Discovery Channel recently asked us if we’d like to pre-screen their newest television show, “Rods N’ Wheels,” and interview two of it’s stars. Naturally, we said yes! So we watched it, loved it and hammered them with questions about hot rod interiors that we knew you’d all want us to ask.
What’s “Rods N’ Wheels” about? Discovery Channel explains:
Billy Derian and Steve Reck have been friends for years with the same dream – working in a garage that fixes up and restores vintage cars and hot rods. Now their dream has become a reality with Da Rod Shop, located in the heart of Southern California’s car culture with bad ass cars and their owners. … To these guys, they’re not just fixing cars. They’re saving a piece of American history.
What follows is a transcript of our EXCLUSIVE interview with Billy Sr. and Billy Jr. — one of the two father-son teams that own and operate Da Rod Shop. Check it out and tune in to the Discovery Channel tonight, Jan. 27, at 10 p.m. E/P to watch the premier.
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Hi guys. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. I’m an editor for The Hog Ring — a news website and online community for automotive upholstery professionals.
Billy Sr: Yeah I know what a hog ring is. I ran one through my pinky last time I tried doing a set of seats for a Mustang. … I pretty much pierced the end of my finger with one and had to get a tetanus shot.
On that note, let’s jump straight into things – shall we?
1. How early on in the design process does Da Rod Shop plan the interior of a new hot rod project?
BS: In the design process of a restoration or hot rod, I start with the color palette on the outside… and then I work my way into the interior. So I would say it’s two phases, I go exterior then interior. And although I never match the interior to the outside — I think that’s an amateur mistake — I do draw from the theme. So if it’s a warm tone, like the reds and oranges, we’re going to pull that in as some of the piping and some of the accents inside. And if it’s a cool tone, like some of your blues or grays or greens, we’ll pull those accents in just to tie the inside and outside together.
2. One of the biggest concerns that auto upholstery shops have is that car owners focus the majority of their attention and budgets on their vehicles’ exteriors and drivetrains — often undervaluing the interior. In your opinion, how important is the interior of a hot rod in comparison to those other elements?
BS: I think it’s as important because your ass is not on the hood of your car. The ass is inside the car, you know? You live inside the car, so what I tell people is…when we’re talking about analogies, I say, “Listen, the outside of your house is important, but the furnishings in your house are you.”
Whenever we design an interior or do a restoration or hot rod, I think the interior really speaks about the personality and the soul of the owner of the car — even more so than the outside of the car. A lot of times the outside of the car is going to be the original color. A lot of people try to keep it the original, especially with a lot of the classics we’re doing now. But the interior really is all about their style. I mean, it would be the same way as picking clothing for someone. It would have to fit them. It has to be comfortable. The cloth, I think the ergonomics, the shape and the design of the seats have to fit people.
3. What’s your favorite style of interior design? For example, do you prefer factory restorations, modern, period correct or old school?
Billy Jr: I think it always depends on what kind of car you’re doing. I always dig having a modern-looking interior, even putting like Sparco race seat in there, depending on what kind of car it is. I love the modern race theme. But stock interiors are great too. So I think it just depends on the theme.
BS: Every single car that we do has an era when it was most popular. … I like to do the interiors based on how they would have done first-generation restorations. … (For example), tuck and roll in a 1932 roadster wouldn’t have been done in 1932, it would have been just a simple, straight black single pleat or French seam around the outside. I like to do tuck and roll because in the 50’s, the first-generation restoration for the ‘32 cars, tuck and roll fit.
I go with the interior that fits when the passion was highest of the car.
You have to know these cars to know. … I’ll go back to magazines and we’ll look at a ‘32 – ‘33 era Ford, for example. I’ll go back to 50’s and 60’s magazines and say this is when the enthusiasm was highest for this car. What were they doing then? And that’s what I’ll do.
4. So you keep a library of reference magazines handy to browse through while designing a car?
BS: Yeah we’ve got piles. Hot Rodder, Hot Rod Magazine, Car Craft. Those have been around since at least the 60’s. Some of them in the 50’s.
BJ: We have stacks and stacks of old hot rod magazines in the shop, so we always have things to refer to. We have tons of documentation. We dig looking into it.
BS: Let’s not overlook that on the Internet you can find it, but it’s really fun to go flipping through those old magazines. It’s almost like Playboys from the 70’s. You want to feel the paper and smell it. The nostalgia comes back with the magazine.
5. We’ve seen you guys do body work, mechanical work and metal fabrication. Can you do upholstery? Do either of you sew or have you tried your hand at sewing?
BS: I don’t sew. … I tried kits and it’s very difficult. To me, upholstery is one of those things that’s a specialty like vascular surgery. I mean, I think you should be only an upholsterer when you do upholstery. Nothing else.
These guys that try to cross over and are all-over designers and they do mechanical work and body, no way. It’s such a specialty. Are you kidding me? It would take away from the skill it takes to do an interior to say you should be more than an upholsterer.
I want to give a shout-out to our upholsterer. His name is Dan Miller (of Dan Miller Upholstery), and he is a legend in our area. He’s been an upholster for like 30 years. He’s worked on prototypes for manufacturers; he works for BMW prototyping their interiors now…
BJ: He works for BMW Individual. So, say you go order a bad ass 7-series and you say, “I want leopard on my seats,” that’s the guy they actually take it to. It doesn’t even go to BMW. He’s kind of like this third-party manufacturer for big German companies, BMW in particular, so he is the man and he gets things done fast and he is as precise as a laser when it comes to everything interior-wise.
