, however), the truck does have its impressive side, as it is obviously a powerful machine. After all, all farming equipment needs to be tip-top, as the trucks used on farms work all day long and then some. But we sure don't see this one speeding down a stretch of desert road with Mel Gibson climbing out the window, ready to wreak some havoc on the bad guys.
10 STRAIGHT FROM MAD MAX: STAMPEDE ROD
Here's yet another example where the name lends to our imaginative inclusion in the film and the positive side of our list. If you fans of the franchise will remember, there are a lot of scenes in which the Marauders are driving through the desert in packs, very much like a stampede of Rhinos or (insert your wildlife animal here). This vehicle would look pretty amazing on camera in such a sequence, maybe even a few of the same model flanking the sides of the herd. We can see it now: a few "Desert Rats" at the front, a few semis at the back, and of course, these puppies on every side. This vehicle was based on a 1931 Model A Ford and interestingly enough, the team installed a Cummins 4BT diesel engine!
9 TOTAL DUD: WAGON ROD
Do we really need to go there? Do we really need to go and outright say that this build seen on Vegas Rat Rods doesn't at all belong or be in any way associated with the Mad Max film franchise? We didn't think so. Now, here, we'd even have to go as far as criticizing the whole job altogether. We more than understand what they were going for here, but we just don't agree. They had an opportunity to modify and restore a gorgeous classic, a 1957 Chevy Wagon, and they dropped the ball. The rustic paint job takes away from the overall project. Whereas, had they finished it anew, the way a classic like this deserves, it would have looked that much better in the end.
8 STRAIGHT FROM MAD MAX: DESTROYER
As Shakespeare once said: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." And we're positive that even he couldn't imagine vehicles like the one pictured here, how poignant and appropriate those words pulled from Romeo and Juliet were, and yes, even in speaking about a monster like the one built by the Vegas Rat Rods team. After all, epic vehicles are the roses belonging to gearheads the world over, aren't they? Indeed they are. And this vehicle here was aptly named, folks, and the name, the vehicle, and everything else in between would fit quite nicely in that franchise, wouldn't you agree?
7 TOTAL DUD: POWER PACKING F100
The Ford F-Series is one of the most impressive series of trucks any automotive company has ever offered the public. Power, class, and style—it's got it all, folks. That's why this one here ended up on the "dud" side of our list today, however. At the end of the day, don't you think they could have done more with this beast? We do. We mean the setting is perfect and the colors are perfect, but they could have built this one up a tad more and added a few more scary features to be more reminiscent of the vehicles in the Mad Max series of films. We like the wooden bumper up front, but there wasn't enough of that rusty flair. And too bad, because we love the F-series and everything it represents.
6 STRAIGHT FROM MAD MAX: JOKER MOBILE
Sometimes, vehicles need to have a certain "attitude" to be considered impressive. This one here certainly has that "it" factor we're looking for and we're sure you would more than agree, dear readers. In fact, if we stay real quiet, we can almost hear all of you whooping, oohing, and ahhing somewhere out there. This build was a piece of art from the get-go and watching the team work on it was impressive. It not only belongs in the Mad Max franchise (it probably could be associated with some jokester villain), but it would also look quite at home in some DC depiction of The Joker. We can definitely see that character driving one of these through Gotham.
5 TOTAL DUD: WATER RAT
This one just doesn't sit right with us and for very good reason, we feel. Just like the wagon from earlier, this one here could have done well with a few more trimmings thrown in along the way. If the overall intent was to have this one be a dedication to the aquatic lifestyle, then they should have finished it with that intent in mind. We feel that the overall look is quite lagging in that department as well. The missing side portion on the front end is also quite bothersome. What, did they run out of scrap metal? The pickup itself was brought in by a local family man and was from the 1950s, according to him.
4 STRAIGHT FROM MAD MAX: 1979 PETERBILT
This one is the perfect comparison to those epic rides from the franchise we're referencing here today. After all, what more can a person want in a vehicle set to wreak oh-so-terrible cinematic mayhem? Just look at that monster. Peterbilt trucks are some of the best in the business and when it comes to semi trucks, the Peterbilt name is respected above most others, as well. Here, the Vegas Rat Rods crew outdid themselves and even shattered expectations. If they do make a fifth installment of the film, hopefully finding a way to bring back Mel Gibson and having him work in tandem with Hardy, then they should get their hands on this beast, as well.
3 TOTAL DUD: FRANKEN ROD
Now here's a situation where the name doesn't at all live up to the hype. Mary Shelly's Frankenstein was a monster. This truck doesn't look anything like a monster. Shelly's Frankenstein dawned a new era in horror and ushered the many great stories that came after it. Dr. Frankenstein's monster was grotesque, menacing, and out of this world. This truck here looks too normal and basic to be given the moniker. It wouldn't fit in the films, either. But had the Vegas Rat Rods team gone overboard and really put something menacing and grotesque together, they may have had something altogether different on their hands and it wouldn't have ended up on the negative portion of our list.
2 STRAIGHT FROM MAD MAX: ROCK N' ROLLIN' PICKUP
Now, pay very close attention to those spikes. You see them, the ones on the front bumper and on the gas tank at the right. Now, if that just doesn't scream "Mad Max Mayhem" then we don't know what would. Sure, the colors are a little off, but we can overlook that here, and say that the build, in and of itself, is rather impressive and fits the mold we're looking for here today. The clients that wanted this truck modified were actually two bodyguards that wanted the truck for their anniversary and the Vegas Rat Rods team delivered, working on the original Chevy and adding a little rat-rod flair to the project.
1 TOTAL DUD: 1954 WOODY WAGON
The paint finish is pretty cool here; we've gotta give the team that, after all, we call a spade a spade here at HotCars. But there's no way that it can fit in with the other vehicles we've deemed appropriate of comparison to Mad Max and the vehicles therewithin. Maybe it would fit well in a film like, say, Grease, but not an action film worthy of installment after installment. We can just see Travolta at the wheel of this one, singing about Sandy and Grease Lightning. And although good-old John Travolta has had his fair share of roles in action films, a Mad Max he is not. Sorry, John.
Sources: Wikipedia, IMDB, and AllStarBio.