Kyle grew up on a farm in a small town in Missouri. The son of a racing enthusiast, he was exposed to welding and the automotive world at an early age.
His father had an obsession for hot rods and was into building cars. Likewise, Kyle followed his father’s passions and began racing go-karts as a child (and later dirt late models and midgets) throughout the Midwest.
Driving cars, he would often stop by the local race shops to visit with the guys he drove for. It was then that he was first exposed to Miller Electric Mfg. Co.
“Growing up, Rayburn Marler was the ‘big guy’ in town with the fastest race cars,” said Kyle, noting that at the time, Kenny Schrader drove for him. “All the shops had Miller but so did he and it made me think that this was as good as it got. If he had a Miller, I wanted one too.”
Kyle helped out in his shop after school and continued to work on and drive race cars.
“I wanted to learn all about cars; how to tune them and what made them faster.”
His thirst for knowledge, combined with his passion for racing landed him at the University of Missouri – Rolla, where he earned a BS in mechanical engineering. During his time at UMR, he interned for General Motors three times, specializing in automotive engineering. From the race shops at Chevrolet, to the proving ground in Milford, Mich., the opportunities led Kyle to a job at GM right out of school.
Between 1993 and 2000, Kyle worked at the GM proving ground and later in data acquisition and suspension development for the Corvette program.
It was during this time that he met and fell in love with Stacy, a fellow engineer who had attended Purdue and then worked at GM.
The couple married in 1995. At their reception, co-workers presented them with a Millermatic® 130 MIG welder.
It was a favorite gift; one they still own and use today.
Detroit Speed Inc. is Born
In 1997, while working and learning a lot at GM, the ambitious pair spent long evenings in their garage, working on a ‘69 Camaro.
Kyle bought the car back in college but until then, had little cash flow for parts or a place to work. Now settled into a home of their own, together, they slowly started building the car to be road-race inspired, but have street rod quality.
“While we were building the car, if we couldn’t find an aftermarket part you could buy, we simply built our own and didn’t think much of it,” Kyle said. “We built suspension parts, tubular lower and upper control arms, subframe connectors and more.”
After 2.5 years, their ‘69 “Twister” Camaro was complete. The couple took their remaining vacation time, packed their bags and brought the Twister on the 2000 Hot Rod Power Tour.
“Everyone loved the Twister and the magazines went crazy over it,” said Kyle. “The car received full photo editorial features in Car Craft, Chevy High Performance, Super Rod, and others.”
Within six months of the Hot Rod Power Tour and the editorial coverage that followed, the phone was ringing off the hook. Auto enthusiasts were requesting parts developed for the Twister. Others wanted custom fabrication work.
It was time to make a decision on whether he stayed at GM or tried to realize his dream and start his own business.
Kyle put in a leave of absence at GM in December 2000 and started Detroit Speed, Inc. out of their two-car garage.
“We started the business with $1,000 in a checking account,” said Kyle laughing. “It was tough leaving an engineer’s salary but I had a year to make things happen.”
His boss had offered him his job back if things didn’t work out after a year on his own. Stacy stayed on at GM.
They used the small amount of capital available to buy basic equipment and other parts. Kyle took on small projects and built parts he had originally created for the Twister. Meanwhile, Stacy put her skills to work. She developed a basic website for the business, packaged and shipped parts, engineered products and kept the books in her off-hours.
Product requests kept coming in, but development took resources and money.
“With the little money we had, we would produce five or six parts at a time and put those on the shelf and then sell and ship them out.”
The Tuckers had a catalog made with only a handful of parts and started doing a few trade shows to display and sell products. Show exposure continued to grow the business and created a demand for product.
“We had all these ideas but were held up due to capital,” said Kyle. “It was all about what money we could afford for parts creation.”
Although sad to see it go, Kyle and Stacy sold the Twister and bought equipment including Miller welders and added on to the garage in their backyard. Detroit Speed hired its first part-time employee Paul Morgan in 2001.
Custom car projects sustained the company. “If we could bill out 18 to 20 hours a day, that’s cash I could use to build more parts.”
Slowly and conservatively, the company continued to grow its product line.
Shipping increased throughout 2001. From their backyard, they began to have more cars to work on than they could fit in garage space. The garage became a place to store parts. They parked their own cars outside but managed through Detroit’s freezing winter.
