Southern Flair

May 24, 2012

Edwin P. Gregory III looked at a credit card check for $2,000 almost eight years ago and decided to make a leap of faith.

Depositing that check into his bank account, Gregory-who prefers to go by Edwin-opened an automotive performance shop just west of New Orleans, in Kenner, La., taking a bet that his background as a military mechanic and then a dealership mechanic would launch his dream.

“I literally started with nothing,” he says. “I got one of those credit card checks in the mail, wrote one to myself for $2,000 and put it in the bank.

“I was a mechanic in the military,” he says, “and I worked as a dealership mechanic for many years.  When I started working with dealerships, I decided to start my own business. That’s how Southern Hotrod LLC came to be.”

Southern Hotrod is now eight years old, though the business has been in its “real shop” for just four years.

“I first worked out of my home for four years,” says Edwin, “and then moved into a shop four years ago. Today we’re known as ‘the go-fast guys.’ Anything performance-wise we can do to your car. We offer the complete vehicle: engine, transmission, electrical-all but paint and body work.

“We’ve got a chassis dyno in-house, as well as fabrication capability,” he says. “And we focus on late-model vehicles, the late-model Chrysler in particular. We are beginning to branch out into the Chevrolet and Ford markets, but mostly we focus on Chargers, Magnums and the like. We’re Mopar guys-that’s what we love.”

Nag1 Experts

Aside from being a huge Chrysler fan, Edwin’s also a precision transmission lover.

A former Mercedes-Benz technician, he brings a very specific and keen body of transmission knowledge to Southern Hotrod’s drivetrain work.

“We’re known for our transmissions,” he says. “Actually, we’re known for the ability to offer a very specific Nag1 Mercedes-Benz transmission. We upgrade the Chrysler Nag1 transmission and ship them all over the world.

“The background is that, when Mercedes-Benz bought Chrysler, I was a Mercedes-Benz technician at the time and built the transmissions,” he explains. “Then Chrysler came out with the rear-wheel drive platform and the transmission. There was a need to make big power. I knew those transmissions.”

And now the world does, too.

“Today, (the shop’s Nag1s) are literally everywhere,” he adds. “In Russia, in South America, the Middle East, and a ton in this country. That transmission is popular and handles over 1,000 foot-pounds of torque. We’ve probably done 400 transmissions in the last couple years worldwide.”

As a speed shop, Edwin is quick to heap praise on his most valued suppliers.

“We use, exclusively, ProTorque for torque converters,” he says. “They’re the best that’s available. The same exclusivity gets applies to our exhaust systems as well. CORSA Performance Exhaust is all we use. We also use a lot of Kook’s Custom Headers. They fit great, work great, and we have no issues with the product. Furthermore, they’re great people to work with.”

The exhaust work is particularly important, Edwin notes, because if a significant other is comfortable riding in a hot rod or muscle car, chances are that owner will become a repeat customer.

“We’ve had a lot of success with CORSA. They’re the ‘wife- and girlfriend-approved’ exhaust,” he says. “A lot of cars have drone issues, but we haven’t had any with CORSA. We put them on Ford, Chevy and Dodge and there’s no issue with any of them. Plus, they are 100-percent American-made.”

Open Shop

Southern Hotrod occupies 5,000 square feet and has five employees. The company keeps some inventory in stock, and orders the rest from warehouse distributors.

“Sometimes we have a lot of product in-house in our shop,” says Edwin, “but mostly we order products as we need them. We’re more a ‘we-build-the-vehicle-here’ facility, not an Internet parts store. The problem with doing Internet parts selling is competing with pricing.

“Our facility is an open shop where we all work together and our staff is extraordinary,” he adds. “In fact, it’s our staff that is to be credited with our growth and success. We have two fulltime mechanics, a salesman, an office manager and me.”

Southern Hotrod has some limited machine capabilities in-house, and also does its own fabrication and welding. The company has relationships with local machine shops for more in-depth projects.

After four years, the business has built its reputation on passion for the industry.

“You have to wake up every morning and have an unquenchable desire to be better,” Edwin says. “In the beginning, I sold a lot of parts from my house. I sold a lot of stuff online and on eBay. But then those sales started to lag and I realized I had to start building stuff at my house. Pretty soon that quickly became not reasonable to do.

“We never made any business loans,” he adds. “We just had the desire and the drive and here we are seven years later.

“Our biggest advertising has been word-of-mouth,” he adds. “We did some advertising in magazines and we’re about to do some more in Mopar magazines, but the truth is that I’ve had terrible luck with advertising. I know we need to do it, it’s just something we’re not good at. The other truth is that, right now, we’ve got more business than we can handle.”

That business includes crafting new and exciting projects.

“We’re developing a product that’s an independent rear suspension Dana 60 for late-model Challengers and Chargers,” says Edwin. “If it works, it’ll be in a car (in the spring). We’re testing it on a shop car-”a 300C with a big blower sticking out of the hood. That’s what we test it on.”

Southern Hotrod’s clients tend to come back again and again.

“Our customers are mostly men, age 30- to 50-years old,” says Edwin, “and most of our clients are self-made leaders in business. They come to us by word-of-mouth.

“It’s the reputation for good things that sets us apart that has them returning,” he adds. “For example, we charge the same for everyone. A lot of shops charge people more because they make more. I think the fact that we’re fair and honest keeps people coming back. In fact, people come here to have us do their warranty work because they don’t want to bring it to the dealership.”

But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Edwin’s the first to admit that building a business takes time and good people.

“It didn’t happen overnight, I assure you,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many hours we’ve put in, but it’s satisfying to know people notice how good the work is that you do. When you’re the best you don’t need to tell anybody, they just find out.”