BS: He works out of a shop he has in a garage in his house. He retired early cause he got so wealthy. Retired, was gonna get out of it, but then he got sucked back in by his customers. He only has like three customers — we’re one of them — that give him work. He’s very specific about who he’ll work for.
A quick story: One day I said to him, “So you stitch pretty good Dan? Are you considered a good stitcher?”
He said, “Well you seen my work.”
I said, “Yeah, but are you considered good?” And he says, “Watch this.” He took a piece of old leather…and he stitched in concentric circles all the way around in a spiral exactly a quarter inch from each other. It looked like a computer had done it, and he did it in like 45 seconds.
He’s like, “That’s how I learned how to stitch. In circles. Perfect circles, concentrically and never overlap. So what do you think?”
I go, “Dude you blew my frickin’ mind is what I think.”
And he goes, “If you could do that, you can stitch straight all day long. You can stitch straight from here to New Mexico.”
6. Aside from Dan Miller, do you guys have any other favorite upholsterers or upholstery shops?
BS: You know, we really don’t. We use a company once in a while that comes in to do quickie door panels. But we exclusively use Dan Miller. And we use the same vendors for (all) our cars. And that’s why our cars are consistent. That’s why we know what to expect. We can keep control of our costs and our timing. … Dan Miller is part of our dream team.
7. In the first episode of “Rods N Wheels,” Billy Sr. says that one of the basic rules of hot rod work is to determine a budget before taking on any project. What’s the typical budget for a hot rod at your shop?
BS: A full restoration? That runs the gamut, doesn’t it Billy?
What happens is people will do it in phases because it’s a lot of money. So we may have to start a first phase that’s mechanical and go into the exterior aesthetic then the interior aesthetic. But I would say a full restoration for a hot rod, $25K and up. We’ve done them for $10K, for a quickie paint job, tune up and interior. And we’ve done them for a couple hundred thousand. So it’s really hard to say.
8. Of that amount, how much do you typically allot for the interior? Is the budget split in even thirds between the exterior, drivetrain and interior? Or do you budget more for one element over another?
BS: I would say you’re right. You know, when we do a $30K restoration, you’ll have $10K in the full interior. So you’re about right. It’s about a third.
BS: I expect to see in five months we’re going to have to take over our entire complex and start kicking people out cause we’re booked. If you look at the episodes closely, you’ll see we’re wall-to-wall cars. We have a waiting list — how long is the list now Billy?
BJ: I think it’s quarter of the year, about three months, out. These are little jobs. But you know for big jobs, we’re like nearing a year. So yeah, we’re packed.
BS: So I expect we’re going to explode. My only fear about this television show is that the business is going to get bigger than we might be able to handle, but we’ll figure it out. We always rise to the occasion.
10. This question is for Billy Jr. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working so closely with your father in Da Rod Shop?
BJ: Should I start with the advantages or disadvantages dad? Your call.
BS: Well, start with the disadvantages so you can…
BJ: So I can redeem your ass, huh?
BJ: The disadvantages… I dunno where to start with this one. Working with my dad is tough cause he’s my biggest idol. Obviously, I look up to him. But at the same time, you know, he’s constantly correcting me on the things I do. So it’s hard for me to ever do anything that makes him super happy. It’s difficult to live up to the standards my dad creates…
Advantage wise, its great being around my pops. You know, we talk a lot, we discuss… I dunno. Dad, advantages, what do you think?
BS: You’re not being very articulate. Are you drinking already?
BJ: I’m having difficulty. I had a few beers. … No I’m just kidding.
Well let’s pass it on to you Billy Sr. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working so closely with your son?
BS: Well I’m going to speak for Billy instead of me, which is one of the disadvantages.
So the disadvantages for Billy would be that I set, just like any father, my standards for Billy are higher than anybody else at the shop. He’s my son and I think he’s a prodigy, and I think he’s a genius, and I think he’s a Greek god. You know? He’s fruit from my loin so I really set unrealistic standards for him, and I have to catch myself on it. And because Billy is such a great kid, he tries to live up to them, so he puts himself under a lot of stress too. That’s a big disadvantage.
BJ: I agree with all that. I think that’s what I was trying to say, so I’m happy he said it.
BS: And just like you see on TV, we pop off and yell at each other. But we have a relationship where we yell and scream and call each other names, and hug it off like in 5 minutes. We’ve always been like that. But what it does is it creates a negative vibe in the shop and everybody else is stunned by it, even though we know we’re going to shake it off. So that’s a negative.
The positive is, I mean, I get to be with my eldest son — who’s my best friend — every single day and talk about the history of us working on cars in the garage.
My first shop…we built roadster replicas and he was sweeping the shop at 8 years old and we can joke around at that. We have nostalgia and a history that nobody else does, and we can also talk about family dynamics when we’re at work, and that’s always nice.
BJ: I think the biggest advantage is just the honesty we can have towards each other. You can be honest with best friends you’ve had for years, but true honesty really comes out through family. So if he feels I’m not doing something right… he can be brutally honest.
BS: Here’s what you can write down: The disadvantages are honesty. The advantages are honesty. That’s it. You’re done. (laughs)
Well guys, I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions and share your thoughts about car interiors with The Hog Ring community. Best of luck with the show!
BS & BJ: Thanks!
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Below are two sneak-peak clips from tonight’s show — check them out!