Kenny Welch of Kenny’s Rod Shop builds hot rods that contrast traditional fabrication techniques with modern details. There is more contrast:
While his shop is an inviting space that draws you in, Kenny’s weekend toy is an intimidating, short wheelbase, 7-second “altered”. That contrast is part of what makes Kenny’s Rod Shop special. You get just the right mix of old and new, street and race, and aggressive vs subtle.
No matter how you add it up, everything about Kenny Welch and Kenny’s Rod Shop is pure Hot Hod.
Ridetech: What was your first Hot Rod?
Kenny Welch: My first car was a 1960 Volkswagen Bug. That was my hot rod at 13 years old. “V-Dubs” are where I cut my teeth and learned SO much about metalwork including chopping tops, suicide doors, and on and on… I would say my 63 Chevy II Nova was my first true hot rod. After that, the list of cars is MILES and MILES long …LOL!
Ridetech: Did you grow up in a car / racing family or did you find the hobby on your own?
Kenny Welch: I was born into the car scene. I am VERY thankful that my dad was a hot rodder… even though he was in the computer industry he was a true Hot Rodder. He started out with and STILL HAS his first car… an ALL steel 1932 Ford 3 window coupe that has been in the family now some 70 years. My mom and dad dated in it and it was their daily driver while working and living in Daly City, California.
My two sisters and I have many fond memories of cruising around in the rumble seat as kids and going to the early days of Andy’s Picnic car show and other events. There are many pics of me at 4 to 5 years old going out and working on the `32 right by my dad’s side. My dad and his friend also ran an early front engine dragster before us kids came around. So, I guess racing is in the blood. We now run a nostalgia Fiat Altered.
Kenny Welch: I believe in this day of technology and the advancement of parts and resources, it is easier to build a world-class car. At the same time, it’s getting harder as the entire industry has stepped up its game. So this is a tough question to answer without looking at it from both sides. I know from my late teenage years to now, the level of what we build here at KRS is way up there. In the early days, I could build a pretty darn-cool-ride for $25k. Now it takes $250K plus (and that’s on the LOW side).
Ridetech: As an avid drag racer, what aspects of racing and race cars translate into building hot rods and customs for the street?
Kenny Welch: As a race car driver and go-fast enthusiast, I have ALWAYS favored Nostalgia style race cars. Front engine dragsters, altered, and early style funny cars. I have owned a few front engine rails and funny cars and my current Altered.
I try to instill looks, class and good styling to relate to that era of hot rod and the guys that love them! I know many times at the track people will come up to talk about the race car and ask what I do for a living. When I tell them I build street rods they say, “Makes sense”. That goes hand in hand in my opinion!
Ridetech: When a build is “finished” what steps do you take to make sure the car is sorted before handing it over to its owner?
Kenny Welch: When a KRS build is done, we try and get at least 500 miles of driving on it before we turn it over to the customer. We can usually get out most of the major bugs in that time frame, but not always! We ALWAYS stand behind what we do no matter HOW many miles are on the car. If something goes wrong, we always try to remedy the problem. I tell my customers: “We are human and make mistakes, and if someone is telling you differently, well they are LYING to ya!”
Ridetech: Do you have a favorite non-automotive hobby or are you car-obsessed? What do you like to do outside of work?
Kenny Welch: Fortunately / Unfortunately, its ALL CARS in my life since the beginning! Everything we seem to do, work-related, vacations, etc… I seem to always include cars or a race track to check out. It usually works out alright, and the wife lets me get away with it – LOL!
I am very passionate about what I do for a living. It seems like there is something to be learned, or knowledge to gain, wherever we go. For example, we just took the entire family to Disneyland and I must have road the “CARS” ride a dozen times to check out what is going on in “Ramone’s Paint Shop” – LOL. When we go to a restaurant and there is cool memorabilia on the walls, I got to ask …? So I would say yes, I have a HOBBY and a living, CARS!
Ridetech: Are traditional hot-rod-mods (like roof chops and channeling) still alive – or have CNC machines and rapid prototyping taken over?
Kenny Welch: The industry has changed so much over the past few years. I say it’s GOOD and BAD. From the body guy to the guy sitting at the computer running a CNC Machine, I believe everyone who is someone in the car building industry is a craftsman. You won’t often find me sitting at a computer – LOL, but what I see we are losing is the true, old-school, beat on a piece of metal to create something from nothing with nothing but your hands.
