Rat rod with an attitude

Gwinn man creates unusual vintage vehicle

This is Matt Couture’s rat rod being driven on a warm, sunny day. (Photo courtesy of Matt Couture)

GWINN — When the weather warms, Matt Couture probably will be seen driving around Gwinn proper in what some people might consider an old jalopy.

Not every car, though, has a movie prop of a .45 Colt revolver to shift gears.

What was once solely a 1931 Ford Model A sedan is now a “rat rod,” which Couture finished in April 2018 with the help of family members.

Couture, who lives in Gwinn, spent five months on the project, which is featured in the latest edition of Rat Rod magazine in a story titled “U.P. Tough, A Model A With An Attitude.”

So, what is a rat rod?

RodAuthority.com defined the term as a hot rod that typically has been hand-built, and is commonly free of signature characteristics of street rods, namely billet components, high gloss, candied or metal flake paint.

“Rat rods are usually in ‘rough’ condition, unfinished or purposefully incomplete,” Tony Huntimer wrote. “Because of their ‘ratty’ condition, the name stuck.”

According to a May 24, 2017 MSN story, hot rod builder Jim “Jake” Jacobs, former co-owner of Pete & Jakes Hot Rods in Peculiar, Missouri, inspired the rat rod movement in the 1980s, building an old-school hot rod from parts he sourced from his shop’s scrap pile.

However, Los Angeles-based pop culture artist Robert Williams in the early 1990s built “Eights and Aces.” The late Hot Rod magazine editor, Gray Baskerville, gave it the rat rod label, and the rest is history.

Couture is carrying on that tradition in the Upper Peninsula.

A gun movie prop is used to shift gears in Matt Couture’s rat rod. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

“It’s just kind of a bunch of parts mixed up to make a vehicle, that’s old rusty stuff, but it’s creative,” Couture said.

He acquired the Ford in October 2017 from a friend in Negaunee.

“It was just the body and the frame,” Couture said.

It’s hard to drive only a body and a frame, so had to acquire parts.

Couture purchased the tires on Facebook Marketplace, and he got the motor and transmission from a Little Lake man’s Camaro.

He made the back seat himself, but the front seats are from a Checker Transport, LLC bus from Marquette.

The vehicle has an automatic transmission with a Chevy small block V8 engine.

Couture, who works as an operator at Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township, considers making a rat rod a hobby.

The rat rod was his first, which he created “the hard way — a lot of looking stuff up, calling friends and just figuring stuff out.”

As with many hobbies, it sprung from an interest and a skill.

“I’ve always been into it, and I pay attention, so I kind of knew how things went together,” Couture said.

Couture’s rat rod came with a bit of a mystery.

He found the name “Leslie Makinen 1964” carved into the dash, so he snapped a photograph and reached out on Facebook to see if anyone was familiar with the name.

Makinen’s sister contacted him and sent Couture pictures of the car from the 1950s and 1960s. It turned out the Ford Model A was her dad’s car, and he had handed it down to Les Makinen, who lives in Negaunee Township, around 1964.

Couture said when the finished the rat rod, he invited the Makinen family to the Gwinn Fun Daze car show to see it.

Les Makinen said seeing the old Ford Model A-turned-rat rod brought back a lot of memories.

“I was kind of surprised,” Makinen said. “He did a lot of work on it. It looked pretty good.”

Couture’s rat rod can be driven around town, although where it can be taken is limited, and when — it’s unheated.

When he drives on M-35, though, his rat rod gets a lot of second glances.

“A lot of people just want to take pictures, and that’s OK,” Couture said.

That could mean taking about half an hour to put in 5 gallons of gasoline at the local Mobil station, which happened one time.

Couture believes his rat rod, though, carries a sense of history.

“This car’s been around here almost a hundred years,” he said.