Hollywood Hot Rods is a full service hot rod and classic car build-up and restoration shop that utilizes a “team approach” to building some of the finest cars to hit the street in recent years. The Burbank, California shop is owned and operated by Troy Ladd.
Ladd’s ‘Respect Tradition’ 392 Hemi-powered Deuce roadster has received a great deal of press lately, appearing in numerous magazine articles and receiving many awards. Ladd also appeared on the television show “Rides,” and received a special award at the 2007 SEMA show, which we talk about on the following pages.
Ladd had no previous hot rodding in his blood, so it’s been his determination, skill and love of hot rods responsible for getting him where he is today. He previously owned a “street-race” Mustang, an ex-dirt track racing ’36 five-window, and a ’34 Chevy coupe that he chopped in the parking lot of his apartment complex.
Today, Ladd is the proud owner of Hollywood Hot Rods, where he merges artistic restoration and building skills while taking care of the demands of a growing business. His specialties include complete hot rod and custom car build-ups, custom metal fabrication, sheet metal forming, body customization (chops, shaving, channeling, etc.) among others.
Sit back while Troy Ladd talks hot rodding, why traditional hot rods are the “kings” of his shop, and why “Rat Rods” are two bad words based on a new craze that he feels could be dangerous and hurt everyone in the business. He’ll also point out where he sees growth in the coming years, and why real hot rodding will never die.
HRR: Troy, let’s start with your theory of restoration and building at Hollywood Hot Rods. You incorporate a “team approach”. What is that?
Ladd: I got behind this approach when I started the shop, as it seems to me there were a lot of guys who run shops with their name as the moniker. So you base an entire build on that one person’s expertise. My feeling is if you put a team of guys together that all have individual expertise and promote the team as a whole you’ll do better than a single individual [in marketing a shop.] Let’s say I have an amazing welder, an amazing electrician plus a great sheet metal guy, a good mechanic and each one is an expert in his separate field, if you put them all together and market it as a team, you’ll be better off than the one person market approach.
HRR: How many people do you have working at Hollywood Hot Rods?
Ladd: I have five great fabricators. And they pretty much can all do just about everything.
HRR: Are we talking cross training here?
Ladd: Yes, we are. Now, of course, some are better than others when we ask for help in another area, but for the most part they can all shape metal. As for turning a wrench, anyone can do that. We actually don’t even count that in the build process. It’s a given. They can all weld MIG and TIG, can weld aluminum, wire, fabricate; you name it and they can do it. However, each one has their individual expert talent.
HRR: Which part of restoration is the most time consuming, given all is equal in a resto build?
Ladd: If we’re doing a car that is an over-the-top custom, then sheet metal is the most time consuming, with chopping and channeling and smoothing and lengthening. That’s a big deal. Now if we’re doing a car that doesn’t require this type of commitment, then it could be the painter that has the big, time consuming job.
HRR: How much of your business is hot rod and how much is classic cars and muscle cars?
Ladd: Right now, we’re 80/20 hot rods. When we first opened, it was anything goes, maybe 50/50 at that point. Over the years, as our name and reputation began to grow, the building shifted more to the hot rods.
HRR: Where do you see growth in the coming years?
Ladd: Here at Hollywood Hot Rods, we see more expansion into the retail sales side of the business. I see more sales of parts and many product lines in the future. We already have a pretty good soft goods line, but I see hard parts growing, and it will just need some marketing and a good push to make it all happen. I see this happening in a normal business growth curve that needs multiple income streams to balance everything out.
HRR: How about the rat rod business? It seems like more and more enthusiasts are getting involved this way.
Ladd: The so-called rat rod business is a great entry-level point. It’s a good start. It also has a strong, traditional vibe to it, which keeps this segment alive. But there is a bad end of the rat rod craze, too. Unfortunately, some of it has taken a bad turn into what I’ll call rat rod art cars, because they are cars that are built for shock value and not tradition. These owners will say, ‘Hey, look at me. This car is crazy, it has no floor, no roof,’ and on and on. This is a bad direction, so I hesitate to even use the words ‘rat rod’ around here because it is starting to go in a different direction that I’m not into. I feel a traditional low-budget car does not have to be ‘ratty.’ So, to me, these shock value cars really have no traditional value whatsoever, no racecar value, and are aesthetically incorrect with all the wrong proportions that result in someone saying ‘Crazy, look at that.’ It’s not what we do at Hollywood Hot Rods. ‘Rat’ means poorly built, or ‘ratty.’ Not here, ever, if you get what I mean.
HRR: Sure do, and a good point. Any good examples of traditional correct hot rod groups?
Ladd: Yes. In Burbank, there’s a group of hot rodders called The Choppers and they are all my friends. The Choppers build perfect period-correct cars using pre-war parts in an attempt to recapture exactly how it was. We never use the words ‘rat rod’ around here, I might add, because of what we discussed earlier in it running out to be a crazy art form that is dangerous.
