Filed under Editorial > Interview, Industry Personalities
We throw a few handfuls of questions at Robbie from Pacific Coast Customs, and talk cars, inspiration, and taco trucks.
I'm fortunate to do what I love each day, and even more blessed to practice my craft surrounded by folks who have the same good luck, career-wise. Even better than that is the fact that I've been graced with some incredible friendships over the years, many of these with guys who have a talent quotient that borders on super-human. I know world-renouned fabricators, painters, interior stitchmasters, wiring gurus, chassis masterminds and highly skilled artists, all of whom humble me, and make me a better person both professionally as well as humanly. Simple design and rendering jobs lead to conversations, and occasionally, those sprout to form friendships that become based on similar experiences, oddball humor and more. Each day is an experience!
Robbie Azevedo is one of those friends I've been fortunate to make over the years, and he's one of those legends in the making that pop up so rarely. He's a young guy, but has a sense of tradition and quality that transcend his years. The guy just gets it. He's an artist in the detail work, and his abilities and vision, combined with a real, old-school "get in there and get it done" attitude make his creations almost transcendent.
|Aside from tons of press, the guy was the 2011 Builder of the Year at the Sacramento AutoRama, and has swept up a number of awards, accolades, and odd looks when passers-by hear our conversations. That said, let's pop open his head and see what's making that odd squealing noise.
How and when did you first get into hot rods?
My grandpa started a wrecking yard in 1956 which is still open today and resides next door to our shop. My Mom and Dad ran the wrecking yard while I was growing up (and still today), so everyday after school we would go to the yard and I would tinker on things and tear things apart. We also attended rod runs as a kid in a Model A sedan we had, which later got upgraded to a ’37 Chevy Sedan.
I can remember long trips to Bakersfield and Reno for different rod runs, and I always loved the poker runs.
What are some of your all-time favorite cars, and what makes them stand out for you personally?
This one is pretty easy for me. I’ve had a good top 3 in my head for a long time. First is Troy’s Rumbler (60’s Rambler Wagon). I can remember getting Troy to sign a poster of the car for me (the photo on the poster was taken in a wrecking yard) when I was about 13 or 14 years old. The car was at the Good-Guys West Coast Nationals in the Orion Audio booth, I still have that poster today!
The second is Frankenstude. I’ve always had a liking for the bullet-nose Studebakers, and that one really left an impact on me.
The third is Pinkee’s Loaded Roadster Pickup. I love the look and style the
truck had. My favorite part about it was all of the small details that you really had to look for on it. I love cars that make you think and wonder how something was done, and that car really made me think and wonder.
How did your shop become a reality?
I’m not sure exactly. I started out building my Dad’s car for him (project Impression) and one thing turned into another and customers started coming and before you know it (7 years later) you’re still doing it on a day to day basis. I never really had a plan at all coming into this, I’ve just been going on
doing what I think needs to be done and people are liking it and I try to grow and get the people I work with to grow to get better and better every day. I believe a person never stops learning or growing in knowledge, as soon as you think you know it all you probably don’t know anything at all.
As a small business owner, what are some of the challenges you face each day, either in the shop or the office?
Biggest challenge is time. Whoever determined 24 hours in a day probably needs to re-consider that now. We run a small shop, only two guys working full time and then others from time to time. It takes a lot to do all of the book-keeping, invoicing, customer service, sales, public relations, marketing and do the actual work on top of it all. This all equates to long hours every day.
As an artist and designer, I see tastes changing almost daily... whether it's a certain look or feel that a client is after, or having to acknowledge certain trends, etc... Understandably, people seek out the "next big thing" all of the time, and it constantly changes the landscape and how you operate.
For people in my line of work, it means switching up a style, or maybe working just a bit outside of the comfort zone. How does something like this affect a business like yours, where there is considerable change in available parts, accessories and more, and how do you make such a challenge work as part of your operation?
The thing I see is everyone trying to think “outside the box”, and it seems like they all end up outside the box together. It seems cars that aren’t popular at all seem to be all the rage a few years later and everyone has one. I try to build what I think looks good. I look at the overall shape and see how I would change it and where I think material should be added or changed.
Sometimes as you're building one little thing that “needs” to be there may change a whole theme of a build and it may end up getting put everywhere. I try to make it to where nothing stands out when you’re looking at one of my builds. I don’t like when one thing really draws your attention away from everything else.
