Eight years ago Hot Rod wrote about Troy Ladd just as his Hollywood Hot Rods shop was gaining prominence and establishing itself as a thriving business. Now it’s well established, a thriving business and producing cars like its “Mulholland Speedster” practically from scratch. But it’s still in the same old, slightly ramshackle small building in Burbank, California.
HRM] So what’s surprised you most about the hot rod building business?
TL] I could have never imagined the evolution of what I started then until now. It was year two when I talked with you before and it was a passion and a hobby that I really wanted to turn into a business – you just hope for survival. I never comprehended growing to the point where we’re known, and have actually impacted the industry. On the other side, it’s the evolution of the art. I didn’t realize how my artistic vision would develop over the years.
HRM] How many are working at the shop?
TL] Seven at the shop. Plus me, plus an office guy. So there’s nine total.
HRM] Are you making more money selling T-shirts, or building cars?
TL] We’re one of the very few shops that make money building cars – building hot rods. A lot of shops have paint businesses or sell things like front ends. Or they have someone with money backing them. We literally survive and make money just building cars, period. T-shirts and stuff like that are nice little bonuses. That’s how I get paid sometimes with that ancillary money.
HRM] When someone commissions a car, that’s almost like entering into a marriage, isn’t it?
TL] I prioritize the art. I have to make a living, but I don’t do business with people that have personalities I can’t get along with. Just because you have money doesn’t mean you’re going to get a car from us. We have to have a relationship. I’m a partner in the car. There’s a lot of time, energy and passion that gets invested in a car that doesn’t show up on an invoice. It’s about trying to build the best thing we can build, and that’s what excites me.
HRM] Are you building cars for the same customers over and over again? Or are you getting new customers all the time?
TL] A little bit of both. We don’t have a single sugar daddy (for lack of a better term) for whom we build cars over and over. Typically it’s not a guy with a big collection. I do a lot of work for just regular guys who just want a cool car. Not Hollywood types at all.
HRM] What’s the one skill that’s most important to the business and the art?
TL] That is a tough one. I couldn’t identify only one. Welding is huge. Especially with the amount of sheetmetal shaping we do. But probably it’s having a clear picture of the overall goal in a project and being able to manage toward that goal. With Instagram and social media you see so many people posting weld porn. “Look at my welds!” or “Look at my metal shaping!” That’s all amazing, but a lot of times that guy can only do that one thing. That one thing doesn’t build a car with an artistic direction and image and package.
HRM] What’s the worst part of being in your business.
TL] Money. If I could build cars for free, that’s the best thing I could do. I’m an artist and I want to build the best piece of art that I can build regardless as to what I have available to me. Which is funny because I have a degree in business and know that’s wrong.
HRM] It seems you’ve grown to where you consider yourself more and more an artist, and less and less and businessman.
TL] Yeah. That would be the case. That’s been a surprising evolution for me.
HRM: You’ve been on TV a few times. Has that paid off? Or just been a hassle?
TL] I like TV. We’ve always done documentary-type stuff. Not tool throwing sitcoms. It’s a pain, but it helps to stay in the public eye. From a business standpoint, always keeping your brand on the lips of people, that’s just basic marketing.
HRM] How much time are you investing in social media?
TL] I tried to resist for a long time. There’s a Hollywood Hot Rods Facebook page and I have one and there’s Instagram. I take a picture with my phone and links to all three. So I put very little into it, but I have a legit Instagram page and things.
HRM: So what is your favorite tool?
TL] Pullmax. I do really like the plasma table, but over the years we’ve accumulated drawers of dies for the Pullmax. To make a door jamb, most hot rod shops would bend a few pieces and weld the edges. We actually have door jamb dies that we can run the metal through. It’s almost like extruding in a way. There’s never a weld on a corner. We do a lot of really creative things with that machine.
HRM] Is there a tool you find has been a waste?
TL] If you keep your sights set on the goal, you have to use everything available to you. That’s every type of tool, every process, every creative idea. Sometimes people get so hung up on their own particular skill that they lose sight of that.
HRM] Have you actively campaigned for a Ridler Award or America’s Most Beautiful Roadster?
TL] We have competed for AMBR I think five times. But we’ve never done a trophy hunting campaign. And campaign is a good word for it. If you want to compete for a trophy, that’s a different kind of car and a different kind of build. It’s a lot more money. But I’m not really interested in that. Our cars are nice cars built to drive. But if that’s something you’d like to do, and you’re happy with a really nice parking spot and a jacket, if that’s a bucket list item that you get to live the rest of your life excited and happy that you got to do, we will support that wholeheartedly. But don’t get caught up in the drama of needing to win. If a guy is going to be pissed off afterwards if he didn’t win, I don’t want any part of that.