Discussion in 'General Fabrication' started by El Jefe, Mar 11, 2016.

  1. El Jefe

    El Jefe Advanced User Staff Member

    Dec 1, 2015
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    – By Jeff Herrington –

    Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman of Gas Monkey Garage make up a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

    Some believe when different but complementary energies converge, great things tend to result. That appears to be happening with Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman, the two charismatic forces who are searing the Gas Monkey Garage brand into the minds of classic-vehicle lovers everywhere. The duo scavenge small towns for vehicles forgotten and forlorn, bring them to their garage in Dallas, give them face lifts and joint replacements, then resell them to delighted new owners. For the past couple years, their madcap exploits have been chronicled by Fast N’ Loud, the hugely popular Discovery Channel program that’s transformed them into globally recognized celebrities.

    Which is understandable, given their unique personae. Both men glow with the intensity of Klieg lights. Both sport facial hair Rip Van Winkle would envy. And both would sooner leap into the cab of an eighteen-wheeler and tear off to destinations unknown than sit at a desk and watch cute cat videos.

    Yet the successful showmen are anything but clones.

    “When it comes to business, Richard is a gambler – and a damned good one at that,” says Kaufman. “While others are wringing their hands over some car-purchasing decision, he is calculating the risk, considering whether he can absorb the loss and making the decision on the spot.

    “I’m the orchestrator. I’m helping all the mechanics here figure out how to accentuate what’s already beautiful about a car. And along the way, showing the world there are people with convictions about cars and how to build them, and people who follow through on what they say they will do.”

    Was it sheer coincidence or harmonic convergence that about the time the first Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am was rolling off an assembly line in Ohio, Richard Ray Rawlings was being born in a Texas hospital?

    Since its debut in 1969, the Trans-Am has acquired the aura of the quintessential muscle car. And since his debut that very same year, Rawlings has acquired the aura of the quintessential entrepreneur, assembling a business empire that in addition to the television show includes restaurants, live-music venues, a line of tequila and even a line of clothing.

    “It’s always been my goal to create a large corporation, to develop a worldwide brand that will outlast me,” Rawlings says. “Today, we are the fifth-largest company in this industry. But I’ve studied the competition and see no reason why we can’t be at the top.”

    Rawlings’ relentless quest for higher ground manifested early. At 14, he purchased his first set of wheels – a ‘74 pea-green Mercury Comet with an equally eek-green interior. Almost immediately, he traded his way up, driving 10 different cars before finally scoring a ‘77 Bandit Trans-Am during his senior year in high school. As Rawlings acquired one vehicle after another, he also acquired a keen insight into why automobiles are so very important to so many people.

    [​IMG]“Cars are the perfect representation of the freedom that’s so embedded in the American culture,” he says. “They give us the freedom to spontaneously be with some group…or get away from some group. And, we can customize that freedom to reflect our personality, by throwing our mail and fast-food containers into the back seat or by transforming our ride into a souped-up hot rod.”

    Giving car enthusiasts a backstage peek at the zaniness connected to transforming a classic truck or automobile is just the latest in a long string of jobs Rawlings has enjoyed over the years. By the time he was 21, he had worked as a paramedic, firefighter, police officer and beer deliver guy. He later used his charm and
    business acumen to become one of the top printing salesmen in the Dallas area, “but the owner wouldn’t sell the company to me,” he says with more than a trace of disbelief in his voice. “So I decided to build one from the ground up.” Between 1999 and 2004, Rawlings fashioned the Lincoln Press into one of the premier printing
    companies in Texas. His sale of the company provided him with the seed money he needed to launch the venture that would reunite him with his first true love.

    “There were lots of television shows about restoring classic motorcycles but none about restoring classic cars,” he says. “And the garages were all about the machismo factor. I thought by not also reaching out to women, kids, grandparents, they were ignoring a huge opportunity.

    “So that’s what I decided to do. The plan was to develop some street cred, then parlay that into a television program that would show the average person how they could spend $3,000 to transform an old Ford Maverick into something really cool rather than spend $250,000 they didn’t have to create a cool motorcycle.”

    Enter Aaron Kaufman, the artistic foil to Rawlings’ natural business savvy. Around the time Rawlings was winning such transcontinental races as the Gumball 3000 and the Bulldog Rally – and setting a world record in the unofficial Cannonball Run – he took a ‘53 Ford Mainline to one of his favorite garages and asked them to give it air-ride suspension. Kaufman got the assignment and returned a custom job whose quality surpassed Rawlings’ expectations. “Not only did Aaron show me the extra touches he provided,” Rawlings remembers, “he explained why he provided them. And they all made sense.”