No matter how busy something is, you can always make it look un-cluttered by doing just that. As far as parts go, we try to pick up quality parts from various suppliers and make other things follow suit with those parts, or we end up making nearly everything from scratch.
No matter the budget of the project, we try to put our own taste on everything. I want people to get the feeling we did the work without even knowing it. I also believe that if you build everything with the highest quality possible even if it isn’t
someones style, they’ll still be impressed with it.
Over the past decade, the hot rod industry has really taken an interest in the builders and designers, elevating some to almost rock star status. It's become just as important to have great conceptual art as it is to complete a project car. Do you see clients selecting your shop based solely on your media coverage or the hit projects that everyone seem to recognize?
I believe that customers find out about us through media coverage and shows by seeing our main builds. I don’t think we’re at the level yet where anyone wants a car built by PCC to say they have a PCC car. I think it’ll take a lot more hard work and dedication to get to that level.
Adding to that, is there a particular project that's burning a hole in your brain?
...perhaps one that's a bit further off the path you'd normally take?
There are actually. There’s a couple cars in the “save” stash at the wrecking yard that are something I would love to build, I just don’t have the time for another car. There’s an early Dart and an early Rambler. I have completely different styles for the two in my head. I may even have one drawn up and offer a “package” to a customer interested in picking up a project. That would give the customer the idea and direction for the project, but they could purchase it early enough on where they could enjoy picking out the key points, colors and personal touches. That’s actually how we landed the Retrospect project that we’re currently working on.
If they made a movie about your shop, what would it be titled?
(Bonus points for casting your shop film...)
We were just talking the other day how we think people would want to watch us on TV. It’s funny really because you get us here and then also things that go on in the wrecking yard (because it’s right out our back-door). You get some interesting and funny things going on really. As far as a name goes, I believe people should never forget their roots, so, Wallet Wreckers, Dream Fabber’s, Daily Grind, Deadliner’s, Master Crafters...
You've been a major player in the hot rod world, and are truly a young gun on the scene, and capturing huge accolades and awards at every turn. Did you picture yourself being a recognized "name" in the hot rod world when starting? And has it changed your outlook on the hobby?
I don’t really consider myself a major player at all, let alone a recognizable name. That is where I would like to be, and I didn’t shoot for the stars when I started this, rather just doing it for the joy of building things and trying to be different and stand out in a crowd. I can say that I was walking through a car show one day and I saw a guy I did not know wearing one of my shirts, that was a really cool feeling knowing that he likes my work so much he wears our shirt to shows.
In the hot rod industry, we've been fortunate to have television shows like
"Overhaulin'", Spike TV's Powerblock, Hot Rod TV and more to draw people
in, adopting the hobby and helping us expand in a more mainstream way. Have
shows like this helped to increase your client traffic?
I don’t believe so. All of my customers would be the same person and want the same thing with or without the shows. I think the shows are something fun to watch and something to open up the layman to our hobby and how much work goes into something they may see driving down the road.
...and with such media saturation and accessibility to builders and designers, do
you see your walk-in clients having more knowledge regarding a build these days?
I see people having more knowledge of a build through the internet then coming from the shows. I think people can go on the internet and see just what they want to see and not have to deal with some of the drama added to some of the shows. Some of my clients are on the internet keeping up with builds while others are just into the car they have and the cars they remember growing up, just depends on the person.
With the exponentially increasing talent and finish level being turned out of shops today, can you see a day when these projects will be traded and auctioned as the fine art it truly is? Think beyond "hype" vehicles sold at big-name auctions... more along the lines of Christie's, and so on?
That would be awesome, but I don’t really see it happening. There’s so much
work that goes into some of these cars, and so much vision and thought that they
should be looked upon as art, but I don’t see them ever being referred to as “fine
art”. Hopefully I’m wrong on this one though...
Speaking of which, as hot rods and custom cars became more collectible, we saw a huge jump in value (especially at events like the Barrett-Jackson Auction), and suddenly, the cars we built for fun were investment-grade material. Naturally, this has occurred with the musclecars and more stock/restored varieties, while hot rods and customs sell often for a fraction of the build investment. As the bar raises each year, and enthusiasts become more educated on the build process, do you see this market as becoming more lucrative as an investment, versus simply another object to collect?
