Rodger Lee: Ironworks Speed & Kustom, Bakersfield, CA
In this week’s edition, we’re going to spend some quality time with Rodger Lee, owner of Ironworks Speed & Kustom in Bakersfield, CA. Rodger’s love of building the perfect customized car has propelled him into the forefront of the hot rod industry, and the level of attention to detail in his builds is extraordinary.
RideTech: Where did your passion for car building come from?
Rodger: I have always been interested in anything mechanical; cars, planes, trains, bicycles, etc. I played with Legos and built plastic models all the way up until I could get a real car. I had a family friend take me to a few AMBR shows when they were still in Oakland. I read every magazine I could get my hands on. I did quite a bit to the 1966 VW squareback I got my junior year of high school. Porsche alloys, slammed on the ground with a loud stinger exhaust, huge stereo with anywhere from 1-3 12” woofers. Bitchin’ tweed interior and a flat purple and gloss tan scallops all sprayed with spray paint of out of a cheap paint gun in my drive way. The flat purple was only available at the Pep Boys in a spray can. It might not have been as cool as I thought back then.
RideTech: This past year at SEMA, there was a new Ironworks build everyone loved, the Whipple Superchargers 1957 Chevy. Tell us more about it!
Rodger: We unveiled 2 cars at SEMA 2016, the Whipple Superchargers ’57 in the Flowmaster booth and the Twin Turbo Bubbletop in the Meguair’s booth.
The Whipple Superchargers ’57 was a pretty quick build for us in 13 months. We struggled to not go overboard and ruin the original design of the ’57 but modernize the car. We shortened the front fenders 2” in between the headlights and the front axle center line to make the car look lighter up front. We modified the front bumper and grille bar to do the same. We installed RideTech air bags to get the car down low enough to get that kinda modern tuner stance. The car has a 4.5 litre supercharger on an upgraded LS9 running through Flowmaster mufflers that exit the car in the center. Wilwood powder coated the brake calipers to match the HRE wheels in a color called Frozen Red. HRE also powder coated the supercharger and valve cover parts to match. Sid Chavers went way outside of his normal and did an incredible job with the Gary Ragle interior design. The exterior was painted PPG Telesto Gray from a Lamborghini.
The Twin Turbo ’62 Bubbletop was built on a Custom Ironworks chassis with RideTech coilovers. It features a twin turbo engine with small 62mm turbos to minimize the turbo lag and put out roughly 750hp. The car features Wilwood disc brakes and HRE 20” and 21” monoblock wheels. Many of the billet parts for this project were custom machined or 3d printed one-off for this project: the intake manifold, interior dash cluster, center console insert, wiper and AC control surround, and many other parts. Sid Chavers did another outstanding job in the interior. The exterior was painted PPG Grigio Scuro, a vintage Ferrari Color.
RideTech: After building several high-end cars, is there a style you prefer… pro-touring, restoration, etc?
Rodger: I’m not sure I have a preference. I try to build the car the customer wants and really bring their ideas to light. If they have a weird concept, I either don’t take on the project or I try to show them some better ideas. I like a car that has a consistent theme or feel and does some things differently than other builds. Sometimes I bring in a project I feel ok about and really feel like I would like to build that same model for myself when the car leaves. I like to build cars that look really good and may have a major mod done to them to make them look so much better, so that when someone who owns the same model car looks, he can’t really tell why this one we built looks so much better than even their own car; whether that is a wide body or a wedge section or chopping the top just one inch to get that proportion just right.
RideTech: The Fairway ’55 picked up a few trophies like GM’s Design Award; is there an award that you are most proud of?
Rodger: In this day and age, some awards mean more than others. I like the awards that are picked by fellow builders or people in the know like a GM Design Award. Cleaning house with a vendor’s award at a local show is cool, but some lady with a flower shop that thinks your car is nice is not really my deal. I have also built a couple cars that just never get any awards at a car show but like the ’70 Chevelle we did, it somehow got 7 features in magazines with 4 cover spots and the car show judges walk right buy it. And the ’48 Chevy truck we did a few years back won Truck of the Year with Goodguys, but shared a cover spot with another truck we did that was a simple driver. Awards are so subjective; you may build the nicest car on the planet that everyone but the car show judge loves. Awards are cool, but I’m not convinced they are better than a satisfied happy customer that drives off into the sunset in his dream car.
