Almost a year ago, 55-year-old mechanic and car enthusiast Marcelo Bahamondes Stenvers left his home in Punta Arenas, Chile in his hand-built car on a three-year journey that will take him from the tip of South America to the Arctic Circle and back again.
After driving through South and Central America, Stenvers made his way to the United States and the home of Lodian motorcycle enthusiast Doug Holck, where Stenvers tinkered with his car — known as a “rat rod” — on a cloudy Friday afternoon.
“I played with hot rods as a kid, but hot rods are very classic,” Stenvers said. “A rat rod is more ‘use your imagination,’ there are no limits. There’s not a rat rod that’s like another one.”
While hot rods and rat rods are both cars made before 1948 modified for racing — often with exposed engines — they have more differences than similarities.
Whereas hot rods are almost always made from parts of the same make and model of car and have paint jobs, rat rods such as Stenvers’ are frequently unpainted and assembled from parts of many different cars.
“Hot rodders buy everything out of catalogs,” Holck said. “(Stenvers) finds everything himself.”
“There are always new hot rods coming out, but there is nothing like this,” Stenvers said.
Although Stenvers’ car — which he named “Zarpado” — was built to resemble a 1931 Chevrolet, Holck said none of the parts actually came from a 1931 Chevrolet.
With smoke stacks from a large truck as exhaust pipes, an empty whiskey bottle to hold overflowing radiator fluid, wrenches and chains welded to the frame and toy rats attached to the body, Stenvers’ black rat rod resembles something Dr. Frankenstein might have made had he decided to build cars instead of reanimating dead bodies.
“That’s what the rat rod scene is all about, using what you can find cheap to build something,” Holck said.
Attached to Stenvers’ car is an unpainted camper named “Coyote,” which he made from a 1946 Ford.
“What’s left of one, anyway,” Holck said.
The camper in which Stenvers has slept for the past year features a working sink and soap dispenser, a working periscope from an old tank, a bicycle named “Pistolera” on top of a solar panel that Stenvers uses to charge his electronics and several plastic zip ties to hold the cracked fender together.
Just like his beloved car, Stenvers built the trailer himself in his auto shop in Chile.
“Completely by hand, everything,” Stenvers said.
Stenvers’ car and camper are both covered in stickers he has gathered during his travels, including one from the Hardknocks Rat Rod Club in Texas of which he is an honorary member.
Before they made their way to Holck’s home in Lodi near Lockeford, Stenvers met up with his host and friend at the Rockabilly Reunion in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., in February where he won first place for best Rat Rod out of roughly 500 cars.
“The only rat rod camper,” Stenvers said.
Although Stenvers speaks little English and Holck speaks no Spanish, the two communicate through an application on their smartphones that translates their messages.
Despite the language barrier, the two share love of travel and classic cars — with Holck preferring “the shiny ones” and making his international trips on a motorcycle — and their resulting friendship made Holck all to happy to host his Chilean friend for a few weeks.
“I’ve had such good hospitality in my trips to South America that I’m trying to pay it forward,” Holck said.
Stenvers will display his car at the Lodi Car Show and Swap Meet on March 10 at the Lodi Grape Festival Grounds, and at the end of the month he will make his way to Canada where he will wait for the snow to melt before continuing to Alaska.
“Then, he’s going to turn around and go home via Nebraska,” Holck said.
Although Stenvers’ journey will be long and challenging — he can see the road through holes in his floorboards — he is confident that his car will be able to make the journey and advises anyone interested in building a rat rod to have the same level of confidence.
“If you believe in yourself, you can do anything,” Stenvers said with a smile. “They didn’t think I would even reach Santiago.”
News-Sentinel Chief Photographer Bea Ahbeck contributed to this report by translating for Stenvers.