Definitely. I know people who lost a lot of money in the stock market and realized if they had put that money into a car they might have lost money but maybe not as much. They also have something fun to enjoy and go out in, rather the just watch numbers go up and down. I think numbers matching muscle cars are huge in the investment field. That car if taken care of will never go down in value, only up. I think a lot of investors are catching on.
Any tips on starting a project for newcomers?
Buy something driving and keep it in running and driving condition. As soon as you tear it apart to the point it doesn’t drive anymore is when you loose interest in it. Plan out weekend projects to where the car is back together and running before the weekend is over. Also, do research and pick out someone to do things that’s capable and will do the job you want. Don’t shop price, in this industry it may cost more to get something re-done then it would to have done right in the first place. Ask for references from customers and browse around the internet before choosing.
Any advice for younger guys looking to break into custom fabrication as a career?
It’s not as easy as it may seem. You need to give it some long thought exactly what you want and where you want to be in the industry. There’s a small pool of customers wanting this type of work done, so full builds may be difficult to make a living at. There will always be steady work in maintenance and repair on custom vehicles. You need to look into insurance policies and rent and all of the business things most people overlook. To me, insurance is a huge thing! In the world we live in everyone wants to point a finger and pass the blame so you need to cover yourself before anything. It may cost a lot, but it’s cheaper then loosing everything you’ve ever worked for.
And speaking of a career and running a business, how do you minimize employee turnover?
I’ve been pretty lucky. Most of my guys stay with me a long time. My current employee is older and loves having a “fun” job after retiring from a career of management.
What's your favorite all-time hot rod movie?
Hollywood Knights, hands down!
...least favorite attempt to write "car guy" dialogue into a movie?
Least favorite lines of a movie, “Check the jets”, from Two Lane Blacktop.
...and finally, the biggest question of all:
As is tradition in my interviews, I like to ask the MacGuyvger Question. Usually, I name five random objects, and simply ask you to come up with a way to use these to escape a MacGyver/A-Team hostage-type situation. However, as your youth has deprived you of the mastery of the mulleted one, we'll change it up to something more comfortable (and eerily similar).
You get the Burn Notice Question:
You're in a similar position to Michael Westen of Burn Notice... you've been ousted from hot rods and fabrication via a "Boyd Notice" (in your best Moe voice, "not the flying kind, numbskull!"), and thus, you can't leave Napa, and have to make due with not only what you have, but your assets are frozen, your line of credit is destroyed, and you have no career history with which to seek employment.
How do you survive with only the following:
A microwave oven
A small refrigerator
A laptop running Windows XP
A friend who works nights at the auto parts store
Bonus points for giving your best tips on jerry-rigging a cell phone to change TV channels in a sports bar.
Man, it's tough to make my mind think like that. I guess I won't be able to be a burned spy after all.
It does look like I'd have everything I need to survive though.
I could have my friend sneak out an inverter from the parts store to wire up to my car to keep all of my neccesseties running (microwave and fridge). Where there's a parts store, there's a taco truck. I can trade work with the taco truck owner and design him some new menu layouts on Print Shop on my Laptop, he'll have to pay for printing though. With a good fatty burrito, I'll be plump and happy. I can rig up the microwave to get super frequencies of wifi signal from starbucks and then I can go online and try to write a made up blog about how all car builders are ousting me because I started to build tikis. They were afraid that after I built the fabricating tiki god and had it in my shop that it would bring power like none others and give the shop the capability of producing killer fab work as if we were just walking zombies. Just as they were afraid that after I built that I could then build up a fraternal tiki god and create a bunch of clone fabricators. With time I could have multiple mini personalities of myself running around and creating the same. That would be killer for the industry and for the world in general. I was then thinking of getting my friend to sneak out a spark plug, coil wire, resistor and coil from the parts store. With those I could wire it to my cell phone and get the magnetic fields to change the channel on the tv at Applebees to see my buddy Tim on TV. I hope to send him signals through my microwave via a boomerang antenna found in the dumpster at the parts store. If I get through to Tim, maybe he'll help bring me out and I could be a resident midget apprentice on his TV show hiding out like a garden gnome in the background of all the shots! Hopefully I'll get back to the parts store in time to get some free street tacos!
Sincerest thanks to Robbie for his time and insight, and, as always, his friendship (and those conversations and rants that we dive into when the day is just going down the drain... good times, man... good times). To learn more about Robbie and his shop, head on over to www.pacificcoastcustoms.com, and why not become his fan on Facebook, too?