Their kitchen island became a desk for boxing up and shipping parts. By 2002, neighbors had begun to complain that the UPS truck was stopping by sometimes twice a day.
“We liked where we lived and didn’t want to move so we leased a small 3,000-square-foot building in town.”
Stacy said goodbye to GM and joined Kyle full time. They moved everything to the building and their home garage became a holding facility for project cars.
“We built some incredible parts and cars in that small building in Detroit.”
In December 2004, after nearly three years in the space, Detroit Speed had made it. A flourishing business, now with three employees (not including Kyle and Stacy), the families sold their homes and moved to a 10,000-square-foot building in Mooresville, N.C.
With the name Detroit Speed, the business took a part of home with them.
Kyle and Stacy put every dime into the building and moved into an apartment-size house so that they could focus on the business. At times, they were afraid they would have to lease out part of it to survive, but never did.
Things kept growing. They filled up the building and added on again in October 2009.
Today Detroit Speed is home to 30,000 square feet and 36 employees. Paul Morgan, hired in 2001, is still with the company (and a full time employee).
Detroit Speed Inc.: a Motor City Success Story
Six years after the move, Detroit Speed has an extensive product line, and the development and manufacturing of new products is now the largest portion of the business.
The company originally developed suspension parts for 1967 to 1969 Firebirds and Camaros but has expanded to sheet metal parts and electrical parts and now has product lines (increasing from older cars up to 1981) for Camaros, Firebirds, Novas, Chevy IIs and Chevelles, as well as parts for the new 2010 Camaro. A current endeavor is starting a new Mustang line.
Suspension and chassis parts are the company’s strength and remain the core of their business.
“We have a patent on a rear suspension part called a swivel link,” Kyle said. “Our flagship product is the hydroform subframe; a half-car chassis where we hydroform the frame rails. Detroit Speed is the only company to offer anything like it.”
The manufacturing and custom car projects continued to feed off each other due to any voids in the marketplace. When product was not available in the aftermarket, the Tuckers explored and developed new products (and more and more happy clients).
Although manufacturing is the largest portion of the business, custom project work has also increased, partly due to the move. The local racing industry took notice and the company quickly grew a customer base of A-listers including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.
Detroit Speed has a separate building for work on highly detailed muscle cars (e.g., road race, cross country) with track inspired parts.
Working on seven or eight projects at any one time, the company stages work flow to include fabrication, paint and body and assembly. The amount of fabrication and manufacturing requires a serious amount of welding.
From the Miller welder he used in Rayburn Marler’s shop, to the 130 MIG he and Stacy received as a wedding gift, Kyle continues to rely exclusively on Miller welding equipment for Detroit Speed.
“Miller offers the quality, reliability and technology that we demand in our business,” said Kyle. “Ya know, you try and do business and align your company with other people and organizations that you know have the same values you do.”
Between the two sides of the business, Kyle and Stacy have 15 Miller welders and relayed that nearly half of their employees weld daily.
“In production and on the project side, we don’t figure in down time on our welding machines for making parts or completing billable hours on a project,” said Kyle. “It’s just a level of confidence we have and with as many machines as we own and operate, they’ve continued to work every day. You turn the switch on and start welding. They’re workhorses and have just never let us down.”
It takes approximately a year to 2.5 years to complete a project and Detroit Speed completes (on average) three projects a year. The fastest project, completed in 110 days, was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ’73 Camaro, featured on the December 2007 cover of Hot Rod.
“We have cars from all over the country and our customer base varies quite a bit,” said Kyle. “Many want street cars they can race and take on the track. Others just love muscle cars and fly in to hang out with guys in the shop. It’s a mix of different people.”
One such customer is Stuart Adams, an eye surgeon from Lake Havasu. Two years ago, he hired Detroit Speed for a fourth time to find and restore the “best Camaro of all time.”
Set for completion the end of 2011, the ’69 Camaro Kyle found in Louisville, Ky. will look like a Camaro on the exterior, but inside, will feel and drive like an AMG Mercedes super car. Detroit Speed is working on a build book for the Camaro and documenting daily progress. The hard-bound book will include high-quality photos from start to finish.
One thing is certain. The industry can continue to expect innovation and expertise in the products and projects coming out of Detroit Speed.
Will it be the “best Camaro of all time?” I guess we’ll have to wait and see.