About Zane Cullen
“I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t surrounded by old cars,” said Zane Cullen owner of Santa Rosa, California-based Cotati Speed Shop.
He grew up playing sports like most kids but there was always an element of cars around him. His father was in the collision repair industry and owned his own business for several years. Cullen started picking up different things while spending time there.
While in high school, he participated in a work development program where he spent two periods a day in an autobody class and then worked at a local shop (Pilgrim’s Custom Body Works) in Santa Rosa, near his home. During this time, Zane was exposed to and developed a passion for painting.
“One day I showed up at work and Pilgrim (owner) handed me a paint gun and told me I’d be painting the 57’ Studebaker Hawk,” said Cullen. “With that opportunity is where I learned to hone in a variety of skills.”
Soon after, he became responsible for nearly all of the painting at the shop. He’d often stay late and learn from his mistakes and gain more experience.
“I learned a lot in my three years at Pilgrim’s and the experiences gave me latitude for personal growth.”
Cullen attended Santa Rosa Junior College, graduating in 1991, but continued to paint and take on small jobs throughout and after college. His intentions were to attend Art Center of College Design in Pasadena, California for a career in automotive design. Already making money working in the industry and with a fear he would end up designing door handles, Cullen set out to explore bigger and better options.
He and a partner started Creative Concepts in ’93.
The ‘Not so Creative’ name: Creative Concepts
“We took a cautious approach and thought, “We’ll see how it goes the first year”,” said Cullen. “The first year went okay and so did the next, and the next.”
The first seven years in business was strictly sheet metal modification, body and paint on Hot Rod projects. Additional work on our cars would be often be sent to other shops and then come back for paint touch-ups after dings and scratches were made.
“It was so frustrating to have a freshly painted car come back in to our shop with scratches and dents and need additional touch ups.”
The frustration over wasted time and resources made Cullen want more control over the build process so they continued to expand their services. New employees came on board and brought new talents or ideas they’d never explored in the past.
“As the business grew, so did our boundaries, both out of necessity and force,” Cullen said. “Clients politely pushed us to do more.”
This natural evolution turned Creative Concepts into a full-service facility.
Every year was a new growth year. By the early 2000’s, Cullen had nearly 15 years invested in the trade and watched as the industry changed and grew.
“People were spending more money on cars and TV and industry exposure increased,” Cullen said. “We started to see more and more clients that were at an age where they maybe worked on cars in the past but it was smarter for them to pay to have it done versus doing it themselves.”
Creative Concepts continued exhibiting work at shows and gained national exposure.
“People didn’t know exactly who we were but they knew about a particular car we’d worked on,” said Cullen.
It was then that Cullen quickly realized that the name ‘Creative Concepts’ wasn’t so creative at all. As the industry grew, several other companies started up businesses and were appearing at tradeshows with similar names.
He wanted something fresh but a name that pushed for a team environment, not like shops that have traditionally carried the first or last name of the owner.
What’s in a Name: Cotati Speed Shop embraces Northern California’s car culture
At that point, his partner was also ready for a change. He checked out of the business and moved on to new ventures. Cullen thought about the racing history in the region and explored a rebirthing of an older, more historic name for his shop.
“Friend’s parents were always telling stories about the drag strip on the other side of the freeway,” said Cullen. “You’d hear all of these stories about our region but unless you were from the area or you were a racer, you didn’t know about Cotati. And then it just hit me. Cotati!”
Cotati is an old town right next to where Cullen grew up. Much of the industry, including media attention, has historically placed emphasis on Southern California race tracks and culture.
“Slowly people were forgetting. We wanted to bring attention to the region and expose people to Cotati and local speed shops of the past,” said Cullen. “We didn’t want to create something fictitious, but create a historical tie and archive our history through collecting memorabilia and sharing great stories.”
Cotati Speed Shop was born.
Established in 2006, Cotati Speed Shop is known for its commitment to quality, specializing in sheet metalworking and custom paint and body jobs. The shop’s 11 employees including owner Zane Cullen and wife Stephanie, create unique, hand-crafted vehicles out of their 10,000 square-foot facility in Santa Rosa, California.
“No two projects are ever the same,” said Cullen. “And that makes us unique.”
Some projects are done for repeat clientele and other jobs are for the first time client who has heard about Cotati Speed Shop’s track record and want nothing but the best quality work. The shop works on 10 to 14 projects in the shop at any one time. Some are short-term ranging from light service work or an upgrade to refurbishing and complete builds. On average, the business completes three to five large builds annually.
“Cotati has grown a reputation for building a certain caliber car,” said Cullen. “Our goal is to deliver hand-crafted quality and perfection in everything we touch.”
And that they do. Their talents are diverse with employees specializing in fabrication and body, mechanical fabrication, sheet metal and paint and body. Josephine, a 1950 Mercury Custom Touring built by Cotati Speed Shop recently garnered nationwide attention at the 2010 SEMA show and was published in top 100 dailies including The New York Times and Detroit News.
Four to five employees weld daily using Miller equipment, exclusively. For the majority of their welding needs, they use the Diversion™ 180 TIG welder. The shop also owns a Millermatic® 211 Auto-Set™ with MVP™ MIG welder and Spectrum® 375 X-TREME™ plasma cutter, among other products including an S-Series ArcStation™ and Arc Armor welding protection.
The group works in the fabrication shop full-time where up to 90 percent of the work completed is sheet metal and bracketry related. Typically, the thicknesses range from normal 19 gauge sheet metal thickness to 3/16-inch and ¼-inch range used on reinforcements and brackets that they integrate into the sheet metal body structure.
The ’69 GMC Fleetside Project
Miller product managers Jon Ertmer (Integrated MIG), Steve Hidden (Plasma) and John Swartz (TIG) recently visited Cullen at Cotati Speed Shop where he and the Miller team began work on a ’69 GMC Fleetside pick-up truck in preparation for the upcoming 2011 Hot Rod Power Tour.
The truck which will house Miller welding equipment in the bed and operate as a service truck on tour, providing on-site welding support to vehicles making the journey cross-country from Florida to Michigan, June 4 -11, 2011.
While on-site, the team also worked side by side with the Cotati team to better understand the employee’s current usage of the welding and cutting equipment and discuss any issues experienced during their daily job duties that could be eased by existing product features or exploration and development of new products and accessories.
Stay tuned for a series of DIY e-newsletter features, how-tos, videos and more showcasing the progression of the build and experience leading up to the Hot Rod Power Tour. And, get a sneak peek now by watching the build trailer in the gallery!