Volume III, Issue 7, Page 15

Shop Thrash

So you think building a car for Street Machine of the Year is fun

rodigy Customs is a custom car-building outfit that does everything from ordinary paint jobs to the full-on custom rides you see in magazines.  I was helping out with the exhaust on their latest named car: Empty Nest.  It’s a ‘69 Firebird with custom everything, from an all-aluminum 500ci Pontiac motor to Air Ride suspension to  custom sheetmetal to a wild interior. You might think this is the ultimate car-building experience, but the reality is that it is just hard work with an immutable deadline.

Frank Serafine, the owner and founder of Prodigy Customs, and his crew were readying Empty Nest for the Street Machine of the Year competition at the Goodguys show in Columbus.  You’ve all seen the reality shows like OverHaulin’ and Monster Garage, right?  Well, the reality is that building a car isn’t like that.    

In case you’re wondering, Empty Nest is Lisa Serafine’s car, named because their youngest son Michael is now 21 and a full-fledged member of the shop in his own right. 

As the deadline for the show approached, the whole shop became dedicated to getting the car done, and there was never enough time, no matter how careful the planning, how early the work started, or whatever. There are thousands of details in these cars, and every one needs a solution of one kind or another. And there is no faking it: Goodguys is very demanding: the cars have to work, or they can’t be entered in the competition. 

And while all the shop resources are being dedicated to getting the car ready, the expenses of running the shop don’t stop. Continuing cash outlay without billable income are a death knell for most shops.  This kind of build can only be done on a short-term basis, and the rest of the time during the year must be dedicated to income-generating work.  The sword cuts the other way, too: income-generating work has to be done as much as possible so that the shop can afford to dedicate resources to getting the car done for the show.  It’s a catch-22, and difficult to manage. As Serafine puts it: “The expenses of running the shop don't stop, making it a double negative!  You’re losing $60/hour income and shop expenses are continuing at $30/hour meaning you’re putting $90/hour in that car!” 

Frank is lucky that he can bring in some friends to help (like me), but guys like me add and subtract.  We help out, but have no real responsibility. We have our own priorities, and are really beyond his control.  Worse, we can’t help out during the normal work day, and so evening and nights (and occasionally, mornings) are when we help.  That means when we need parts or supplies, we can’t run out and snag ‘em. That must wait until the next day, and it’s no guarantee us helpers can come back and help the next evening.  It becomes frustrating for everybody. 

Then there are the sponsors who rightly expect car builders to show up and display the parts they’ve given away, and, in general, believe their part is the most important part of the car.  That’s only natural, but sometimes their parts aren’t compatible with another sponsor’s part and not making the show isn’t an option.  What do you do then? 

In spite of all the difficulties with incompatible parts, sponsor expectations, communication and fabrication snafus, mistakes, and bad luck Empty Nest made it to the show and was a strong competitor.  It had some problems with some of its details, was balky at times, but it did work, and the crew drove the tires off it.  And if you think that Prodigy Customs is unique with this experience, you’re wrong.  Every car in the SMOTY field has a similar story. 

I’m catching up on my rest now, and starting work on the next SEMA car from Prodigy Customs, Larry Callahan’s MotiV8r.  I swear we are gonna avoid the last minute thrash on this one. Honest. We’ll do better next time.  

 

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