RideTech: Outside of car building, is there a hobby you are involved with?
Rodger: My wife and I got a late start on the kids thing. I have 2 baby girls, a 1-year old and soon to be 4-year old. We like to go camping and I enjoy teaching the older one to ride her quad. I also like to go trail ride in the desert in my Turbo Can Am. I also enjoy off-road racing and I used to race a UTV in the local and BITD series. I’m currently building a new class 5 Baja Bug with a 6-speed and a direct-injected Ecotech.
RideTech: Tell us about your favorite unique custom fabricated component made at your shop.
Rodger: I’m not sure I have one favorite part as there is a new favorite every day it seems. I really like styling engine compartments and making complexity look clean and detailed. I hate engine covers and think the plumbing and wiring should be done to a level that doesn’t hide anything under a cover.
RideTech: If you had to guess, how many project cars have you guys worked on?
Rodger: Man, that would be a tough one! 16 years ago, I started out in a small shop in downtown Bakersfield and would do whatever I could to keep the doors open. Big jobs, small jobs. I built lumber racks, air bagged trucks, built headers and exhaust, chopped tops on different cars and trucks. It wasn’t until I stepped out to build my black truck to show people we could do more that we really attracted people who wanted us to do the entire build. Now we have in-house paint and body, and we are working on starting to make our own interior panels. Most every job in the shop nowadays is here for a complete build.
RideTech: Tell us about your first car!
Rodger: My first car was a 1966 Volvo that was given to me free. I got what I paid for. I spent 1000’s of dollars to make it roadworthy and safe to later figure out why it was free. I then bought a 1967 Chevy truck that I had for 6 months or so until it got wrecked in a rain storm one late Saturday night. I then bought a 1966 VW Squareback that I built a few engines for and had for my entire high school career. It’s amazing to see how many Hot Rod builders started in VW’s. When I graduated from UTI in 1994, I bought a 1957 Chevy Truck that I drove daily for a few years until it went under the knife to become the black C6-57.
RideTech: It sounds like you’ve got a pretty good crew at Ironworks Speed and Kustom. How big is your team?
Rodger: I currently have 11 employees including myself and my wife. Jimmy, Mikey, Hugo, Neil, Lee, Randy, Amber, Otavio, Jesus. Most of my guys specialize in 1 or 2 disciplines. We all strive for the best quality we can all do and try to work on the cars as if they are our own personal car. Some guys specialize in wiring and and assembly, some fabricate and design parts to cut on some of our in-house CNC plasma or router table. We have started using a 3D printer to make some things in plastic. I also have 2 guys who work hard getting the cars as straight as possible in the body shop. We make a good team and try to all help bring each other up to the next level. I always say there is not one job more important than any other. It takes all aspects to make a great car and a happy customer.
Our shop is split into 3 distinct areas; fabrication, assembly, and body and paint shop. We are in a 9800-sq. ft. building that we have been in for 8 years at this location.
RideTech: How many years have you used RideTech suspension products?
Rodger: I have used RideTech products for as long as I can remember. All the way back to the ShockWaves on a few projects to their coilovers on every project that leaves our shop nowadays. Their ride quality makes my product drive and handle well and that, in turn, makes us look good when the car hits the streets.
RideTech: If you could build anything for yourself what would it be?
Rodger: That is a tough one. I like everything, except for maybe Hondas. I would love to build the ’36 Ford 3-window I have been hoarding for many years upstairs above my office. I would like to build a ’60 or ’61 Cadillac to just cruise with my family. I’m pretty excited to build the class 5 offroad buggy later this summer once all the parts arrive. Every time I watch Street Outlaws, I want to build a car to be on “The List”.
To visit Ironworks Speed & Kustom online, Click HERE
To view our past installments of Ten Questions With, Click HERE