Special Report: Custom Fabricating

Bitchin' rides

By Gretchen Salois

Above: A close-knit family of fabricators, Kindig-It Design includes Dave Kindig and his wife Charity, daughter Baylee, and a band of employees working at the Salt Lake City-based shop. “We are passionate, and anyone new has got to click or it’s not going to work, because we are more than just a work team—we are a family,” says Dave Kindig.

Tricked-out tenacity is how Dave Kindig taught himself to rethink how to fabricate hot rods

November 2019 - What began with “banging metal over wooden benches” has evolved into incorporating the latest fabrication technology at Dave Kindig’s shop in Salt Lake City, Utah. The founder behind Kindig-It Design—featured on Bitchin’ Rides, a show on the Motor Trend television network—is a self-taught designer/ builder and automotive enthusiast who worked his way around every aspect of bringing decaying cars back to life, all while keeping each vehicle’s true essence intact.

When he began working on cars 20 years ago, Kindig sought expertise from talented people able to work every angle of car repair, rehab and artistry in the hot rod industry.

“I started my business based on my love of cars. I was highly motivated to succeed so I surrounded myself with industry people who knew the ins and outs and highly excelled in metalworking, body work, mechanical, electrical—every [skill] I could think of—in hopes of creating my dream of a successful hot rod shop,” recalls Kindig. He borrowed his first tools from his future father-in-law; soon he learned to wield a hammer, build his own dolly and wood bench and began to work.

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Above: Kindig-It calls this 1947 Cadillac convertible “Driving Miss Daisy on steroids,” because of its classic style coupled with 996 horsepower.

Below: The 1958 Lincoln Continental Maybellene

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“In the beginning, I was chopping tops off Volkswagens near Salt Lake,” he continues. “I started working on more cars and worked with more guys who had better experience with body and paint work and my business kept growing.”

Kindig’s business evolved after hiring engineer William Lockwood, who lent his expertise in metal shaping. With his ideas and skill set, Kindig purchased four mandrels and an English wheel. Adding more metalforming tools “was a pretty big step,” says Kindig. Using a shrinker setup and plastic hammers, Kindig’s team achieved organic contours as close to factory shapes as possible. The idea is always “to capture the essence of the custom vehicle.”

Blending old and new

Over the last decade, Kindig has steadily installed more equipment and developed greater capabilities in house. Five years ago, Kindig-It Design purchased a Pullmax, a custom pile hammer, a handheld plasma torch, 4-ft. by 4-ft. plasma table, a 10-ft. shear, finger brake, pneumatic press, bead roller, an additional two shrinker stretchers, a bead roller from Sweden and Solidworks software.

“We invested in things that cut down a lot of production time so we can fabricate the parts more efficiently,” he says.

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Above: 1937 Chevy Roadster

Below: 1927 Shadow Rod

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With a six-year backlog and about 16 to 22 cars in process at any time, “it’s a pretty awesome situation but it can be stressful,” says Kindig. “I found it difficult to rely on subcontractors to do the work we couldn’t do ourselves. I had no control over the logistics so we got our own CNC machines. Adding these tools and technologies really helped bring us to our next level of the game,” Kindig continues. “The biggest changes have been reducing the amount of time needed to create a product, and the result is a better one.”

Kindig used his fabrication prowess to introduce a nontraditional design to a classic pickup truck. Classic truck beds are typically flatbeds. “My idea was for a more curved, sculpted shape. We had to hand fabricate these bowling pin-shaped corners, which were hard to do. We had to create a bulbous shape at the bottom and make it narrower toward the top.”

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Above: 1969 Chevrolet Camaro

Below: 1967 Boss Ford Mustang

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Lockwood suggested using the shop’s Stratasys 3D printer and scanner to print out the parts they needed. “We 3D printed a positive and negative mold for stamping,” recalls Kindig. “We could put the mold into our press and basically smash the metal into place. It helped us big time because we didn’t have to fabricate those corners by hand. That’s just one example of many where using newer technology has helped us achieve the results we wanted faster.”

Kindig-It Design has had a 3D printer and scanner for about four years and recently acquired a second unit. “We use it pretty much every day.” Master fabricator Greg Hebard, along with Lockwood, “is playing around with it to re-create a door handle for a 1923 Bugatti that is otherwise impossible to find. This technology is truly a game changer: We can fabricate parts quicker and move through projects faster.”

