Don Hellwig showcases suspension on a trailer at an early rendition of the SEMA Show

SEMA Pioneers—The Hellwig Family

John Gunnell has been writing about classic cars since 1972. He is also the owner of Gunner’s Great Garage in Manawa, Wis. He owns 11 cars and seven motorcycles.

At least one company that exhibited at the first SEMA Show in 1967 is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. While SEMA just celebrated its 50th anniversary, Hellwig Products just marked its seventh decade of making parts for the specialty car market.

Hellwig Products today sells truck accessories, chassis products, ride control products, safety equipment, suspension bits and trailer and towing parts. It started making some, but not all, of those same products 70 years ago.

Hellwig is a family-owned firm that specializes in 100-percent American made, precision-engineered products. The Visalia, California company—now operated by fourth-generation family members—started out selling car helper springs to customers via door-to-door sales calls.

In the 70 years that have passed since then, Hellwig Products has continued to help car enthusiasts with all their suspension needs, but has also added lots of new and different products. Hellwig focuses on constantly improving its products to develop them into the best high-performance suspension parts in the automotive aftermarket.

Hellwig was founded after the World War II and has always been family owned and operated. It makes all of its own steel products in California’s Central Valley. Hellwig’s expansive line of load control and sway control products can be found on everything from muscle cars and trucks, to military vehicles and RVs.

Rudy Hellwig first came up with his idea for the Hellwig Helper Spring after noticing that the springs on heavily loaded cars and trucks tended to sag due to the extra weight. Helper springs were a good solution to the problem. Rudy manufactured them in his shop at night. By day, he would visit customers to do installs right in their driveway. His son, Don, was his helper spring helper back then.

Don eventually became the president and owner of the company. Later in the 1960s, his son Mark joined the business and now is currently president of the company. Mark’s daughter, Melanie Hellwig White, came to Hellwig after gaining experience in other industries. She now holds the title of vice president. Melanie is proud to be a fourth-generation Hellwig working in the family business.  

“My great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father put blood, sweat and tears into this business and that is what drives and inspires me,” she said. “To still be manufacturing our products in-house in Visalia, I feel very lucky to be able to carry on my great-grandfather’s legacy. I’m excited to continue diversifying and growing our product line and to expand into new markets.”

Hellwig has grown to become an industry-leading manufacturer of suspension products thanks to its ability to evolve and adapt its product line over time. It began manufacturing sway bars in the 1970s and they now account for a majority of sales. Hellwig has also leveraged its manufacturing expertise to build a thriving private label and OEM division. 

In 2006, Hellwig introduced air suspension systems, thus adding another dimension to Hellwig’s towing and hauling product line. Hellwig now offers the largest air bag on the market—it’s appropriately named “The Big Wig.” This product allows users to run lower air pressure for a smoother ride.

Hellwig offers suspension components for a variety of on-road and off-road vehicles, including muscle cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, UTVs, military vehicles and armored vehicles.

“Back in 1967, when the SEMA Show started, helper springs were the main focus of our business,” White told THE SHOP. “My grandfather was at the show with a bunch of salesmen. Back then we had nine employees and the shop was in Glendale, but Hellwig was in the process of moving to Visalia.”

According to Melanie, most sales back then were made to passenger car owners. 

“In the late-1960s, the passenger car was the vehicle you did everything with. Don put helper springs on family cars, racing cars and police cars,” she said.

Melanie added that her grandfather Don was not a founding member of SEMA, but that he believed in the SEMA Show and what SEMA was trying to do for the industry. 

“So, we’ve been with SEMA forever.” she said. “My grandfather networked with the other pioneering members and exhibitors. He was involved. He had many car magazine editors who were his friends. The sport was much smaller and tight-knit back then and Don Hellwig knew everyone.”

Melanie said that Hurst Golden Shifter girl Linda Vaughn was a favorite of her grandfather. “When I talked to him recently, he said that Linda was one of the nicest people he met at SEMA Shows,” she said. “He liked Linda a lot.”