Revved up in the resto-mod fastlane
Bourbon, Mo.—Jason and Lonny Childress have always been passionate about anything with a motor, especially Mustangs, of which they both owned and worked on growing up on the family horse farm. The Childress’ had made a career out of racing monster trucks for the likes of Team Bigfoot and Bearfoot throughout the 90’s, but it came to a point where they wanted something different. They put their passion to work when they opened Gateway Classic Mustang in 1999, and it didn’t take long for some influential members of the automotive community to take notice of the quality of work they were producing.
“We started out doing straight restorations,” Jason Childress said. “Most of what we were doing was restoring Mustangs back to as close to original condition as we possibly could. As time went on, though, there was a shift from classic restorations into more resto-mod work. People wanted cars that looked like the original, but handled like today’s cars. Let’s face it, the old cars were loose and really unsafe if you look at how the industry has progressed in suspension and handling capabilities.”
The shift from classic Mustang restorations to resto-modding really hit its peak after the world was introduced to “Eleanor”, the 1967 Mustang GT500, which was featured in the 2000 film “Gone in 60 Seconds.”
“Lonny had built his own ‘Eleanor’ and it gained some national attention and even got the seal of approval from Chip Foose. I believe it was the first one he signed,” Childress said.
Word began to spread quickly about their abilities and it opened the door for new high-profile clients to inquire about having work done by the Childress brothers. “We have had the opportunity to do cars for some famous celebrities and we have also gotten work from private owners all over the world.”
Among the notable projects are building the replacement for rock-n-roller Sammy Hagar’s “Red Rocker”, which he sold at Barrett-Jackson in 2006. It was a 1967 Dynacorn-built Mustang, in red, with a completely updated Gateway Classic Mustang custom-built handling package and a 560-HP Roush-built, fuel-injected 427-IR motor.
Another build was done for Chad McQueen, son of actor Steve McQueen. Bud Brutsman, a Los Angeles TV producer who is best known for creating the “Overhaulin’” series, came up with the idea of building a modern rendition of the Bullitt Mustang for McQueen for an episode of “Celebrity Rides” on The Learning Channel. “The goal was simple: Stick with the classic visuals of the original Bullitt Mustang but update the powertrain and suspension to modern specifications. It was built to be driven. We wanted to build a car that Chad would want to jump in and drive,” Childress said.
Custom suspension package
A large part of the resto-mod success is the Gateway Classic Mustang Performance Suspension Package. “We had been working with a company that created a retro kit system, but they peaked and were unwilling to take it to the next level. We saw failures, especially in the hub and bearings, and knew we could come up with something better,” he said.
The Gateway Performance Suspension Strut System replaces most of the factory components, including a large coil spring on top of an upper A-arm. The strut mounts to the factory shock tower using three holes that previously attached the shock bracket. There is no drilling on ′66 or earlier cars. Later models require drilling three holes per side thru the spring retainer plate. The new spindle mounts to the original ball joint on the lower control arm; two large bolts attach the top spindle to the coil-over strut. Ride height is adjusted by threading the strut tube in the lower strut mount to raise or lower the car. The system, as well as a full line of Ford Performance Parts, Coyote Engines and Transmissions, and a late-model version of their suspension kits for Mustangs ′05-′14 are available for direct purchase through the shop.
No restoration is created equal as Childress puts a range from $150,000 to $300,000 for any given job from start to finish. Tracking costs and invoicing was one of the biggest challenges as they evolved their business model.
“We started by giving estimates and taking money down. It would get to a certain point where we would need more money from the client and they wouldn’t have it or had to come up with it. We were basically working for free at that point because we already put ‘X’ amount of time and materials into the project and now we were not getting anything in return.”
It was the advice of Chip Foose, who they worked with on “Overhaulin,” that would help Gateway Classic Mustang develop an entirely new way to handle billing. “We started asking everyone how they handled billing out and Chip said that to be profitable, you have to bill all time and materials. It was that simple. We came up with a weekly invoice system that included anything used during that period on that project. You have to make sure you are charging for everything. We don’t use an ‘allowance’ for shop materials. If we use it on that project, it gets billed to that project. If I could give any advice to other restoration shop owners, it would be ‘do not work for free’.”
Other keys to success include using Dynacorn sheet metal, spraying Axalta paint, and having a full line of Mittler Brothers metal working tools. “Dynacorn-stamped parts are all we use. The quality of the parts they produce will outlast anyone else’s products — period. Axalta, who we source from FinishMaster, is all we will spray. Mittler Brothers is a local company that has achieved national success through their affiliation with NASCAR, but they produce some of the best brakes and shears on the market.”
Childress also advises bringing in dedicated employees. “One of the keys to putting out the best work possible is hiring guys who are passionate about what they are doing. If they only want to put half their effort into a project, you’re going to be doing the work twice in the long run and losing money.”