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Old-school restoration shop rejuvenates classics, creates customs

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 07:00
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It used to be that Rocky and Carolyn Frost’s Custom Auto Body was a high-production collision shop complete with 20 employees, brisk cycle times and steady revenues. But Rocky longed to pursue his lifelong affection for yesteryear’s historic horseless carriages and souped-up Southern California hot rods.

At a Glance:
Custom Auto Body Shop Inc.
San Diego, Calif.
Location
Rocky and Carolyn Frost
Owners
1
No. of shops
45
Years in business
0
No. of DRPs
6,600
Square-footage of shop
7-10, based on special projects
No. of employees
12
No. of bays
6-24 months
Average cycle time
$15,000 - $60,000
Repair order range
Spies Hecker
Paint supplier
Chief EZ Liner
Frame machines used
Mitchell Ultramate
Estimating system used
www.customautobody.com

So Rocky and Carolyn went back to the basics, paring down the staff in favor of select restoration-oriented technicians and catering to customers who remain in love with their cherished vintage vehicles – including motorcycles.

Originally established in 1972 with a focus on classics, “after a very short time in business our custom painting and restorations were placed on hold as there was a huge demand for collision repair,” Rocky recounts. “Although it was paying the bills, it wasn’t fulfilling my creative needs.”

Thus in 2008 the couple shifted their business model “and returned to our very beginnings; we have been fortunate to work on many important and exciting vehicles.”

Among the many highlights is a 1926/7 Rolls Royce 20 Horse Park Ward reportedly constructed for the owner of Rolls Royce’s first American dealership. “This vehicle came to us in pieces. An aluminum-skinned wood body presented many challenges,” says Rocky, yet the extensive rebuild rolled out of the shop as a smooth-running, museum-quality success.

“It is always a pleasure to work on a Porsche, especially one that is still owned by the original owner,” he notes, referring to a 1984 Porsche 911 Cabriolet that had remained untouched for 30 years except for a poorly repaired left-rear corner that had been botched at a local high-end body shop. “By the time the owner picked it up from us the paint and wheels were better than new and he was a proud owner again.”

Then there was the 2007 Shelby Super Snake that had been trailered to the shop from up the coast in Washington. The 800-plus hp machine had yet to win a car show. “So what is a guy to do? Ship it to Custom Auto Body, of course,” Rocky remarks. “We addressed every inch of this car cosmetically,” sending the owner en route to claim some trophies.

Deft metalwork was on the shop’s menu for a 1999 Harley Davidson Fat Boy. “Guys always want a few more inches in length and in height for their bike’s rear fender. So we just stretched it for him. The key is to do it with it looking perfectly natural.”

A 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe in need of a more suitable custom finish is another accomplishment. “One of the latest projects was brought in by a previous customer who lives in Sun City, Ariz. He was so happy with the job that we did on his Chrysler that he brought his newly purchased Tahoe to us because he just was ‘not feeling the look.’ Even though he knew what to expect, he was still ecstatic with the result,” says Rocky.

“I’ve had guys come in here with a car or motorcycle straight from the dealership and they’ll say, ‘Paint it! I don’t like the color.’”

A one-stop shop

The company owns its own enclosed transport, and Rocky will travel great distances to pick up and deliver a customer’s prized ride. Texas, Colorado and Las Vegas have been recent destinations. “I drive straight through, I don’t stop – I’m crazy that way,” he says. “We get cars from different parts of Southern California and different parts of the country.”

Although sometimes it can be “slim pickins’ out there” amid an aging population of truly dedicated car and MC buffs, customers still come from near and far because the business is a one-stop shop. “We can take care of everything.” Clients don’t have to worry about taking their vehicle to one place for upholstery and then another for mechanical repairs and then another to finesse the final finish.

Involved interior and mechanical work is often sublet to respective specialists from the shop’s location on San Diego’s Raytheon Road. “Sometimes they’ll come in here (to complete the job) or we’ll pull the motor and they’ll come back when it’s done while we’ve been working on the exterior.”

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