I understand the future of 3D printing an entire car and don’t get me wrong, there is a skilled person sitting at a desk to run that machine. I feel we are losing the grassroots of cars and what they truly are – metal, rust, and grit! Not all carbon fiber. When is a Camaro no longer a Camaro nowadays?
I am doing my best to pass on my skills to the next generation of young builders. It will be interesting to see this industry in the next 10 years (maybe as soon as 5 years). We will see what gets built and mass-produced. Please don’t get me wrong, I love our little in-house 3D printer and my local machinist knocks out some super cool stuff for our builds. BUT AN ENTIRE CAR? I will pass on that!
Ridetech: Can you point to one or two custom car builders who inspire you?
Kenny Welch: I don’t think there is any one or two builders that were inspirational to me. I value ALL of the guys in every aspect of the car industry and what they bring to the table. I am the type of guy that grasps pieces of a build from other shops, not the entire build. I like to look at the details and see what someone created. I look for aspects that do not stick out, the understated stuff.
That’s how we like to build our cars here at KRS. We prefer the timeless, iconic approach. Less is more. No doubt, we make tons of changes, but we want you to ask yourself, “What did KRS do different there. I know these guys have tweaked it a bit?”
That is what we strive to do with our builds and I think that is what personally inspires me about other builders as well. It’s the “less is more” approach. If you have to tweak something so much that it sticks, you are not doing your job. That’s not art, that is a bunch of gaudy stuff stuck on a car!
Ridetech: What sort of methods do you use to custom tailor cars to their drivers?
Kenny Welch: Our cars are built to be driven. They are pretty for sure, but I want my customers to enjoy their investments from behind the wheel, not in a showroom. I dig into a customer’s background with them. I want them to get into a KRS car and feel at home as if it was their daily driver.
Most of our clients are not local, but the airport solves that challenge. So we will fly them in to get seating and steering and pedal placement, etc. We all drive and sit differently in our cars. At KRS, we are building cars for our clients, not us. So let’s get ya here and make you feel comfortable in your ride! I find out about their daily driver and try to get a seat from that car and maybe even the dash, etc…
We do a lot of emailing back and forth to always keep them in the loop. I am very blessed in the aspect that most of our customers come to us because they like our style of build and trust our judgment. Most of the time, we land a couple of basic ideas, such as colors, etc… and our customers let us run with it and “do our thing”. They know we will end up with a winner and a car that they will be happy with for years to come!
Ridetech: If you could build or buy any type of car for yourself tomorrow, what would it be?
Kenny Welch: One car haunts me. I have ALWAYS wanted a 1932 Ford Woody. I DON’T DO WOOD – LOL! I tell everyone the day they come out with WOOD WELDERS, I am golden – LOL! So, in the meantime, I hope that someday I will run into a retired cabinet maker and I will finally have the car of my dreams.
Ridetech Bonus Question: What was it like to transform a rare car like a 51 Hudson into a hot rod custom and what was your favorite part of the build?
First off, there is a lot of talk that this car is a Hornet, but our original title says 51 Wasp and all of the parts fit a Wasp. We say it’s a V10WASP, just like the license plates.
Taking a ’51 Hudson Wasp, and putting today’s modern stuff in it is so much fun. That includes comfort, style, and power. As far as the body goes we like to just enhance what was already there. We make it better. We don’t want to make it stand out by doing something crazy like adding a 3-tier-funky-wing on the back. Instead, we like to do what the original manufacturers envisioned, only better!
Since this is such a one-off-build, with a full custom suspension, we used some KILLER Ridetech coilover shocks (and air-ride parts as well). Together, those parts make ‘the beast’ such an amazing road car! Fox coming together with Ridetech is going to be a game-changer for the hot rod industry.
Squeezing in a Viper V10 under the hood was a challenge, but OH SO REWARDING. The favorite part of all of our builds is getting to interact with our clients (which we call them friends here.. because they all become friends). Making Mike Dennison’s happy as the car developed, made it all worthwhile. So, I would say that is what excites me the most is a happy customer driving off into the sunset. That is pure bliss.
For more information on Kenny’s Rod Shop, visit: KennysRodShop.com
Photos by John Jackson at NotStock Photography