As usual, the so-called experts had it all wrong. In the midst of the musclecar explosion of recent years, industry insiders were quick to provide a variety of theories as to what was driving up the prices of classic Detroit iron. The supposed perpetrators ranged from an abundance of performance parts and a healthy economy to televised car auctions and hot rodding shows. Much of that stuff has evaporated as of late, but the value of musclecars and the passion that drives it hasn't flinched.
An often overlooked segment of the market that made it all possible are the restoration parts suppliers such as Classic Industries. After all, you can't sell a '69 Z/28 for six-figures if you don't have the parts to restore it with. For nearly 30 years, Classic Industries has been serving the Bow Tie faithful with just about every conceivable part necessary to restore your ride. Tapping into the company's vast pool of knowledge, we recently talked with General Manager Mark Vogt to get an inside look at what it takes to run one of the largest restoration parts manufacturers in the industry. He told us all about how replacement sheetmetal is made and offered some great advice on how to tackle just about any restoration project.
Classic Industries has evolved into a powerhouse for Chevy restoration parts, but getting to where it is today required copious foresight and an innovative business plan. Jeff Leonard founded Classic Industries in the early '80s, and its headquarters were in Palm Springs, California. The company originally specialized in replacement carpet kits for Camaros. At the time, musclecar restoration parts were still readily available from dealerships. Nonetheless, hot rodders often had a hard time getting their hands on them. "Dealers didn't want to mess around with selling a bunch of $20 parts over the phone and deal with the hassle of shipping," explains Vogt. "Fortunately, we found a local dealer that was willing to work with us since we had the ability to buy such a tremendous volume of parts. That enabled us to expand our product line and offer hard-to-find parts through our mail-order catalog. From there, we scoured all conceivable parts outlets throughout the country looking for anything that was still available to add to our inventory." With the success of its Camaro product line, Classic Industries began offering parts for Firebirds, Novas, Impalas, and pickups as well. Through the years, as the supply of original GM parts dried up, Classic Industries responded by manufacturing its own reproduction sheetmetal and trim in house. After several moves, the company eventually relocated to its current 80,000-square-foot facility in Huntington Beach, California.
Classic Industries manufacturers parts that are officially licensed by GM, but how does this licensing arrangement work? After a part is designed, whether it's a fender or a grille, it must be submitted to GM for approval. "Even after GM puts its rubber stamp on a part, if a customer makes a complaint to GM, that information will be relayed back to us," says Vogt. "However, that's rarely an issue because in order to maintain our reputation, we're very picky when it comes to accuracy and quality control. For instance, I have people ask me all the time if we can dull down the color of our wood tone. We tell them no, because our priority is to make it look like it did when it was brand-new, not to match the faded wood trim in someone's car."