Speed Across The Nation: Building Muscle

Dec 2, 2009

Welcome back to Speed Across the Nation. This is a unique article format that allows shops from one niche or another to speak to all of our readers across the country. The topics cover a wide range of issues affecting the industry.

In this edition, we talked to a few of the nation’s top muscle car shops to see what’s cooking in their market.

Here’s what they had to say.

Larry Irvine
Sales Manager
Speed Inc.
Schaumburg, Ill.

Speed Inc. has been in the aftermarket performance market since 1999, and today operates as a major online and bricks and mortar WD for the huge, speed-loving populations of the Midwest and beyond. With NHRA events being run all summer long in nearby Rockford and across the state lines in Indiana, speed is on peoples’ minds. And that speed dreaming turns to upping the power of both modern and classic muscle cars, says Larry Irving, Sales Manager of Speed Inc.

“We are seeing a lot of power upgrade packages going out the door for everything from a 2006 GTO to a 1967 GTO. People who are into muscle are interested in trap times, not necessarily staying stock for show purposes.”

With manufactures such as SLP Performance supplying turnkey horsepower increases today, consumers have a choice of how to boost muscle power.

“An aftermarket shop today has a lot of choices to offer its customers. There hasn’t been a better time to be in the speed market,” Larry added.

James Haley
H&H Custom Rods, Inc.
San Jacinto, Calif. and Flippin, Ark.

Muscle cars and high-powered hot rods have been good to H&H Custom Rods, Inc. lately, so good in fact that owner James Haley only had a few minutes to talk as he rushed around working to open his new H&H Custom Rods shop in Flippin, Ark.

The reason for opening a more centrally-located shop some 1,600 miles from San Jacinto was to get into markets beyond Calif., which is nearing saturation for specialty automotive shops despite its large population.

“I have a good slice of the Calif. market, but with this new shop [in Arkansas], I’ve been getting calls from Texas, Fla., Ohio and N.Y. already.” And those calls are pushing H&H in a slightly different direction from its muscle car and street rods roots.

“Off-road is huge right now in the central US,” Haley said. “We are getting a lot of body lifts using Warn and Superlift products now.” The key customer in that niche is the 22- to 35-year-old who appears to be turning away somewhat from the Japanese “tuner” style modifications in the central US to off-road performance.

“We love doing the lift, because once we do, we know engine work isn’t far behind,” Haley said. “These younger guys also tend to be new customers to aftermarket performance, and there’s no way that is bad.”

The muscle car market remains strong for H&H, with the 45-year-olds looking to relive the past — but more fast.

“A lot of these guys finally have the money and time to get the car they dreamed of in high school,” Haley said. “And, they aren’t afraid to make them better either. They aren’t asking for a bone-stock restoration of a muscle car.”

For instance, take the 1969 Chevelle with a 396 that H&H is currently working on. The stock version didn’t include air conditioning, which tended to overheat the motor in city driving. However, it was the first mod asked for by the customer. Add in disc brakes to the rear and a Fat Man Fabrications suspension, and what began as a restoration ticket now looks like a muscle car resto-modification. Even a small thing like a hidden CD player/tuner that fit in the glove compartment to preserve a stock look is easy to do today.

“The aftermarket is allowing us to take a 1969 muscle car and put it on the highway with creature comforts, speed and 25 miles to the gallon,” Haley said. “It’s a good market to be in right now.”

Marty O’Hart
X-Treme Autoworks
Fairplay, S.C.

O’Hart backed up what James Haley of H&H was saying about the 45-year-olds reliving their youth by purchasing cars they coveted back when they wore letterman jackets with leather sleeves.

“They all like the idea of upgrades to make a nice, smooth, comfortable car to ride in,” O’Hart said. “And these guys, how should we say it, are going to be driving the cars in a manner consistent with the law now.”

That means his customers may be sticking to carburetion and instead, opting for upgrades to breaking, suspension and steering. O’Hart’s bread-and-butter isn’t as interested in low quarter-mile times as he is in looking good at a cruise-in and being comfortable getting there.

Like H&H, the future of X-Treme is revolving around a recent move to an 11,000 square-foot shop a quarter-mile away in Fairplay. The additional bay space and staying close to the populous towns of Charleston and Ashville, helped the decision to expand in a market O’Hart feels is growing. He also hopes to reach out from his muscle car and rodder roots to some of the younger Asian market tuner cars seen around town. After 30 years in the business, it is a challenge he looks forward to.

“A lot of the younger kids are doing the body kits on their Japanese cars in the backyard, and are leaving them with primer because they can’t do the painting. It’s something we can offer and need to get the word out.”

That means not focusing as much on the nearly weekly cruise-ins that are popular with the street rod market locally, and sending his son out to court the younger crowd, O’Hart said.

“They are all doing the same thing: taking a cheap, available car and making it fast and good looking in their backyards. It’s great to see the aftermarket continue,” said O’Hart.

Mike Weber
Mike’s Corvettes, Cruisers and Restorations
Wright City, Mo.

When we caught up with Mike Weber he was fresh off the plane from Texas, pulling nearly 86 hours straight on a “nightmare” job with Chip Foose for Overhaulin’. It was very safe to say a 2006 Escalade front end swap onto a 1996 2wd Tahoe did not go as smoothly as planned, but it did get done in time for master realistic fire painter Mike Lavalle to do his magic late in the night before the shoot the next day.

“Those guys are great to work with, and it’s a real education seeing how the best of the best can get a seemingly impossible job done.”

Back to the reality of his Wright City shop, Weber was only too happy to talk about what he sees as a rapidly growing muscle car market.

“The guy, who when he was 20, dreamed of owning a 1957 Chevy, can now afford it. And the great thing for the aftermarket is most of those customers are not interested in a bone stock ride, but something that looks stock and handles with the comforts of today. You can be sure most of them are going to be driving them, they aren’t interested in trailering their dreams.” Weber points to a customer who brought in a 69 Chevelle SS with a 440.

“He wanted the numbers run on the car to know what it would be worth stock, and what it would be worth if some modifications were made. We talked about how he wanted to use the car, or if he wanted to maximize his money selling it. When a customer wants the money, I usually try to steer them into selling right away before we put a lot of work and money into it.”

That kind of honest talk hit home, and the customer ended up with a very stock looking Chevelle floating on an Air Ride suspension with Vintage Air for air conditioning and fuel injection.

“I’m probably Air Ride’s biggest advertiser, I love the system and once a customer feels how well a car that, when stock, rode like a tank, can ride, they love it too.”

In Weber’s eyes, it’s not so much a muscle car market or restoration market, but a “resto-mod” market made possible by the quantity and quality of the aftermarket parts now available for nearly any ride.

“Fuel injection is a great example. Most guys won’t go for it right away, but once you explain the performance and fuel consumption advantages, they come around pretty quickly.”

Therein is the advice for shop owners in the muscle car market. Weber urges shop owners to educate the customer to the great aftermarket performance parts out there, and they’ll not only go for the sale, but thank you again and again for making the rough-riding tank they remember from high school a smooth muscle machine.


That’s it for this installment of adding power to your customer’s muscle cars and dollars to your bottom line. Check in with us again for the next Speed Across the Nation.