HRR: So, there are many drawbacks to this new rat rod, but what’s the biggest?
Ladd: The first time one of these rat rod crazies gets killed or something, there’s going to be regulations coming down on us that could hurt the business of every hot rod shop in America.
HRR: So, what officially should we call you and Hollywood Hot Rods when it comes to building hot rods?
Ladd: I am a traditional-style car builder, not necessarily a traditional car builder, meaning we won’t use only pre-war parts. We make new parts look old, and the hidden elements make the car work better in the modern world.
HRR: You received a big award at the 2007 SEMA show. How about telling our readers about it, and what it means to you, personally?
Ladd: We won the Goodguys 2007 Trendsetter Award. It’s a very big honor to receive this award, because it means we’re setting trends here at Hollywood Hot Rods. What it stems from is continuing this idea of traditional (hot rod) form with modern function. One of our trademark monikers is “Respect Tradition,” which means we build toward the aesthetics of it without necessarily being strangled by it. A good example is my roadster, which is a very period-looking, traditional, kind of lakester, racer mean, but it has hidden electronic fuel injection, hidden disc brakes and we’ve taken a few liberties with the actual design. But the car meets the overall aesthetics of a traditional hot rod.
HRR: Your shop has a nice apparel and merchandise area. How big is this non-core ancillary market to your success, and what are the most popular items?
Ladd: Lots of T-shirts. The soft goods are big, and we have a whole new line of soft goods to be released soon. Branding is important here, and originally, our first items were logo based, made to promote the shop. As the years went by, we got more into the actual design of the clothes where people now buy for two reasons. One buys for fashion, one buys for branding, or better yet, both at the same time. But you need a reputation behind the fashion to really sell. So-Cal has been very popular in this area, and has offerings for both markets of hot rodding, high end and traditional.
HRR: Let’s talk engines, both period correct and crate motors. Does the crate motor fit in with your ideology and how about the traditional engine, too?
Ladd: I can hit both of these areas with big positives. The crate motor industry is hugely important because a great majority of cars built here utilize crate motors. We rarely use an engine that has been rebuilt if it’s a small block Chevy or Ford, unless it’s something really special. I can’t even tell you how many 290 hp, 350′s from the Chevy dealership have arrived at our shop, it’s that many. These engines have warranties, they start up the first time, don’t leak, and we can get them fast and there are no issues.
HRR: And the rebuilt traditional engine?
Ladd: Yes, with that being said about crate motors, when you want to hit the traditional aesthetic, the engine is as important to the entire design as the car is. We’ll use a Hemi, a Flathead or a Pontiac, all more unusual but traditionally specific to the need. So both have positives, and all have readily available parts, including the flatheads nowadays with all the businesses that cater to them.
HRR: What concerns do you have?
Ladd: Registration. There’s always a question mark with hot rod registration.
HRR: Do you feel our lobbyists are doing the job in Washington that’s needed in this area?
Ladd: Yes, I do, and organizations like SEMA really do well in the registration battles. I don’t want to see government officials use old cars as scapegoats. If you really look at the numbers and do your research, there are no smog issues and relatively no impact in classic car and hot rods on our highways; but for some reason they keep appearing on the ballot as scapegoats.
HRR: You do an amazing amount of metal work and fabrication. What is your metal fabrication philosophy?
Ladd: Metal fabrication is where you really roll into the artistic side of this business. Some people may not understand this fully. I don’t have mechanics here. I have artists. The sheet metal area of building is when you really get into the art end of building. I always say the local car shops, like Pep Boys, can put engines in and turn wrenches, which is all fine and good, but it’s certainly not building a hot rod. Our overall statement comes through in the expression of our finished metal product. The further you are into shaping metal, the higher-end your shop will be.
HRR: Any tips for shop owners?
Ladd: I’m not going to say this is an easy business to break into. We’ve been really lucky, but there is a lot of hard work, too. Both play roles in success. You have to market, as you can’t expect people to just come to you. You have to make the right connects and make this happen. One key is being good to people, in all areas, from customer service to your dealings within the industry. Always make everything you do worth the people’s time. Your reputation will precede you.
HRR: Any thoughts on where you think this business is heading in the future?
Ladd: I see the industry continuing to grow, and the availability of parts increasing as the years go by. This is a big aftermarket business, and it will get much bigger. It will get easier and easier for people to build and modify cars, including traditional hot rod, classic, muscle and new cars.
HRR: Why will real hot rodding never die?
Ladd: Because it’s part of American culture. It’s always been there, and always will. Today, there are so many different variations to hot rodding; it is a limitless number, including anything from a high-tech street rod to a traditional hot rod to souping up a Honda. It all comes under one roof. It can’t die, it is who we are.
For more information visit www.hollywoodhotrods.com.