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What’s it REALLY Like to Build a SEMA Car

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Written by Tara Bush and Zip Simons of Street Metal Concepts

Do you ever wonder how the custom cars get chosen to display at SEMA (Speed Equipment Manufacturer Association) every year?  Do you have to know someone special or be damn good at what you do to get a spot?  I met Zip a few years ago and he gave me the scoop on what he had to go through to get there, honestly.


At the time of your build, Street Metal Concepts was a young business. What gave you the idea to display at SEMA among such high-quality builds?

We were approached through a recommendation from Danny Guistino of Muscle Express in Jupiter. The owner of a 1964 Chevelle, Rob Kibbe, had two automotive-related podcast shows (the Muscle Car Place and Cars for a Living) and had interviewed Danny in the past. They became friends. Another listener of Rob's, Jeff Alison, had offered to restore the '64 as a “thank you for being inspiring”, as he was a full-time airline pilot that built cars for a hobby and desired to do it full time. Their agreement was that the labor would be provided as time allowed by Jeff, plus Rob would provide all the parts and materials.SMC

The Chevelle was very special to Rob. His parents had purchased it new in 1964 for his mom. Over the years, the harsh nature of owning a car in Iowa took its toll. Rob and his father had performed a “father and son restoration” themselves in the early 90's. Rob also went to prom in the Chevelle as well as taking all three of his kids’ home from the hospital in it. Needless to say, this car was very special. After another 20 years of the environment still trying to reclaim the metal in the Chevelle to become one with the earth again, his mother had passed from cancer. It was a non-negotiable issue to find a better candidate to restore the Chevelle from the deep sentimental roots that were part of this car (though it would have been much easier, less costly and time-consuming)!SMC

Rob is also an avid autocross enthusiast, so he wanted to bring the car back to its original glory in the way it appeared but dramatically improve its ability to perform. Rob also committed the car to be displayed at SEMA in trade for sponsorship with Ron Francis Wiring during the time it was at Jeff's home shop in New Mexico. Jeff told Rob it would be impossible to commit to a deadline while still maintaining a full-time career. This is where he contacted us.

At first, the offer seemed ludacris as he did not have much money and the timeline was very tight. It was late July and the car had a very long way to go to be ready for the floor at SEMA in the first week of November. Donald Endonino and I had just opened on June 1st, 2013. We set out to offer the highest level of craftsmanship and quality in the Central Florida area. The issue is that this higher level comes with a higher cost and is not something that is easily obtained without a prior business reputation. Donald and I both had performed plenty of work in the past working for others and for a few people, there was knowledge SMCof our ability to produce. This is where Danny came in with that referral. After a couple of days of contemplation, it was obvious to me that we could show what we can do to a much larger audience by having a car at SEMA and be promoted on automotive-specific media along with it. Since I sold my house to back the business with the equity, I just did the math that would either work if we hustled or fail if not! We rolled the dice with confidence and did not weigh out failure as an option!

Most people have visions of fame and fortune. What was your original intent for going?

We do not have any desire for fame or fortune. We have turned down multiple TV offers that wanted us to change the principle of the business to match their storyline and we refuse to do that. The knowledge that our business exists helps and we are earning that the right way. Having a high-end build that proved to be of the same caliber as other well-known builders at SEMA boosted our visibility and fulfilled our intent.

How did you design it specifically for showcasing at SEMA?

It was originally designed by Ben Hermance Design along with Rob Kibbe's wishes to keep the original look of the body intact. Being that we came in on the buildSMC in the metalwork phase accompanied by a rendering, we took on the responsibility of executing that design with our proclaimed quality.

It received a Karls Performance built LS3 backed by a Tremec T-56 6 speed manual transmission, 9-inch rear with 3.89 posi gears. Ccomplete Detroit Speed front A arms, rear 4 triangulated 4 link, and sway bars riding on JRI coil overs. It wears big Wilwood 14-inch rotors and 6 piston calipers on all 4 corners. The wheels are Ben Hermance Designs own line manufactured by Forgeline, “Grip Equipped” and are called Rebels. It has 18×9 in front and 18×12 in the rear wrapped with BF Goodrich “Rival” tires. The cabin is cooled with Vintage Air and was upholstered to have a very original feel complete with an AM radio rebuilt by his father.

It can get expensive to build a car, then to travel across the country to display. Was the build and trip financed by sponsors?

The transportation to and from SEMA was executed by Rob and some help from his friends. There was not anywhere near enough money in his budget to support the undertaking on our end, but we had what was decided to be a fair trade. We were able to get massive exposure in only a few months of being open and he ultimately had his dream realized. You could technically say I am still making payments on wearing the cost of it though! haha

Was the response during the event what you expected?

It was MORE than expected! Other builders that I had looked up to saw the car and were blown away. The owner of Lokar already knew Don and me from listening to us on the Muscle Car Place podcast show. The Chevelle was chosen and featured by Popular Hot Rodding as one of the “17 best cars of SEMA” SMCalongside the same well-known builders such as Rad Rides by Troy, Ring Brothers, Roadster Shop, Tim Strange, etc. It was also shot for Super Chevy while there and ultimately landed on the cover of the May 2014 issue celebrating 50 years of the Chevelle. Needless to say, the response was amazing, and we could not be more proud of how that went. We came away with new friends and industry respect.

Now that the car is considered a “SEMA Build”, what happened to it and does that increase the value?

The Chevelle lives in Iowa with Rob and is cruised in often. It has participated in multiple autocross events and has been on the Hot Rod Power Tour. I don't think the value is really a factor in this car since it would never be considered for sale. I could speculate and say that the claim could add value, but it would only be that. We tend to think of value in less of a monetary measure and more of a quality standard that provides a long life for the person who owns and enjoys it.


Were your goals achieved afterward?

If you would think that we would get home from that whirlwind of a SEMA and have our doors getting knocked down to work on new client’s cars, you would be severely wrong. We came home to a ghost town of a shop. I think I spent the month of November restoring and customizing a power wheels for my son as a Christmas present. It did bring awareness and consideration to many and slowly people started trickling in. It became obvious that the more cars that were worked on by us, the more public response that turned into new customers was found. Now at almost 7 years in, I would say the original goal was achieved without a doubt.

Having been through the process, would you do it again?

I would certainly bring and display another build at SEMA. I would never do it with the time and cost limitations that we had though. We literally worked at least 16 hours a day for 50 days straight. We hired friends like Bob Harness, Paul Magin, and Mike Jones, to come in and help after their day jobs and paid them with the limited funds we had. It put stress on our families and livelihoods. It wasn't a “normal life”. In the end, we have close relationships with amazing people that we would have never known though. We have had the opportunity to create incredible custom-built cars with multiple magazine features as well as top award wins. Most importantly, we have built a large network of good people that trust us for the right reason. We just want to do it right!


Author: Tara

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