Every custom vehicle has a story and while Mike Partyka’s rat rod has a tale that can be found echoed, in builds all across the country, the highly modified ‘31 Ford Model A pickup is far from a “usual” build -even by “rat rod” standards. We first brought you word of this wild and somewhat controversial vehicle just a few weeks ago and to say we fell in love with its originality would be an understatement. So, we tracked Partyka down and got the chance to shoot and ride along in “The Heckler” at 9,603 feet above sea level around Breckenridge, Colorado. Needless to say, this feature of Ritz ‘n Rat resulted.
The Rat- Frothing at the Mouth
Traditional in the sense that it comes with an original rusted patina, chopped roof and a unique personality, The Heckler, as it’s been dubbed, is well beyond just another mashing of parts. This rat rod, which is a Model A truck without the bed, was meant to be unleashed and to break barriers that even a community of enthusiasts intent on individuality has built their projects within for decades.
“I wanted to build something with raw horsepower, raw aggressiveness, and stretch the limits of what a hot rod/rat rod can be,” Partyka told us as the story unfolded. And of all the things, Partyka’s creation is certainly a successful completion of that goal.
Partyka grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado, branching into the hot rod and custom world when he was just 15 years old by way of his first Chevy pickup (of course, it didn’t hurt that his dad was a mechanic). From then on, he was hooked and has found a way to keep his passion alive for the last 16 years. In doing so, Partyka has built a few vehicles, including a 1979 Datsun Bulletside truck that he put 900 hours of work into and a 1967 C-10 that is still in progress.
Back in 2009, Partyka took on the project of building his ultimate rat rod by trading in the Datsun Bulletside and what came of that transaction is nothing short of amazing. As it sits today, The Heckler has 950 hours of work and over $40k into it, as well as an endless amount of details that’d take you hours to pour over.
“I’ve always dreamed of building a unique rod with ‘raw’ stand-beside-yourself power,” Partyka told us. “When I saw this rat rod body online, I immediately fell in love with the possibilities and endless options I had to work with.”
When Partyka got the ‘31, it had already been chopped 8 inches with the reinforcement tubing work started as part of a pending rat rod project. This was only the start of the modifications The Heckler received, however. Partyka and friend Willie Davis of Big Willie’s Garage, sectioned the lower body 4 inches, boxed, tubed and back-halfed the frame as well as added ‘32 Ford frame horns and Z’d it 6 inches.
Partyka even equipped the truck with an incredibly unique custom suspension system with massive wheels and tires. The interior, engine and transmission are also a custom combination just for this project, but unlike some rat rods, everything on The Heckler was meticulously put together.
“My theme was to make it as clean as possible, like a hot rod if it was painted,” Partyka told us.
Making up the suspension system in the front is a straight axle with split wishbones, a custom panhard bar and ShockWave Air Ride 7000 shocks built into ShockWave sleeve air bags. In the rear, the rat features handmade boxed frame rails, Yukon chromoly axles, custom 4-link with Watts Link panhard bar and Airlift Dominator bags with Speedway Motors shocks. The rear also features a Chevy 10-bolt rearend from a ‘72 El Camino, Eaton limited-slip 3-spring differential, and 3.42 gears.
The 3-gallon air tank for the air ride suspension seconds as the rear crossmember of the truck, which is attached to an Air Zenith OB2 compressor through hand-bent ½-inch copper air lines that took Partyka five days to design. The suspension is then controlled by Partyka via manual trucker valves located on the rat’s dash.
Attached to the suspension are massive 20×9.5-inch and 22×11.5-inch Bonspeed Clutch wheels wrapped in Nito NT 555 245/35ZR/20 rubber in the front and 285/35ZR/22 rubber in the rear. Partyka told us that these wheels were bought right when Bonspeed opened up and were originally intended for his C-10. But after the wheels sat in the garage for awhile, he decided to put them on the rat rod instead. The grippy rubber and massive wheel combination is backed by none-other than So-Cal Speed Shop disc brakes in the front and standard 1972 El Camino drum brakes in the rear for plenty of stopping power, tied to the car with custom brake lines made by Davis.
