Shop Tour: Micky Hale Restorations/North Coast Rods

Dec 2, 2009

Being adaptable to trends and changes is must for any business, and our industry is no different. Sometimes, those changes can be a matter life or death to a business. Other times, changes can add another, entirely new dimension to a business-much for the better. That was the case for Micky Hale Restorations (MHR) who, a few years ago, added North Coast Rods to their name.

Ten Years and Counting

For well over ten years, Micky Hale has been known for his white glove caliber restorations of mostly muscle cars. His shop is in Ashtabula, a city in already car crazy Ohio that’s near the Pa. border. A stream of classic muscle car nameplates such as Z-16, COPO, Yenko and Baldwin Motion Chevelles, Ram Air GTO’s, Trans Ams and Z-28 to ZL-1 Camaros have been dropped off at MHR and returned to their owners in concourse condition. In addition to doing full, turnkey and frame-off restorations, they handle a strong contingent of components and assemblies for customers handling their own restos (we’ll talk more about those).

Typically, they will restore chassis parts, handle plating needs such as zinc and phosphate plating for bolts and hinges, glass beading parts and ceramic coating exhaust manifolds to name some of the in-house services they have. Hale says, “We offer yellow zinc plating for power brake boosters, clear (silver) zinc for nuts, backing plates, etc, black zinc for smog tubes and black/gray phosphate for hinges and latches.”

Their paint booth is another hot area, and as Hale explains, it’s good business and he promotes it heavily, “We like to take on paint-only work, as it can be turned around quickly for both us and the customer.” Hale points out that from a business standpoint, “Total restorations can take months or longer if the parts get hard to find. That can and often does leave a project sitting with no work being done to it. A quick in-and-out paint job keeps the place running and certainly doesn’t hurt the bottom line.”

Adding a Name

Hale’s bottom line got a turbo charging when he added North Coast Rods to the business name. It started with his first two customers that wanted their muscle car era rides built into the new style of Pro Touring instead of a full-on restoration. The style uses muscle cars that may not be as rare and instead of restoring them, they are modified with an inventory of the very latest performance parts installed on both the engine and suspension, custom painted and have a matching custom interior stitched in.

The cars often utilize bigger, more powerful engines with modern day conveniences such as digital fuel injection; certainly not an original muscle car part. For suspensions, they may choose a rack-and-pinion steering to update handling along with an air bag suspension or coilover shocks. These are driving cars not garage princesses. Oddly enough, the style continues to grow along peacefully with restoration muscle cars.

When customers saw custom cars sitting alongside restored muscle cars, they knew MHR was more than just for breathing new life into historic cars. Micky describes the change in his business title with, “As far as the two names go, we just use the MHR name for our stock restos and the North Coast Rods for the Pro Touring and specialty builds. A few years ago, I decided to add the other name because everybody knew me from just stock restorations, and we really wanted to get into the street rod, resto mod cars and wanted a name out there that would achieve this.”

The move worked and now when visiting the Great Lakes shop, a variety of cars are usually present. Our visit to MHR/NCR found three resto cars, two Pro Touring, a current drag car being built and the restoration of a working Funny Car from the ’70s taking place. It doesn’t stop there, as MHR/NCR can also build street rods, Gasser style Willys’ and pretty much anything a customer may dream up.

To add to that particular market, a healthy stock of aftermarket parts for suspension, engines and bodies is maintained. When the full service body shop is added, it is one-stop shopping for just about any performance enthusiast. Even the paint work at MHR/NCR crosses so-called boundaries. Paint specialist Lee creates everything from pinstriping to airbrushing, while Rod Burke Designs is the racecar art specialist making customers’ dreams look fast before they fire up. And with that level of quality with paint, it’s not at all unusual to see bike parts traveling thru the paint booth. Micky and his painters use PPG Radience, House of Kolor and Alsa paint products for the vibrant, candy, metallic and special effect colors their customers love.

At the Start of It

Micky got his start in restorations the usual way, working on his own cars. It wasn’t long before the word got out on the demanding quality he produced. His first car was a ’68 Chevy Biscayne factory 427 inch 425 horsepower car that was one of 124 made. He still has the car today despite numerous attempts by collectors to buy it.

In fact, it was a collector that got Micky started professionally. The known collector wanted to buy the ’68, but Micky wouldn’t sell. The collector persisted, without any success. Finally accepting defeat, the collector then hired Micky to work on his cars. When Micky finished working for the collector, he and his wife, Kirsten, opened up their own shop.

While restoring cars, Micky is also an active drag racer, and that helps him with that end of the market. He routinely campaigns a blown alcohol car, keeping him close to racing and more potential customers. This year, he is involved with a brand new group that will campaign classic Funny Cars in the Great Lakes area. That in itself sounds like another dimension for Micky.

Micky’s Philosophy

One of the reasons MHR/NCR stays busy is Micky’s open philosophy. He says, “We’re pretty flexible with owners as far as doing what they need done.” To that effect, he does partial restoration work such as refinishing or assembling components for an owner instead of the entire car.

Actually, he has no limitations on what process or stages of a car he can and will do for a customer. It’s a win/win situation. Owners interested in doing some of their own work can win, thereby saving money when compared to a total restoration. MHR wins because more business comes through the door. That, like the paint jobs, keeps up the work flow. It’s also a chance to show a new customer just what is offered at MHR. The new customer helps spread the word in the resto and muscle car communities.

Micky’s simple philosophy is, “There will always be owners that want the car completely done by someone else and owners that are more hands on. We cater to and work with both.” After all, muscle car restoration is its own art form and science. And part of that science is educating customers about the nuances of restoration.

Micky cites the differences between a serious restoration shop and the typical collision body shop. “A guy who is doing a restoration isn’t going to find the quality of paint and body work at a local body shop that a restoration shop will offer. The regular body shop is more production oriented and the correct colors and parts are less of a concern. A restoration shop will have marked those elements as high priority for the discerning collector.”

On the other end of MHR, it’s not unusual for Micky to act as a consultant for a prospective buyer. Micky will routinely go on location to inspect a potential car for its value and to also estimate what it will need for the new owner. Still staying deeply in the muscle car restoration world, he will often locate cars for customers through his vast network of contacts and clients. To say he is firmly entrenched in the muscle car world would be an understatement.

Adaptable

These days, what is the ratio of restoration and rods at his shop? Micky says, “It’s at 50/50. We get the same number of stock restoration as rods.” And what about that paint work he’s been offering? “Paint work has picked up,” he says. “We’ve easily doubled the amount of work that goes through the booth.” Doubled the work? That sounds like being adaptable is working for Micky Hale Restorations-and North Coast Rods.