Most Of All, Have A Blast!

When Terry asked me about writing this article I automatically started thinking about the technical aspects of air suspension that I could propound on. Thankfully Terry didn't let me bore you with that subject [yet]! As we talked about the possibilities I started to remember my life before Air Ride Technologies [and Blower Drive Service, and Auto Meter, and MSD...]. That was when I was making $6.00 an hour but had all the time in the world to piddle with cars and women [or vice versa].

I've been centering my summer around a major car event since 1979. That is when I first attended the Car Craft Street Machine Nationals in Indianapolis. Up to that point I was content to drive whatever I could afford personalized with the typical Cragers and Thrush mufflers. One of the first cars I saw at Indy that year was the blown and tubbed '67 Nova of a very young and bare-chested Scott Sullivan. I'll leave it to you to figure out who Scott Sullivan is [if you don't know], but that car was one of the inspirations to go home and proceed to spend the rest of my life chasing that zenith of performance and appearance.

Bret Voelkel is the founder and president of Air Ride Technologies, unquestionably the pioneer and leader in the air suspension business.  Bret is a also a car enthusiast, who has logged untold hours crafting cool street machines.  Bret is also a down-to-earth realist who understands that technology has to have meaning to be legitimate.  His ideals and ideas exhibit that, both in the products he produces and his attitude about having fun while building a project.  Always the innovator, Bret and Air Ride host a track day where enthusiasts -- and his customers -- can experience how well their cars really work under hard driving conditions.

Apparently I wasn't the only one affected...the quality curve has been nearly vertical ever since! To say that I have been obsessed would be quite accurate...I have quit two good jobs to go to the Street Machine Nationals.

In the 25-plus years since then I have had the good fortune to come to know several hot rodders who have made tremendous achievements in the car-building world, both amateur and professional. Almost to the person, they long for the days when we built cars just for fun. There was no thought of competing for any "[blank] of the Year" awards, no consideration as to what the magazines may or may not like, no sponsorship proposals to be prepared.

All you had then was a few tools and a wadded up car enthusiast magazine in one hand, and the keys to your ride in the other. If you were lucky, you had a place to work on it and some friends who [hopefully] knew more about cars than you did.

Last summer I talked to several top car builders who were wondering out loud how they were going to top this year's awards winners. They all came looking for direction and guidance. I told them all the same thing: Build what you like! That way if you don't end up winning any awards or getting in any magazines, you still have a car that is just plain fun to drive. What a concept!

A side benefit of building a car from the heart is that it shows in the end product. A true hot rodder can tell a car that has heart. The components are selected toward a common purpose, the workmanship reflects the physical hours out in the garage as well as the hours of mental research, and maybe most importantly...it's not perfect. Rock chips, paint scuffs, a visible wire tie, or God forbid, a mismatched screw, are nothing but character lines. Kind of like a mole on the thigh of Miss June. If that mole is a dealbreaker for you...good enough, I'll take your place in line!

I have built expensive, award-winning hot rods. I sold them because I had no personal attachment. They were an exercise in fabrication and money. I do still have my original air ride car, my '70 Pro Street Mustang. I put 4000 hours in that car, but I'll bet I didn't spend more than 15K in actual dollars. I have avoided selling that one because I know at this point I may never be able to focus on a single project myself for that amount of time.

This article may bear no relevance for some of you. In my town there are some guys who have had their only hot rod since high school. They would rather sell their mother. God bless 'em! For the rest of us...don't panic about building a car that may or may not be a "hit." Build what you want, how you want, when you want. Cars built with passion NEVER go out of style. I only have one rule about all of this...HAVE FUN!! 

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