Power Built for a Rat
Just as impressive as the body/frame modifications and custom suspension setup is the massive engine assembled by Davis that finds itself suspended just inches from the ground. This burbling beast is a 454ci 1974 big block Chevy bored with a torqueplate out to 463ci that pushes right at 600hp. Deburred, parallel decked, and line-honed by Top End Performance, this engine is a force to be reckoned with.
Intertwined in the black powder coated masterpiece, you’ll find an Eagle crankshaft and rods, Harland Sharp rockers, COMP Cams Hydraulic roller camshaft with a .576/.570 lift and .287/.291 duration and COMP springs and hydraulic lifters. You’ll also find a Melling High Volume oil pump with a Milodon oil pan, Flex-a-Lite electric roller cooling fan, Speedway Motors aluminum radiator with custom skid plate, ‘74 Chevy oval port heads, MSD digital E-Curve distributor, MSD “Blaster” coil ignition and four two-barrel Weber 44 IDF carburetors. Of course there is no missing the Inglese 8 stack perched on top of the engine, which Partyka tells us is one of his favorite parts of the rat rod.
I’ve always dreamed of building a unique rod with ‘raw’ stand-beside-yourself power. -Mike Partyka
Fueling the monstrous engine is an 8-gallon steel tank made by Jeff Bates that’s tucked up under the dash. Finishing touches to the engine setup include custom made brackets and gold anodized components rather than the traditional chrome, as well as custom headers built by Davis that dump into 1-7/8th-inch raw steel tubing.
The engine is tied to a 1960s Powerglide transmission complete with a shift kit and Street Fighter converter with 2,500 stall. The transmission attaches to a custom driveline made by Driveline Services and is controlled by a custom tractor shifter mounted outside the driver’s door.
Inside the Beast
Peering inside the cab of the rat rod, you’ll see the transmission, with custom pin striping done by GiGi Hawks, and driveline combination sitting in between the driver and passenger seats.
The interior also features many other unique details including a safari front window, chain-driven steering with a classic quick release steering wheel, custom skull with head dress created by Bates, medicine wheel detail, custom pedal assembly and a custom polyurethane floor done by Partyka, complete with bullet casings and Cadillac emblems. He even saved all of the welding tips used on the beast and included them in the floor creation.
When asked about the emblems, Partyka explained they were given to him by his late grandfather. “I knew if I put them in there, I would never sell the car,” Partyka told us- correcting himself and stating, “Oops – I don’t like when people call it a car, it’s actually a truck.”
Look Closely- There are Secrets to be Found
If you think that Partyka’s rat couldn’t get any more unique, you’d be wrong. Tucked in every crevice of the truck, you’ll find surprising additions to the overall build, including a vintage Coco-Cola bottle opener attached to the firewall, Big Willie’s Garage sticker tucked under the engine and even hands flipping the bird laser cut into brackets on either side of the frame. You might also be surprised to find 1928 Diamond T headlights and 1959 Cadillac taillights on the rat, as well as water squirters aimed at the rear wheels, which add even more to the unique personality of the build.
A Rat Ride into the Sunset
Riding around Breckenridge in The Heckler was an experience we’ll not soon forget. Everywhere we went, there was a mixed audience of young and old who came to admire Partyka’s work, from young’ins asking if it was just for kids to drive to old automotive enthusiasts asking a gamut of questions. Of course, when driving by the down-town shoppers in the upscale mountain town, there was a mix of people giving Partyka a thumbs up, staring with little other reaction, and turning their noses up while plugging their ears.
“That’s what I’m going for,” Partyka told us when we pointed out the mix of scowls and smiles.
Like any automotive build, it’s not about what other people think for Partyka – he built his rat the way he preferred and doesn’t get bothered by even the “traditional” rat rod guys expressing their dislike for the truck’s massive wheel and tire combination, among other things. Partyka doesn’t build for them, he builds for the satisfaction he gets by creating “a work of art” with his own hands and the inspiration it brings others along the way.
“Once you get your vision, never stop pushing forward to build your dream,” Partyka concluded. Fantastic advice coming from an enthusiast that has never let anything stand in the way of his automotive dreams.