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Rat Fink Ed Big Daddy Roth

Childhood Memories to Feel Like a Kid Again

Larry Jewett - November 03, 2011 10:00 AM

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When you want to get away from it all, the safest place to go is back in time.

It would be a great concept if you could pull it off. You can. Your physical body stays here, but your mind can venture back to the times when things were different.

Using “different” makes this politically correct at a time when I really wish I didn’t have to go that route. I really want to say when times were “better” because that’s how it feels. Of course, there will be those who dismiss the idea that the culture of 40 to 50 years ago wasn’t better since we were afraid of the Russians, had a bomb shelter dug in the backyard, and Civil Defense signs in every public building, etc. You can compare the eras until there’s a third era to get into the game, but it’s all a waste of time.

This journey back in time was kick-started by a display at the YearOne car show. There, standing before the parked hot rod, was Rat Fink. Bam! Back to childhood I go.

On that journey back in time, I passed dozens of icons who have been retired, forgotten and discarded. Along the way, it led to my thinking about what it was like when the anti-Mickey was in his heyday.

For those who are hearing about Rat Fink for the first time, you were either born too late or just not into the culture growing up. Rat Fink was the creation of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and was truly intended to be as anti-establishment (a term in vogue in that period) as could be. It was everything Mickey was not. The only common denominator was the fact that they were rodents, and Rat Fink was more typical of a rodent than Mickey.

Rat Fink was everywhere to my young eyes. There were models and I had one, really enjoying the idea of painting him exactly like Big Daddy created him. There were cartoons. There were drawings in the popular hot rod periodicals of the day. You’d either find him standing there, with his shirt carrying the initials ”R.F.” or bigger than life on a muscle car or hot rod, shifter (usually with an 8-ball knob) in hand.

In a class in school, when we were asked to identify an “icon” with an example, I was the only one who didn’t use Ronald McDonald or Borden Dairy’s Elsie the Cow (Is she still around?). I used Rat Fink and had plenty of explaining to do to the generalized audience.

Of course, Big Daddy was more than a cartoon creator. He was a hot rod creator who produced some glamorous rides like the Mysterion and my favorite, the Beatnik Bandit. It was through efforts from Roth and others that the Mattel Hot Wheels really took off. We spent months looking for a Beatnik Bandit (my sister found it first).

Rat Fink’s very presence on that 21st century day opened the floodgates. It was a full-on assault of the retro senses. It doesn’t take much to send you hurtling back to the times when you could run faster or had more hair. For those who can now afford to relive the past, they do so graciously with the cars that we saw long ago on the streets. Certainly, there were a lot of ’55-’57 Chevys that never saw a performance part, but the ones that did became the subjects of stories even told today. It’s especially gratifying when you hear that the person came from a family fortunate enough to own one.

For now, we have to settle for looking at, or maybe even getting, an example of the automotive past that sparked the whole idea in us to begin with. It’s been 10 years since Big Daddy passed away. No one (to my knowledge) has put Rat Fink in a video game, so he remains an unknown to the latest generation. The automotive culture has changed, but there will always be that safe place for our memories. We’re thankful for those who put them front and center with the cars and memorabilia that carry on the torch.

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