The Repro Man: Scott Drake
Scott Drake is a perfectionist. Don’t believe it? Then ask his wife, Suzanne. She can tell you about the times that Scott brought home prototype parts and slept with them right beside him on the bedside table.
“Getting the first part off the tooling has always been one of the most exciting things for me,” Scott says. “I used to bring a new part home much like a father brings home his first-born. I’d look at it, play with it. Even on the way home at a stop light, I’d pick it up and look at it. Later, I would proudly put it on my nightstand so it would be right there in case I wanted to look at it some more to make sure I was making the best part possible. I got a lot of teasing from my wife.”
Scott readily admits that developing and creating reproduction Mustang parts is what motivates him even after more than 30 years in the business. He doesn’t take parts home anymore but still exhibits the same passion for producing quality reproduction parts for vintage Mustangs. From a single trunk weatherstrip as a high school student in 1977, Scott has built a company, Drake Automotive Group, that specializes in reproductions for ’65-’73 Mustangs. However, he’s also expanded into manufacturing parts for the classic Bronco, Jeep, Toyota FJ, and the new Challenger, Camaro, and late-model Mustang. For a couple of years, Drake partnered with Shelby Performance Parts to develop and manufacture parts for new Shelby Mustangs. The company is still a preferred vendor and manufactures many items for SPP.
Walk into any Mustang parts store and you’ll be greeted by racks of red-backed blister packs with the Scott Drake name on them. So who is Scott Drake and what makes him such a perfectionist when it comes to reproducing Mustang parts?
“When Scott goes back into the engineering rooms, he’s literally a kid in a candy store,” says Bob Fisher, who was recently brought in as general manager so Scott can focus on the R&D side of the business. “The glow just comes out of him when he’s working on a new part. One of the big jokes internally is, when Scott lifts his glasses and he really starts to look at a part in detail, look out because he’s about to run off a list of stuff that he can see but no one else can.”
Today, the Drake Automotive Group operation is located in an 86,000 square feet facility in Henderson, Nevada, just south of Las Vegas, where parts are developed, manufactured, assembled, inspected, packaged, and shipped to dealers around the world. The company currently employs 67 people, including three full-time engineers experienced in the latest technology, including modern Solid Works programming with rapid prototype capabilities. We talked with Scott about how he got started and what drives him to perfection.
MM: How did you get started in the Mustang reproduction parts business?
SD: My family has always been involved in cars. I grew up in southern California and was involved in cars there, cruising and all that stuff. My dad was a body and fender man so I would help him out by wet sanding cars and learning a little bit about bodywork. My dad and I would also run up and down California to the swap meets to buy and sell Model A parts. My brother, Bob Drake, specialized in 1932-1948 Fords and I worked with him for a while as well.
When I was about 14, my dad told me to buy some Model A floorboard fender washers, package them in sandwich bags, make a little sign, and sell them at the Reno Swap Meet. I made $40 and thought that was wonderful. A message to all the fathers out there: one never knows the value or impact of lessons. Sometimes these simple lessons turn into major turning points in life’s journey. Sometimes these simple lessons are a lot bigger than they were intended. In my case, I still put things together as kits. What I learned when I was 14 I’m applying today. Of course, at that time, reproductions were far from my mind but it did show me the value and reward of hard work.
MM: Did you have a Mustang interest back then?
SD: I can’t say that I had a Mustang interest at 14. That didn’t come until right before high school. By 16 or so, I certainly had a Mustang interest. I would go to wrecking yards to pull Rally Pacs, styled steel wheels, and other parts because there were no reproductions then. And I would sell that stuff at the Pomona Swap Meet. I eventually realized that it wasn’t efficient because it consumed so much time finding product.
MM: How did you start reproducing Mustang parts?
SD: I decided to make trunk weatherstripping. I made a die and had a rubber company in California extrude 1,000 feet of trunk seal. As soon as I had the part, I went to my high school drafting teacher, Mr. Palagyi, to see if I could test it on his ’65 six-cylinder coupe. I remember gluing it on, then pouring buckets of water over it. And it sealed. So that was my first product. My girlfriend, Suzanne, and I cut it to length in her mother’s living room, rolled it up, and put into bags. I sent samples to some of the earliest Mustang companies, some still in business today. I parlayed the profits into more products.
A few years ago, we restored Mr. Palagyi’s six-cylinder coupe for him. Jerry Choate did a wonderful restoration for us. And I presented the car to Mr. Palagyi at the SEMA Show. He cried, I cried. I remember him saying in class, “If any of you kids make it, I want 10 percent.” I couldn’t give him 10 percent but I did restore his car for him.
MM: Do you remember your second product?
SD: I did more rubber extrusions. The door courtesy light was also very early. Emblems too.
MM: How did things progress from there?
SD: I had moved to Grant’s Pass, Oregon, and worked up there for about seven years. When my first son, Troy, was born with Down’s Syndrome, we came back to southern California. The business stayed there until 2004 when we moved it to Henderson, Nevada, near Las Vegas.