Think of Year One as the Microsoft of the musclecar market. Just like every PC relies on Microsoft products to perform its daily functions, just about every restored musclecar has parts sourced from Year One in it. However, instead of pedaling overpriced junk that spontaneously goes berserk, Year One takes a different marketing approach. Its pervasive presence in the automotive aftermarket is attributable to the quality and diversity of the components it offers. While the company is best known for its restoration sheetmetal and trim, it has branched out into the performance market as well with a full line of high-performance engine, suspension, chassis, and brake components, as well as complete turnkey cars. Moreover, with events such as the Year One Experience, it has always made giving back to the hot rodding community one of its priorities.
As president of a company that serves almost everyone in the hobby, Kevin King sees the musclecar market from a uniquely intimate perspective, so we quizzed him on a vast array of topics. Will skyrocketing musclecar prices eventually stabilize, or will they hurt the hobby? What's the next hot Bow Tie body enthusiasts will be clamoring over? Is reproduction sheetmetal any good? What common trouble spots in a car's sheetmetal are often overlooked? Does $4-a-gallon gas, economic recession, and tightening emissions and fuel mileage standards spell doom for hot rodders? What's the best way to go about shopping for project cars in distant locations? In addition to answering all these questions, Kevin gave us some interesting insights into Year One's humble roots and its future directions.
Anyone who has restored a musclecar has probably done business with Year One, but its evolution into the powerhouse that it is today didn't happen overnight. Although the company was first incorporated in 1981 by founder Len Athanasiades, it actually got its start in the late '70s. Len had a '69 Firebird coupe and wanted to build a Trans Am clone. He searched high and low for both parts and information on Trans Ams, and in the process became somewhat of an expert on them. Eventually people began calling him for parts and info. "He recognized the opportunity, and in 1981 officially launched Year One, specializing in '69 Trans Am parts," explains Kevin. The name itself refers to the '69 Trans Am being the first year of the model and Len's focus on those particular cars. Over time the company grew and continued to add parts for other models to its inventory. "We now cover virtually all GM, Chrysler, and Ford musclecars and ponycars, along with trucks, Corvettes, and late-model domestic performance cars," says Kevin. "Len has been a great friend to this industry and to me. He is simply the smartest person I have ever met."
Buying parts out of a catalog usually means that you get to do the assembly, but Year One also offers complete turnkey cars. After deciding to build a first-gen Camaro to beat on at the track, Year One started with a reproduction '69 Camaro body that had gotten damaged during shipping. "In order to tackle a challenging track like Road Atlanta, we went a little overboard with the car by putting a 572 big-block, six-piston brakes, and race seats in it," Kevin recalls. Not surprisingly, the Camaro turned out to be the most popular car in the Year One stable wherever it went. "A few customers expressed an interest in a similar type car, and the track car program was born," Kevin says. "We offer the cars ranging anywhere from a basic rolling chassis all the way up to a turnkey ride. Each is built to order-with as much or as little done to it as the customer wants-and anyone interested in learning more about them can visit our Web site."
Muscle car Prices
"The muscle car market has been very strong the last few years, to be sure," Kevin says. "We expect the really rare cars to continue to rise in value. We probably won't see the more common cars escalating the way they have, but that's not all bad. The health of the muscle car hobby depends on a reasonable cost of admission, so to speak, and if everything continues to appreciate the way it has been over the last few years, a lot of enthusiasts will be priced out of the market. Fortunately, the bulk of the market remains in enthusiasts' hands. High-end collectors and speculators will probably continue to dominate in such areas as COPO cars, mid-year 427 Vettes, and the like, but we want cars like SS 396 Chevelles and SS 350 Camaros to stay in enthusiasts' hands. That way they are enjoyed, not just put on a pedestal and looked at from time to time. As for future trends, we see strong interest in second-generation Camaros in particular. The early '70-73 Z28s and SS cars have been popular for a while, but later second-gen cars are coming on strong."
As big fans of Outlaw-style street car racing, Year One has teamed up with the Outlaw Racing Street Car Association. "It's heads-up, which we like, and the performance those guys get from relatively small tires is simply amazing," says Kevin. "The ORSCA management was local, and we contacted them about just sponsoring a race initially, which eventually led to the sponsorship of the Outlaw 10.5 class. We're not really involved in the hardcore drag race parts business, but we really enjoy the racing, the cars, and the grassroots element of the scene. We want to see it succeed, so we decided to help and we expect it to continue to grow and prosper. Besides, how can any gearhead not be impressed when a door-slammer runs in the 6s at over 200 mph with headlights and turn signals!"
"The release of the reproduction Camaro body was really a watershed moment for this hobby," Kevin says. "The fact that Dynacorn was willing to invest a great deal into the project up front combined with the great reception the cars have received means the hobby itself is on very firm ground for the foreseeable future. Musclecars are the new '32 Fords. They've become timeless. It used to be that musclecar enthusiasts were the people who grew up around them. We're now seeing younger generations getting involved with musclecars, and a fresh supply of bodies will do wonders for the hobby. As for the bodies themselves, the best thing about starting with one is the fact that you don't have to invest a lot of time and effort into building a good foundation for your project. Affordable original bodies in really good shape are gone. The good ones have been snapped up and now command a premium. What are left are rough cars or cars that have seen the ravages of time and abuse, and it takes a sizable investment just to get these cars into usable shape. With a reproduction body, everything is solid, fresh, and new. The build can begin as soon as the body arrives, instead of having to spend untold amounts of time and effort doing metalwork."
