Some might know him from his appearances on automotive TV shows including Monster Garage, American Thunder and Chop, Cut, Rebuild. Others may recognize some of his higher-profile project builds such as the Hardcore Knight and Skull King.
As owner of Rich Evans Designs/Huntington Beach Bodyworks in car-crazy Southern California, Rich Evans continues to build a name for himself in the customizing world. Current projects include working on a new television program called Autoholics, launching the Rich Evans Academy-a three-month advanced collision repair and customizing program at Ohio Technical College-and readying six project vehicles for the SEMA Show in November.
The centerpiece of those vehicles will be a new Challenger to be unveiled live in the Mopar booth the first day of the show. It will feature an Evans-designed body kit that will be offered to the public.
Despite his hectic schedule, Evans carved out a few minutes to talk with Performance Business about his path to becoming a well-known builder, what it takes to juggle a variety of projects at once, and what he enjoys most about designing one-of-a-kind cars.
Rich, thanks for taking some time to speak with us. Let’s start with a little background on how you got involved in customizing.
RE: I grew up in a muffler shop in Sacramento, going to work with my Dad. Being there for such a long time, I accumulated a strong interest in cars, and not just under the cars doing the brakes. I was pretty much drawn to the bodies of the cars, and that came from my Dad building hot rods in the garage.
I remember being 8- or 9-years-old and seeing my brother working on the bed of a truck and I was like, “Why can’t I do that?” It was kind of an instant bond-the mechanical part to the body part.
So, I think I found my niche at a young age. I could watch somebody do something and then I could do it, and I’ve carried that throughout my career. Going from working on my own car, I went to work as a metal man for a collision facility, where I’d straighten frames and wrecks.
In 1992 I started Huntington Beach Bodyworks and we started off the first year doing about 40 cars. By the third year we were up to 750 cars-I would say 95 percent collision and 5 percent restoration.
And the work gradually grew to include more custom jobs?
RE: Around 1999 I started laying out heavy graphics-more of a tribal theme-and got into a fad that brought me a lot of recognition. We were tattooing on vehicles. I thought, “Tattoos are cool on humans, so let’s try it on cars.”
We were in that stage for a little while, and then we got really out-there as far as bringing fine art on wheels. We created the Skull King, and my whole focus at the time was symmetry. If there was a door handle, I’d go through it (with the graphics).
What got you involved in project vehicles?
RE: In 2003 I met with Meguiar’s-they wanted me to paint their rig. They were taking it to Pebble Beach and then to SEMA, so I went to go check it out.
I looked around (the show) and said, “Wow, there’s a lot going on; this is where it’s at.” I was definitely impressed and kind of drawn to what was going on out there.
And this year you’ll have six projects out in Las Vegas, including a Challenger with a custom body kit that will be unveiled at the Mopar booth.
I worked with Ford on a program a few years back that really didn’t go anywhere. It was in the “modern muscle” style that’s so popular now. But Mopar saw what I did and liked it, and we decided to try and do something together.
It’s taken two years to put together. The plan is to allow people to buy a Challenger and transform it into a modern muscle machine. They are going to have the car covered in the Mopar booth, and then unveil it Tuesday at the show.
The body kit that I’ve created for the Challenger is a little simpler for the consumer to use than what I’ve created in the past. You can install it in about two hours and do paint-to-match or color codes.
We’re also creating wheels and components like the grille-parts that easily transform your car and will be easy to install. I can’t give away too much, but the interior will include a fiberglass headliner where you can put leather, paint it or do vinyl, whatever you want. We have a lot of great partners, including Katzkin and Grant.
Everybody knows the Challenger is the greatest looking car on the road right now. It’s got a style, looks cool, and has the mean Hemi. What else can you ask for?
So, it will have performance to back up its looks?
RE: I’m going to be racing it in Pinks All-Out this year, so that’s a new field for me to work in.
I’m in my early 40s and I’ve done all the car shows. I feel like I need to do something more active. I’ve followed the circuits and I have lots of friends that race professionally. I figure it’s time for me to get behind the wheel and have a little fun, you know?
