Lake Norman & Mooresville

Restoration business is a family affair

Klassic Rides, on Denver Industrial Park Road in Denver, could be described as the place you take your vintage auto when all other options for restoration or customization have run out.

The business began seven years ago when owner Floyd West, 57, decided to leave his position as director of purchasing for R-Anell to pursue his passion for classic-car restoration.

"I had worked for someone else all my life," said West, "and the housing market was weak, but jumping ship into deep waters was not easy.

"I didn't have to take on the risk at my age, but I wanted to have something for my sons."

West said son Billy, 32, has always had a knack for restoring old cars. When Billy West was 15, the two bought a '68 Chevelle to work on together as a project. After studying mechanical engineering at Gaston College, Billy West worked with his dad on the engineering side at R-Anell, until both left the company to start their own business.

What is it like for father and son to work together?

"He's got one way and I've got my way, and we kind of meet in the middle," says West. "We bumped heads a lot in the beginning, but not so much now."

Billy is very hands-on and works in the shop, said West. Far from being a problem, the differences in their approaches to classic-car restoration have some advantages. "You've got to have two different attitudes," West said. "You can't think alike."

In keeping with the concept of a family-run business, West's wife works in the back office with him, handling administration, invoices and advertising, among other tasks.

Currently in its third location, the business has expanded from a 5,000-square-foot facility to more than 12,000 square feet, and space is running out once again, which might mean adding yet another building.

"We're not making a lot of money," West said. "Restoration is not a big-money business. We put a lot back into the business, building for the future."

The shop keeps a dozen employees busy. "We provide a living for guys that love cars, like my dad and me," said Billy West. Employees range from age 24 to 56, and most are able to multitask in the shop, despite having their own unique specialty in the restoration process.

Unlike other smaller restoration shops in the area, Klassic Rides is a one-stop, bumper-to-bumper shop, handling small jobs and complete restorations.

Smaller jobs might involve interiors, disc brake conversions, vintage air-conditioning conversions or exterior painting.

Klassic Rides' reputation has spread, so that only about 50 percent of its business is local. The cars in the shop come from all over North Carolina, as well as from South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and beyond. "We'll go anywhere people love classic cars as much as we do," says West.

Most restorations are for personal enjoyment, often involving a sentimental attachment to an older car that's been in the family for a long time. Nevertheless, it's a very expensive hobby.

A customer can spend as little or as much as he wants, ranging from a minor to a full-off frame restoration, which can take eight or nine months and cost as much as $60,000 to $100,000.

"You don't restore a car to make money on it," said Billy West. "You do it because it's a car that you have always wanted and you want to know what goes into it. It's very rare to get out of a car what you put into it."

A unique feature offered by Klassic Rides, reflecting its understanding of owners' sentimental attachment to their cars, is a weekly update on its website showing the work done in the previous week.

Among the current projects is the complete restoration of a '49 Jaguar owned by Humpy Wheeler, past president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. When completed in spring 2012, it will be a "trophy car" on a Chrysler 300C undercarriage. Total cost for the restoration will be about $200,000.

Klassic Rides also has done work for other high-profile customers, ranging from the NFL to NASCAR personalities.

West's 14-year-old son, Steven, works at the shop on Saturdays, washing cars and learning about the business in the process.

West's grandson, Christian, 7, already has the car bug, according to Floyd and Billy West.