"Reproduction sheetmetal is just like everything else in the world," says Kevin. "There are good and bad examples. Generally speaking, we've seen tremendous improvement over the years in quality and fit. That's not to say all reproduction metal will fit like OEM parts, but some of it will. Any reproduction item is only as good as the tooling used to make it, and the efforts of the manufacturer to get it right. Fortunately, we now have a number of companies that go the extra mile to get stuff right. Part of this is because tooling techniques have improved, but mostly it's due to the fact that NOS parts are getting harder to find, and thus more expensive, which leads to more investment in creating quality reproduction pieces. Think about it this way: If NOS fenders for a particular car were everywhere for $100, there wouldn't be much incentive to build a quality reproduction of that item. On the other hand, if an NOS fender costs $1,000, then there would be solid demand for a good reproduction unit, which justifies investing in good tooling and better quality control. As time goes on, we expect the quality of reproduction sheetmetal to continue to improve."
Repair Or Replace?
There's something to be said for trying to keep a car as original as possible, but unless you're doing the metalwork yourself, it may be more cost effective to replace a body panel instead. According to Kevin, if there is a quality replacement component available, it really doesn't take much to warrant replacement. "Good metal guys can do wonders with a bad piece, but it might take them quite a long time to get it done, and that can get very expensive," says Kevin. "If we're talking about an aluminum fender on a lightweight car, there's really no choice but to let them do their thing. However, for something else, it may be cheaper to replace the panel than having someone spend a large amount of time working on the original, even if that means finding an expensive NOS item if the quality of replacement panels isn't to your liking."
Although Year One is best known for its replacement sheetmetal and trim parts, it has expanded into the performance market due to customer demand. "The hobby sort of transformed a few years ago from a car show mindset to a driving-and-having-fun mindset," explains Kevin. "When most people building a musclecar wanted originality above everything else, that's what we wanted to supply them. Now that a lot of enthusiasts want to drive their cars more and are looking at suspension, brake, and drivetrain upgrades, we've had to include those types of components in our product mix. We're still very much musclecar oriented, but now you can get the things you need to improve the dynamics of the car at the same place you get your restoration parts."
Overlooked Trouble Spots
Most people already know to check out areas like the floorpans and rocker panels when looking at a potential project car to purchase, but Kevin says several problem areas are often overlooked. The first thing to do is find out what parts are available for the model you're interested in. For example, if you can't find doors easily, but fenders are readily available, eyeball the doors very closely. "Floorpans and the like are commonly available for most popular cars, but things like toe boards and bracing aren't always available, so look those areas over pretty well," Kevin advises. "Rocker panels are a prime area for corrosion, and not just the skin covering the outside, but the structural area beneath, so look carefully there as well. Take your time, and don't be afraid to ask the seller to take the car somewhere so it can be put on a lift. You're spending your hard-earned money on this car, and usually you can learn more by looking under the car than by looking at the shiny paint on the outside."
Buying cars sight-unseen through online sites such as eBay and Craigslist is becoming more popular. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of increased muscle car values has been a corresponding increase in cases of fraud and outright thievery, but Kevin has some tips on how to shop wisely. "If you're looking at a car that's advertised as an original, do your research so you know how to spot the things that make a certain model unique, and then make sure the seller can show them to you through photos or video," Kevin advises. "If you simply can't make it out to look at a car yourself, contact someone in the area such as a local restorer or car club member to have them check out the car for you. Expect to pay them for the service, but it's going to be crucial to get a third-party opinion if you can't look at it yourself. If that's not possible, then we would have to recommend not paying a premium for a particular car."
Year One Cup
"The Year One Cup was our take on the traditional Best of Show award given at most car events," Kevin says. "As usual, we had some ideas about how to make it special. First off, we wanted a trophy that someone would be proud to display in their home, nothing cheap. To do that, we commissioned an Italian glass firm to make a beautiful lead crystal cup for us. We have a larger version of the cup on display in our Braselton show room, with all the past winners engraved on the base. The winners themselves receive a smaller version of the cup, but of course it's still quite large and made from Italian crystal. Another way we reward the winner is by inviting him or her to attend a number of events with us during the year, and we also feature the vehicle in some of our advertising. Fortunately, the winning cars have all been of such high quality that they are typically featured in a number of magazines and TV shows. It's to the point now where some people are building vehicles just to win the award. We think that's great. Additionally, the winner gets a $5,000 Year One gift certificate, an amenities package that includes all kinds of goodies from several of our vendors, and an invitation to be on the VIP judging panel for subsequent Year One Cup competitions."
"There's simply no substitute for knowledge," says Kevin. "Books are knowledge. Get as many of them as you can. The more you know about your project, the better it will turn out. It's just that simple. While you may not actually replace the quarters or floors on your particular car, you should still learn as much as you can about the process. This makes you a better negotiator when it comes time to talk price, and it means you can tell the difference between good work and so-so work. At the very least, we recommend a service manual covering your particular model, along with an assembly manual if one is available."
Just like the 1970s, gas prices are sky-rocketing, the economy is weakening, and the Feds are tightening up fuel economy and emissions standards. Many portend that the high-performance market will take a hit, but Kevin isn't convinced. "The high-performance new car market will probably feel the effects much more than the classic car market will, since most muscle cars aren't driven very often, and paying more for gas probably won't be a deal-breaker for enthusiasts," he opines. "People building projects are a very stubborn lot, and they're going to build the car they want regardless of the cost of fuel. If the economy slows down it may take them a little longer, but these cars are toys, not primary transportation sources. They're a way of life for most of us, so it's going to take more than $4-per-gallon gas and the inevitable economic cycles to get people to give up on something that means so much to them."