El Cheapo: Building A Rat Rod For $1,500. Episode 10-Just Coolin’ It

In a perfect world we could just throw a radiator and mechanical fan at a car and call it a day. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way. At least not down in the South.

Here’s how it goes: You’ve got that rod cammed up to the max which of course makes it run hotter than it normally would. You’ve got your standard fan setup and you feel good about yourself until suddenly traffic backs up for a wreck. You’re sitting idling for 45 minutes.

This is about the time you say bad words because you will visibly see the temperature gauge climbing. This is the time you didn’t plan on those 100-degree days with boiling hot pavement and no shade for miles.

Well, you are in luck, because we’re at the point in our build to address that very issue. Here are some tips on setup and how to get maximun cooling as well. To start, we make a measurement to the mechanical fan to see where the radiator needs to sit. In this ’48 Ford’s case, we build the frame to know where it will sit.

If you are working with a hotrod already together for the most part and just need to set up the cooling system, this still applies.

We measure side-to-side on the frame to get a center mark and do the same on the radiator. We set the radiator just inside the frame on blocks and run a 4-foot level from the cowl to the top of the radiator. This will give you a good idea on location. If the mechanical fan lines up height wise and the two center lines are matched, you’re ready for framing.

By the way, if you are building anything that is going to use a grill from the 20’s or 30’s, you will be very limited by the dimensions of the radiator you can use. We have found that 1964-1967 Mustang radiators fit in those grills perfectly. You could of course have something made, but why? These radiators at Autozone are $139.00. If you set up a commercial account they are closer to $100.00. If they’re for a V8, they will cool that hot rod just fine providing everything else is right.

With the radiator now in place for location, take two pieces of 1-inch x 1-inch angle iron and stand along side the radiator to the frame and chalk mark where the holes will line up with the radiator and where they will sit on or along the frame. Remove and drill holes and then set in place and tack to the frame.

Now you can remove the radiator and weld them on solid. The flat side of the angle is for the radiator to bolt to, which leaves the other leg of the angle facing forward. Temporarily set your radiator back in and temporarily bolt it in place. The part of the angle facing forward will give you a surface to mount two horizontal pieces across that will mount an electric fan to the outside. Just line your horizontal bars to where the bolt holes are on the electric fan.

This electric fan willl be a lifesaver on those 100 degree days when you’re stuck in traffic. The mechanical fan works fine if it has a shroud or is at least only 2 1/2” from the radiator. Once all of these things are in place, You can remove the radiator and weld everything solid. The grill will also mount to the same two pieces of angle iron.

You can weld a small L bracket to the bottom of the grill that will bolt to the frame and one on each side that will bolt to the angle iron pieces. One thing to remember is if the rod you’re building is a roadster like we are doing or perhaps a T-Bucket, run a level from the cowl to the radiator for the right profile before any permanent welding is done.

Nothing looks more ridiculous than a radiator and grill towering higher than a cowl! All you have to do is search images of hotrods on the net to spot what I’m talking about. Even if the radiator has to sit 4” off the ground on the bottom to prevent that ugly look, please do it. You will thank me later.

Hotrods are all about profiles, even if it’s a ratrod. It’s still very important to keep side, front and back profiles right. Most of the old grills you find at swap meets won’t have a screen with it. This can be cured with a cheap piece of expansion metal at the tune of about $20.00. One last tip about making that rod run cool; a cheap bottle or two of water wetter will cool temps by 20 degrees.

There are other products by other names, but they all help. Next time we will tackle some cockpit issues, such as cheap pedal assemblies and other issues. To check us out, go to ringrods-hotrods.com

About the author

Tommy Ring

Tommy’s love for Hotrods was passed down from the elder Ring who wrenched on cars and welded. Tommy’s living came from music as a road musician in venues across America. Tommy also worked as a studio musician and wrote for a jingle company, yet always had a project Rod going on the side. In 2009 Tommy opened RingRods HotRod Shop and in 2012 began writing for RatRod Magazine. Tommy also has a Rod Building Video sold worldwide. Tommy has been featured on TV, Radio, Podcast, and in several magazines.
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