What’s your thought process when you tackle a new project?
RE: When I build a car, I’m really not building a car to impress the world; I’m building a car to impress myself. If people like it, it’s a bonus.
That’s what I’ve learned with SEMA projects-if people like it, it’s a bonus; if they don’t, maybe they’ll like the next one. So that’s how I take it.
Being a builder, you’re going to get criticism. Maybe someone who doesn’t like a Ford, for instance, will knock it if you build a Ford. So, for all the builders out there, I say don’t worry about impressing the world. Impress yourself and build what you like.
It’s all art, and nothing’s bad. You’re the one who has to live with it, you’re the one who has to drive it, so make what you want to make.
And you’re not limited by parts that are available, right?
RE: On some of my earlier projects, instead of buying parts I started creating my own. Every time I turn around, I’d rather make it than buy it. So that’s what led to building parts and getting more into my designing. I was really comfortable and had fun doing it.
On the current projects, the biggest, heaviest thing I’m carrying on my shoulders is making my parts-making sure I get my plugs done and get my molds done. And it’s a whole other game with polyurethane. There are lots of obstacles-it’s the biggest challenge.
What basic steps do you follow to make each project a reality?
RE: The first step to my process is knowing which vehicle I’m going to work on. As soon as I get that image in my head, then I start looking at it, going: “OK, well this is how I would picture this car to be.”
Then I go into Photoshop and that allows me to move things around on the car. If it’s not working, I’m going to be able to see it right there, and I can make changes.
I’ve got my own style now, just like anybody else. It’s aggressive, pushing toward the modern muscle, because the new generation is a little edgier. The idea is to make it look like it’s going 100 mph while standing still.
If it wasn’t for my partners, I couldn’t be where I’m at or do what I do. I definitely need to send out a huge thanks to my partners and a huge thanks to the people that believe in what I do and are a part of it. I’m a builder that will stay true to my partners forever.
From them I get the pieces to the puzzle. That takes organizing, strategizing and figuring out what you’re going to use. For me, to have the pieces of the puzzle in front of me, where I have control of it, really allows me to run through my process smoothly, because when you don’t have a piece to the puzzle, obviously you can’t finish it.
From there it’s just the process of getting it completed-time management and making sure you stay on pace. The Mopar project has been nice, because I’m providing them updates every couple of weeks for their blogs, etc.
How do you prepare for a new project?
RE: I practice every day on every vehicle I do. It doesn’t matter what I’m working on-I practice to be better, so when it comes to a project where I’m working with a manufacturer like Mopar, I’m ready for it.
Now I have the process, I have what I need to do and the accelerators in case I have to step it up or if I’m coming up short on my plan. So I have A, B and C plans, just like anyone else.
How do you stay motivated on each project?
RE: I tend to set myself up for challenges. I don’t want it to be easy and just cruise through it. I want to learn new processes, new ways of doing things, because that’s just going to better me as a builder.
Overcoming obstacles is going to make me that much better and wiser for my projects.
What’s the most enjoyable part of the project building process?
RE: The most enjoyable part is going from your mind to paper to real. Just it coming together.
I enjoy every step of the process. I enjoy the obstacles. I do every step of the process-from creating the initial concept in my head to designing it on paper. I disassemble the car, sand it, paint it and assemble the final product. I enjoy it all-that’s just because I love what I do.
Then you finish the project and you can stand back and look at your creation. With me as a builder, I’m already thinking about the next build. I’m kind of already over (the current one), since I put so much time into it, and I’m on to what am I going to do next.
Finally, what’s your advice for new builders hoping to one-day build a high-profile project?
RE: Never be afraid to try something. Go for it, and you can never fail. As a builder, build what you want to build, be your own style, and try to create your own personality. I always try to put my personality into my build.
And watch instructional videos or TV shows-watch things that you can learn from. If you’re going to sit down and watch something, learn from it. That way you have less trial-and-error.
As a builder, I want to see the next generation go farther and faster than I did, because then they can be more creative and take car building to another level.