New Ridgway Shop Also Does Regular Repairs
RIDGWAY – The gravel lot outside God’s Rods in Ridgway is littered with cars in various stages of rust from the 1950s, 40s, 30s, and even 20s. Some sit on rims with wooden spokes. Others have what look like original white-wall tires. At least two sport current Colorado license plates, a shapely, black 1935 Oldsmobile sedan and a 39 Chevy Coupe painted a coppery orange with delicate pinstripes on its long hood.
“Mirek can find cars anywhere,” said Jen Saez of her 41-year-old husband and business partner. “They’re hiding in people’s back yards, in barns, up at mines. Most people consider them junk. But then Mirek turns them into something special.”
Mirek and Jen Saez opened their hot rod shop in July 2011, shortly after moving to Ridgway from Newcastle, Colo.
“We worked in the oil field for a while,” Mirek said. “I just bought cars. That’s what I did with my money. When the snow melted, I had about 50.”
They knew at first sight that Ridgway was where they wanted to be. “A little piece of paradise,” according to Jen. “We’re staying here,” Mirek added, with the certainty of someone who has moved around a lot. They found a house on craigslist and rented the shop space once occupied by Sunset Automotive off Hwy 62. Then they trucked all those car bodies and frames and motors over the hill.
“All the stuff in the yard,” Jen said, glancing out the office window, “they have life waiting for them.” Mirek put the 39 Chevy body on top of a 79 El Camino frame. “I loved the way an El Camino handled, the way it felt on the road,” he said. He’s working now on a 1936 Auburn Speedster whose white-painted cab is hanging by straps from a frame in the yard. “It’ll have a Camaro rear end, a Corvette motor and a Jaguar front end. I do a lot of fabrication, a lot of trial and error. I enjoy taking multiple cars and morphing them together.”
And business is good. Thanks to the Internet, and the ability to find parts wherever they are in the world, God’s Rods’ business is global.
“What do you want to drive today?” Jen asked, describing their marketing approach. “We build cars for people who don’t like to look like everybody else on the road. Call them ‘collectibles,’ ‘classics,’ ‘hot rods’ – to each his own.”
Both the orange Chevy and 35 Olds are drive-around-town cars. “They’re not really show cars,” Jen said. “We have taken the Chevy to shows, but we drive it everywhere. It’s fun.”
It’s not as if Mirek just started on this path last year. “I’ve always had a hot rod shop,” he said. “Just not my own garage business.” (The name, God’s Rods, “came to me while I was sitting in church. I was going to name it Amazing, same name as my previous 14 businesses. But, I thought, I need to give God some thanks. Thanks is due to who made all this possible.”)
He started restoring cars as a teenager, in Idaho. “I grew up in Denver. But I was a ‘problem child’ and was sent to live with my father. My first one was a 60 Chevy truck, when I was 18 or 19. We didn’t have the Internet then, so I made everything. You know the little fuzzies that go around the window? I went to the fabric store, bought some felt – I even made those. That was a great truck.”
Not all work at God’s Rods is on what might be called a hot rod. In the middle bay of the garage, employee Ray Booker was leaning over the grille installing a new radiator on a customer’s late-model pickup. “We’re a full-blown mechanic shop,” Mirek said.
“He works on anything that pulls up,” Jen added, noting the more pedestrian work is part of their desire to “contribute to the community.”
But off in the paint room in back sits another rounded-steel beauty, this one a cream-colored 1964 Volvo 544 owned by Pam Larson of Ouray. “I could make it go fast,” Mirek said with a grin. “It has two carburetors. They made them to go. The Larsons just want it running and looking good.”
“Living in a little town doesn’t limit us,” Jen said. “We shipped a car to Australia a while ago.”
Even so, the restoring of old cars – “recycling” Mirek sometimes called it – has taken a hit. “Obama’s ‘Cash for Clunkers’ kind of ruined a lot of this business,” Mirek said of the 2009 stimulus program designed to get inefficient older cars off the road and encourage people to buy new ones, preferably from a struggling Detroit automaker.
“This is a dying art,” Mirek reflected, without bitterness. He talked about a graduate from a local high school who went to college hoping to learn Mirek’s kind of auto craft. “His teacher told him, ‘You can’t learn that stuff anywhere but on the job.’”
To that end, Jen said, they’d like in the future to bring high school kids from Telluride, Ridgway and Ouray, or Montrose (where they do still have auto shop), into the garage for internships in non-traditional auto mechanics and entrepreneurship.
“These days in mechanics’ school they teach you how to unbolt a fender and put a new one on, when I could bang out the dent for $50.
“We started with no money,” Mirek said, thick fingers twisting the wedding band on his tattooed ring finger. “A thousand bucks from my dad for the business license.”