Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
February 22, 2012

As you walk along a row of cars at a show, oftentimes a specific ride will stop you cold. There's just something about the stance, wheel and tire package, flawless paint, or perhaps even the interior that just takes your breath away. The car in question will often have a crowd around it, cell phones out taking pictures, and people just talking to each other about the build and what they find so interesting on it. While there's no doubt that we've seen some quality work come from an owner's own garage over the years, in most cases, the car being ogled by said crowd is a completely custom-built car from a professional shop. Seeing cars like this in person (as well as on the pages of your favorite magazines) is an inspiration to those building their own projects. Sure, we may not have the resources, tools, or the finances to build a similar car, but we can certainly take away certain aspects of the build to use on our own projects.

While it's great to see a pro-built car, especially in person where you can take your own photos and see details up close, wouldn't it be great to be able to talk to these builders directly and get tips and advice on your own build? Money-saving, and frustration-preventing build tips that could not only save you time, but prevent you from wasting your hard earned cash. Not to mention possibly infusing some personal and custom touches into your build to make it more original. As car guys, the last thing most of us want to see is the same car pulling up next to us at a stoplight or parking next to us at a show, right? Well, in an unprecedented series of interviews with pro builders, we sat down and pried these builders for tips and ideas to help you build your project into something you'll be proud of. Read on to see what secrets these pro builders shared with us to help you build a better ride.

Rick Bacon
Host of Spike's Musclecar TV

Spike's PowerBlock TV shows are some of the most highly watched automotive programs on television today. Rick Bacon, host of Musclecar TV (along with co-host Tommy Boshers) is not only a renowned customer painter, but has owned his own custom shop for more than a decade. Every week, we get to see Rick and Tommy build some killer cars, all of which are carefully planned out and given Rick's amazing paint and body skills.

"The biggest piece of advice I can give is to have a clear, realistic goal in mind when you start! Lay out a plan before you even purchase a car. Know your skills and your limitations and find a project that fits," Rick stated. "Don't know how to weld? Then don't buy a rusted car! You may save $1,000 by buying a car in need of floorpans, but it's going to cost you more than that to have them repaired!" Further comments from Rick include his favorite topic—paint and body. "If you don't know bodywork/paint, then find a project with a paintjob you can live with." Rick remembers seeing a "Top 10" list of things guys regretted tackling themselves—wiring, engine building, setting up rear gears all made the list. But the number one, by a long shot, was doing their own paint and bodywork.

"If you plan on having a lot of your work done at shops, ask the shops for references. If they're good enough to work on your ride, they'd better be good enough to have some happy customers and good references. If they give you their mom's phone number for a reference, find another shop."

Rick stressed the importance of having a working knowledge of the various restoration and build processes. "You don't necessarily need to have hands-on experience, but being knowledgeable on the subject at hand will help you understand why something will cost as much as it does, why it takes so long to have it done, and why the shop really isn't making as much as you think they are." A perfect example of this is airbag suspensions versus a static drop using traditional spring suspension. Research both types of modifications and understand the concepts of them both. This way, when you talk to a shop about an installation, you can speak intelligently on the subject without forcing the owner to waste time explaining every nut and bolt of the various systems. And you'll understand the cost differences between the two that much better.

"Remember that if you tackle a project yourself, your version of ‘done correctly' may not match the shop owner's version. Let's say a shop quotes you $700 to hang a quarter that you purchased. To save a few bucks, you weld it yourself in your garage. You decide to lap the joint and tack-weld it in place rather than trim and butt-weld it all around with a solid seam. When you return to the shop to have it bodyworked and painted, the shop may refuse to touch it because to them it wasn't done ‘right.' Your options are now A) find another shop that will hopefully do what you ask, or B) pay more to have the shop fix the work you just did. In which case, you probably would've been money ahead to just pay them from the start," Rick summarized.