    So when the Gas Monkey Garage concept began to take form, Rawlings tapped Kaufman to be its chief mechanic. And if a television show came together, Kaufmann would be his on-air sidekick. With that decision,
    Rawlings found both a master fabricator who would bolster the garage’s integrity and a quirky everyman who would boost the entertainment quotient of every episode.

    “Aaron brings an extreme work ethic to the mix,” Rawlings says. “He is always challenging himself and the other mechanics to be better at their craft. But he is also a nomad at heart. The garage has literally been his home for months at a time, and I think viewers sense that aspect of his personality and find it sort of cool.”

    Like Rawlings, Kaufman grew up in North Texas and acquired a love for fast vehicles from his father, who often assembled low-built street racers. He also resembles Rawlings in how he takes any question handed to him and darts off like a sprinter running the anchor leg of a 100-meter relay.

    But where Rawlings is frequently spontaneous, Kaufman considers himself methodical – sometimes to the point of over-preparedness.

    “I was the ultimate Boy Scout as a kid,” he confesses. “If we were going to the beach, I would bring three towels – one for me and two for the people I knew would probably forget theirs.”

    The ultimate Boy Scout wasn’t above rummaging in his father’s unlocked toolbox and using whatever he found to take apart derby cars and reassemble them into something far more interesting. “The advantage of being self-taught is that you learn every wrong way to do something,” he says. “That means you know not only how to fix other people’s mistakes, but also what the consequences will be if you don’t fix them.

    [​IMG]“We used to be an ingenuity culture. That’s how we got innovations like the iPhone. I find it sad, but I believe we’re becoming a culture that no longer knows how to make or fix things.”

    However, Kaufman stresses he’s not some wistful Luddite, locked into doing things the old-fashioned way. “Above all, I am a fan of doing things the smart way, and many of the technologies we use here help us do exactly that,” he says “I believe the newer way, with the new technologies, is the best way, so long as it’s grounded in a strong respect for the older way.”

    Economics and filming schedules dictate that the Gas Monkey Garage bring battered vehicles in, whip them into shape, and buff them for show as quickly as possible. However, Kaufman doesn’t allow the show’s breakneck schedule to compromise his belief that their restorations be both cohesive and flexible.

    “Given how money, people and schedules shift at a moment’s notice, we have to be okay with course corrections in the middle of a project,” he says. “But I still strive for the headlights to go seamlessly with the door handles, and for those to go with the bumper. A car doesn’t have to look perfectly uniform from one end to the other, but I do want one idea defining its look from front to back. Is artistry involved? Certainly. ButI don’t like to go there, because we have to produce not just a vehicle that’s beautiful, but also a form of transportation for the new owner that’s safe, reliable, and an extension of their personality.”

    The convergence of Rawlings’ passion for building an enviable brand and Kaufman’s love for building an enviable car appears to be paying off. The television show’s sixth season began in March. Two restaurants and a live music venue have opened in the Dallas area and more are planned around the country. A tequila line launched in April and a biography of Rawlings arrived in May. Meanwhile, on any given day, you’re likely to find the facility’s merchandise shop teeming with high school jocks, retired fabricators and biker families drawn to the company’s signature look of leather jackets, work shirts and snapback caps.

    “We position ourselves as the garage that is accessible to everyone,” Rawlings says. “Our gates are usually open and we are frequently giving tours. When I’m not reviewing financial spreadsheets in the back, or cleaning up dog crap in the parking lot, I’m likely out front, shaking hands. And, we’ve succeeded at marketing the garage to the entire family. We’re telling young men to get off the couch and go dissemble their fathers’ lawn mowers and if it makes their father mad, we’ll buy him a new one. We even have a line of onesies out there we can’t keep in stock.”

    Rawlings and Kaufman both admit they’ll likely be pursuing new adventures by the time the babies wearing those onesies get their first driver’s license. Kaufman hopes by that point to have made some legacy contribution to the automotive industry and to be building structures that will sustain life in outer space.

    Rawlings, however, says cool automobiles and savvy negotiations will probably be central to whatever new endeavor he embraces.

    “I am often the first one to arrive in the morning and the last one to leave at night,” he boasts. “The day I stop having a passion for cars is the day I die.”
    Llgarcia81, Matt and Ben DeLap like this.

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