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Tube & Pipe

Tailored tubing

By Lynn Stanley

Hanksville Hot Rods turns a niche market into a profitable business

May 2012 - Hank Padilla took auto shop in high school but found himself getting a C in the class. “My parents sat me down and said, ‘You can’t get a C in this class.’” I also was a late bloomer in math, and I remember telling them that when I grew up, I would just pay people to work on my car.” Today, the former risk manager and management consultant co-owns Hanksville Hot Rods, Littleton, Colo., with his wife, Jen, and is the shop’s lead fabricator.

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Custom career
Padilla was drawn into the world of cars and do-it-yourself fabrication work during college when a friend bought a Mustang. “I finally decided I needed a change of career and I wanted to spend less time traveling,” he says. “I really wanted to be in the hot rod business, but after evaluating typical custom body shops in our area, I realized there were a lot of good body shops where people could go to get their cars worked on. I decided instead to focus on tube bending because there were very few companies specializing in that type of metal forming. “Hanksville Hot Rods, now in its seventh year of business, is one of the few shops able to provide in-house mandrel tube bending for custom-fitted exhaust systems, headers and roll cages. The shop has extensive experience with road race, drag race and land speed rules. “We’ve also made customers out of the other hot rod shops,” says Padilla. “Instead of competing head to head, we’re able to complement what’s already in the marketplace and help other body shops.”

In addition to employing a team of experienced fabricators, Padilla has made a substantial investment in U.S.-made programmable mandrel tube bending and fabrication technology. Equipment includes a true mandrel bender and a rotary draw bender for a high level of repeatability and advanced bending. The rotary draw permits larger radius, thicker-walled tube applications for roll cages and custom chassis cross members. The shop’s line-up also includes an end-mill tube notcher and tube swager expander. A motorized bead roller permits beading around tube ends. “These capabilities allow us to cost-effectively build high-quality, close-fitting exhausts and roll cages with quick turnaround times,” Padilla says.

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Compliant cages
When a customer asked the shop to build a custom roll cage for a Porsche Cayman S, Padilla says the job was a hallmark project because of the level of trust the customer placed in his team. “The customer literally bought the car off the showroom floor,” he says. “It only had 529 miles on the odometer when the customer dropped it off at the shop and asked us to turn it into a race car.” The first step is to carefully mask off the car to protect it. The team then removes the car’s interior. “Every roll cage is custom fabricated based on the class and sanctioning body overseeing the race the driver wants to participate in,” Padilla says. “We make sure we’re compliant but we also want to meet the customer’s requirements in terms of how they want to drive the car and how they will fit in the car while ensuring a high degree of safety.” Hanksville Hot Rods conducts an in-depth consultation with the customer then uses CAD software to draw the tubes for the cage. Parts are tacked into place and checked for fit prior to welding. “For this project, we used TIG-welded 11/2 in. by 0.12 in. 4130 chrom-moly tube for the cage’s main structure and required elements and a combination of 11/2 in. by 0.095 in., 1.25 in. by 0.065 in. and 1 in. by 0.065 in. chrom-moly tube for non-required elements, triangulation bars and tube gussets. This kept the cage legal for all three race-sanctioning bodies while at the same time managing weight and increasing strength with the additional bars.” In addition to the cage, the shop installed a window net and racing harness.

Adding a stainless steel dual exhaust to a muscle car is no less challenging. Tubing has to be smooth with no kinking or crushing to impede flow. Fitment must be exact. The trick to mandrel bending exhaust pipes is in the preparation, according to Padilla. After painstakingly measuring and re-measuring, the shop first makes prototypes and mock-up tubes. “Once we put a tube in the bender and begin the bending process, you don’t get a second chance,” he says. “It has to be right the first time. You can’t go back in and add an angle or take an angle out.”

Padilla says the shop’s skills will always be a small part of an overall build but the quality his team provides complements what a customer is doing with the rest of their vehicle. “We stay busy with our three areas of focus. We bend tubing all day, every day and we’re very good at it.” Padilla and his wife operate the shop as a family business and are actively involved in the racing community. The owner of a Mustang, he says, “we’re getting our kids involved. Our daughters now race junior dragsters.” FFJ

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