"Ride. Repair. Repeat." Building the 2013 Street Rodder Road Tour Vehicle with Honest Charley Garage
The team at Honest Charley Garage with their new Miller equipment.
Honest Charley was founded in 1948 by Honest Charley Card in Chattanooga, Tenn., as the first mail-order speed shop in the country. Today, the premier shop and builder of hot rods is owned by Corky Coker of Coker Tire — he and the staff carry on a tradition of quality styling and superior customer service, restoring cars, building custom vehicles and renovating antique cars. Now the Honest Charley team has the opportunity to take that heritage on the road as the builder of the 2013 Street Rodder Road Tour vehicle.
“It’s been quite a privilege to build the 1951 Ford because we’ve been following the tour for years,” says Greg Cunningham, shop foreman at Honest Charley Garage.
The team at Honest Charley is definitely qualified for the job. As individuals, each team member has many accolades in the industry. In addition to segments on “Hot Rod TV," and “Street Rodder Radio,” Greg has been seen in various documentaries of the cross-country vintage car rally, The Great Race. Last spring, the shop won Car Warriors, a race to build a car from the ground up in 48 hours. And though he started in woodworking, employee and craftsman Richard Marter quickly picked up metalworking skills from Cunningham and accumulated enough know-how to do the work himself. Now he’s capable of building an entire body from scratch, from the earliest beginnings of the inner structure, to the final metal finishing procedures.
Superior quality demands the best equipment
“The project is underway now, and we’re making good progress,” says Cunningham. “The most important aspect of our metalwork is the equipment. We demand the best out of us and how we build the car, and Miller has provided the best equipment for the project. We’re really excited about the results we’ve seen so far.”
The team uses the Millermatic® 211 Auto-Set™ with MVP™ MIG welder and Dynasty® 200 TIG welder in the shop, and it’s helped to make life a little easier.
“The Auto-Set function really lets you lay down some quality beads, and it’s really user-friendly,” says Cunningham. “Richard, our metalworker, really likes the remote foot pedal with the Dynasty® 200. Sometimes we’re welding in an uncomfortable position – not having to struggle with the additional cord has been a great pleasure for him because it lets him focus on laying down the weld.”
In addition to the Millermatic 211 and the Dynasty 200, the shop uses a Millermatic® 212 Auto-Set™ with MVP™ MIG welder, a Spectrum® 625 X-TREME™ plasma cutter and Arc Armor® safety gear, including welding jackets, helmets and gloves.
Cunningham acknowledges that although the welding equipment is a key part of the build, it often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
“People don’t always get to see the steps along the way. One of the most important steps is the welding process and the metal finishing results – it’s always covered up with paint and primer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important,” says Cunningham.
The Honest Charley reputation of quality, style and customer service encompasses one very important element – safety. After all, this is a company that doesn’t just build and restore vehicles so they can sit in a show room. They encourage customers to drive their cars, and drive them often.
“The integrity of the weld is the most important thing in terms of safety,” says Cunningham. “Miller equipment helps us maintain safe welds that have great integrity and won’t fatigue over years of driving down the road. We’re not going to compromise there. We’re very pleased to have Miller with us working on the Street Rodder Road Tour car, knowing we have the best and can put out the best.”
Corky is more direct in his advice for customers.
“Once you finish the car, don’t put it in the garage! Get out and drive it! Because if you’re not driving your car, you’re not wearing out your tires,” says Corky with a smile.
Replicating history-making hot rod
“The Honest Charley team has been building cars for a long time — and despite being a relatively young division of the Coker Tire company, we have over 100 years of experience between us,” says Cunningham. “Several of our projects have received national attention, including the replica of the Marmon Wasp, the first car to win the Indy 500 in 1911, and a replica of the Thomas Flyer, the first vehicle to be driven around the world back in 1908. The Thomas Flyer is probably the most famous car in the world.”
But take note — these replicas aren’t just fiberglass copies; they’re fabricated from metal and built from scratch. To make a precise replica of the Marmon Wasp, for example, the Honest Charley crew examined the original car and made thousands of measurements to document each detail of the car. Then, it was a matter of making those measurements come to life with brand new metal. The scratch-built racer features a T-head six-cylinder engine, just like the original. From the wheels and tires, to the body and paint job, the Marmon Wasp replica is as authentic as you can get — Corky even likes to take it out on the road to test its limits!
Other notable projects from the shop include the ’54 Buick driven by Corky Coker on the Power Tour in spring 2012, which won second place in the Buick Nationals, and a 1913 American Underslung, which is heading to Hershey, Pa., for an Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) award.
What’s in a name?
So how did Charley Card come to be known as Honest Charley? In addition to owning and operating the speed shop, Card also owned a restaurant. Since he was short-staffed, he would often leave the register open while he was in the back cooking food. When patrons stopped to pay for their meals before leaving, they would find a sign that said, “I’m honest. Are you?”
As for the cartoon character in the company’s logo, it is a tribute to Card’s ingenuity and creativity. Early in his career, he drew his advertisements and catalogs by hand as cartoons.
“We understand that he started out small, and the business grew slowly but surely,” says Cunningham. “In the early ‘90s, Corky had the opportunity to buy the trademark and bring this company, and its heritage, back to life. Because of that, we get to spend every day building the classic cars and hot rods we all love. We get to pay tribute the way Honest Charley would have, one step at a time with attention to detail. The product we put out the door at Honest Charley Garage is second to none – and we get that quality from the equipment we use.”
At the end of the day, whether they’re building and restoring cars or selling tires, it’s obvious the staff members at Honest Charley Garage and Coker Tire are living their dreams.
“I get to work with guys in the shop who can do almost anything,” says Cunningham. “To build a project so we can step back at the end of the month and say 'Wow, we did that' or 'This thing didn’t exist; everything we did, we built from scratch' — a job well done is one of the greatest feelings.”
“I’ve grown up around collector cars, and this is my passion,” says Corky. “And when you’re enjoying your passion you’re out driving; you’re either driving or you’re fixing. At Honest Charley, we often say we 'ride, repair, repeat.'"
For more information about the partnership between Miller Electric Mfg. Co., Honest Charley Garage and the 2013 Street Rodder Road Tour, visit MillerWelds.com.