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Above: 1957 Corvette convertible

Below: 1939 GM Futurliner

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Always learning

Each Bitchin’ Rides episode shows how the Kindig-It team employs different technologies to rethink approaches to new challenges. To continue that education, Hebard has attended training sessions and conventions. “He’s like Michael Jackson teaching the rest of us how to dance.” Hebard’s knowledge is showcased during Season 6, when the team updates cars with retro-styled trim pieces.

As master designer, Kindig begins each project with his own sketches. “After scanning and digitizing one of our hand sketches, it was taken to a local foundry that works with brass, silken bronze and aluminum. Hebard found a company that can print in sand to create cast molds for us. It’s so much faster than using traditional methods.

“We’ll build 100 parts that will never be replicated again. We can make things so precisely; 15 years ago, we would have had to weld and fabricate every scallop, which is a huge undertaking,” he says.

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Kindig invested in technology and equipment that save time.

By leveraging advanced technology, Kindig-It has reduced the number of man hours per project.

For another project, the foundry cast a set of grills that were “modifications to an otherwise finished vehicle,” says Kindig. “We wanted the grill to have a really Art Deco look, so we created a piece with eight fasteners that hold up all the skins to exactly what we scanned, including where we needed to cut the vents. It’s amazing that we’ve been able to incorporate that kind of capability into building our hot rods.”

If a set of door handles must be fabricated from aluminum instead of steel, those would be sent out for triple plate chrome. “We’re now seeing production on aluminum parts so we added the machinery we need to do aluminum,” he says. “I have one guy busy all day long, every day of the week, because we’re selling several sets of handles a day.”

The next “get” for Kindig is more workers. Work is steady and the team is thriving. “We have a 27,000-sq.-ft. facility with 30 team members and we have an auxiliary building just to keep some of the vehicles out of the way.”

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Custom painting is among the final finishes for one-of-a-kind hot rods at Kindig-It.

He has a personal collection of cars, some of which he’d like to work on, “but those are on the back burner.”

Talent for such specialized work can be difficult to secure. Candidates need at least five years of experience with hot rods. If a resume stands out, Kindig brings the jobseeker in to test their skills, providing lodging and tools. “They just need to feed themselves and show up to work. They need to lick gravy off their hot rod building plate, but they also need to click well and communicate with the rest of the team. We are passionate, and anyone new has got to click or it’s not going to work because we are more then just a work team—we are a family.”

On the horizon

Challenges present themselves in surprising ways. “My customers want stuff that’s never been done before,” Kindig says.

One client came into town especially for his 1967 C10 Chevy truck. Kindig-It Design’s team had chopped it already but the customer now wanted to make it into a convertible. “It’s these one-off requests that are particularly interesting,” says Kindig. “If you keep building stuff that’s too classic or too conservative, it becomes a little cliché. This client wants every one of his cars to stand out. That’s another chance to be creative with the design.”

For this car, Kindig based his design on the limited edition hard-top convertibles (only 20,000 were built) of Chevy SSRs from 2005 and 2006. While drawing up ideas, Kindig frequently thinks about future seasons of Bitchin’ Rides. “We’re filming all year long, so I know we’ll be able to share with viewers how we tackle this one.”

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As master designer, Kindig begins each project with his own sketches.

When he can find the time, Kindig hopes to work on a custom car dream project. He pours his heart into every project but exotic cars remain his favorite. “I’m talking about low, aggressive cars,” he says. “I have a Ferrari and I love its retro styling.”

He wants to design a one-of-a-kind, numbered super car, “something built to the specific tastes of that first owner,” Kindig says. “I want to create a theme where you’ll never see two vehicles that are exactly the same.”

The team at Kindig-It Design has been together for years. Dave and his wife Charity Kindig manage and run the shop daily. Their daughter Baylee Kindig joined the company seven years ago to lead the apparel line and marketing. A handful of employees have been at the shop more than 10 years. Valerie Gillies, William Lockwood and Kevin “Kev-Dogg” Schiele surpassed the 15-year mark, says Baylee Kindig. “It’s a big family without the drama, and that’s what brings us close. My dad always says he never works a day in his life because he loves what he does. Being able to work at something that’s not a typical 9-to-5 job is a blessing.”

Bitchin’ Rides Season 6 has been “surreal for us,” muses Dave Kindig. The show is broadcast in 191 countries, allowing viewers to move through each step of a project’s process while observing how the Kindig-It team solves creative puzzles.

“We're blessed to be able to share with viewers what we are passionate about and how that plays out in our shop day to day. With that kind of focus, each season will only get bigger,” Kindig says. FFJ



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