All fired up

By on August 8, 2018

It took a woman for Kevin Michael to build a kick-butt hot rod.

Or maybe the car helped him forget the woman.

Going through a bad divorce in 2011-12, Michael poured himself into rebuilding a 1940 Ford Pickup. He’d crank up the music, fire-up a blow torch or welder and for about a year pour himself into this old farm truck he bought in a New Jersey junkyard.

“I put my nose to the grindstone and built a badas- hot rod and (try to) forget the worst parts of life,” said Michael, 44, who lives in Elizabeth Township. The finished version of his radical ride–a 6-71 blower, the turbo 350 transmissions and 34-inch STA bias-ply truck tires &tstr; now serves as what he calls “a rolling business card,” as he uses it to advertise his business, Hellfire Kustoms, a building and fabricating car shop. He has one part-time employee, Justin Rowe, who specializes in paint work.

A former design engineer, Michael, a 1992 Warwick High School graduate, keeps reaping the fruits of his new labor. His latest reward is the cover of the August/September issue of Ol’ Skool Rodz magazine. The exposure from the photos and cover story has already led to five calls for future work at his Lititz shop at 40 N. Water Street, where he rents space in the back of the old Burkholder Chip building, restoring and doing fabrication work for the last eight months.

Kevin Michael stands next to one of his current projects, a 1936 Plymouth Coupe Street Rod.

He met a photographer for the hot rod magazine while attending Retro Fest, a hot rod car show at the Lancaster Host Resort and Convention Center in July 2017. Working with cars is in his blood. Michael grew up going to car shows and watching his father in the garage. His father, also an engineer, was an avid participant during the street racing days of the 1950s and ‘60s when drag racing was popular.

Michael became intrigued by hammering and metal and making stuff out of nothing. His specialty is 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s hot rods and custom cars. The first car he ever designed was his car in high school, a 1969 Camaro. The first car he actually customized was a 1959 Cadillac Deville. He built two of them (both 1959). They had hydraulics, a smoothed body and new fender skirts and many more tricks. They also threw flames out the big pipes from the exhaust. His friends call him “The Torch.”

One of his current projects includes a complete rebuild of a 1936 Plymouth Coupe Street Rod. Michael said for years he used to sit behind a computer all day as a design engineer, but something was missing, incomplete.

“When I am doing something with my hands I feel more complete at the end of the day,” he said. “I like to see people’s dreams coming true.” Last Saturday, a customer stood next to his 1956 F-100 truck, looking to get to fender work done.

“Thank God I found you, buddy,” the customer said to Michael, who compares the obsession of rebuilding old cars to the days of playing with toy cars as children. “I think we all remember playing with Matchbox cars when you were kids and some of us didn’t let go of that, Michael said. “We are building models when we’re older and then you get into your teens and go to a race and it sticks with you. When you are an adult you need an outlet. This is their big Matchbox car.”

And a perfect outlet for a guy trying to forget about a woman.

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