Renowned painter continues to make his mark in restoration
Riverside, Calif.—Few custom painters have had their work featured in as many automotive magazines as Doug Starbuck, owner of Star Side Design, with more than 65 covers to his credit.
“I’ve done countless custom paint jobs on vans, mini vans, trucks, mini trucks, cars, motorcycles, race cars, and classics in my 40-plus year career,” he said. “But, since opening Star Side Design in 2003, I’ve focused more on motorcycles, race cars, and especially original and custom restorations than I did in the past.”
Currently, the shop has a variety of restorations in process, including an original 1969 Camaro Convertible Indianapolis 500 Pace Car owned by Classic Industries, a stock-restored 1964 VW Karmann Ghia convertible, a 1956 Chevrolet two-door with an LS3 engine, a 1956 Chevy pickup, and several Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Starbuck said the majority of the work he does now is for repeat customers, aftermarket companies, and shops, including JH Restorations, Pro Design, Original Parts Group (OPG), and Riverside Harley-Davidson.
“I have been working with Joel Hoffman at JH Restorations for about 20 years. Joel excels at complete frame-off restorations and has us do the paint,” he said. “I also do a lot of SEMA Show cars for aftermarket companies such as OPG, Classic Industries and Mickey Thompson Tire. In fact, one year there were more than 20 vehicles at the SEMA Show that I painted.”
As a PPG-trained painter, Starbuck uses PPG Envirobase low-VOC waterborne paint, from FinishMaster, House of Kolor and Matrix low-VOC solvent paint, which he buys from MES Paint & Detail Supplies.
A concern that Starbuck has with waterborne paint is its shelf life, noting that he recently had to throw out $10,000 worth of paint that had gone bad.
“The AQMD doesn’t work hand in hand with the EPA,” he said. “Some of the products that we are forced to use don’t have a shelf life, so we have to buy more.”
The shop has two prep techs and one body tech – all brothers, which have been with him for 14 years. And Starbuck does all of the painting in a Spray-Tech flow-through paint booth.
Starbuck prefers using OEM body panels when possible, most of which he buys from Moss Brothers, but if needed, aftermarket parts are bought through Empire Collision Parts.
“The average price for a restoration ranges from $20,000 for paint and body, which takes four to six months, to $70,000 for a full restoration that can take a year or longer,” he said. “We also do some collision work, mostly for existing customers, and we work with all insurance companies, including Haggerty and AAA for collector cars.”
In 2007 and 2008, business dropped, as did the entire auto industry, Starbuck said, but currently the wait time to have Starbuck body and paint a vehicle is six months.
“We don’t do any advertising, it’s all word-of-mouth, and the shop has stayed busy for the past five or six years,” he said. “In fact, it’s better than it’s ever been.”
The back story
“I grew up in the van conversion era in Southern California and started painting in 1974 when I was 14, helping a friend in his garage,” he said. “We did stripes and graphics on vans, trucks, and cars.
After working at several different van shops in SoCal he was offered a job in St. Louis, when he was 18, to run the paint shop at a van conversion company, which lasted for the next two and a half years. Then the first gas crunch hit.
“The shop went from doing more than 180 vans a month to four,” he said. “So I came back to California and eventually ended up working for Pete Ellis at Safari Vans for almost three years. We were painting seven to eight vans a day with three guys.”
Then he opened his first shop in Long Beach and did mini-van conversions, and custom trucks and a lot of work for dealers. Then the second gas crunch hit about 1988, he said.
“In the early to mid 1990s I was doing a lot of work for companies such as Mark Christopher Chevrolet, the Drop Center, Master Image Customs, Bell Tech, Mickey Thompson, and the Drop Shop, he said.
“The dealers stopped spending the money to convert the vans and trucks and it pretty much took us out.”
After that, Starbuck moved to Yucca Valley and went to work for a Ford dealer to survive until he connected with a truck club in Orange County called Banzai Cruisers, and did several of their vehicles.
“I did a few of their trucks and I started getting really busy doing nothing but show cars and trucks so I opened Starbuck’s Auto Graphics in 1991,” he said. “I took on a partner and eventually sold the business in 2001. Two years later I opened Star Side Design.”