5 Minutes With Steve Strope
Steve Strope’s path to owning his own Southern California shop, Pure Vision Design, started in a basement parking garage where he covered his neighbors’ cars in cellophane so he could paint parts hanging from the water pipes. More than 20 years have passed since those days and Steve has gone on to build many award-winning and trendsetting rides, had a TV show, and co-hosts a YouTube podcast, Car Guy Confessions, with Jeff Smith and Cam Benty, where he serves the role of geek fanboy as the trio interviews industry veterans ranging from photographers and writers to engine and car builders.
Steve and his small crew at Pure Vision continue to dream up fictional stories to guide their builds, search for unique engines to put in them, and push each build to evoke emotions from anyone checking out the ride. If you’re curious to learn what BMX, hot rodding, and music have in common, read on.
Goodguys: You use exotic and unusual engines in many builds, like a Ford Indy engine and a 427 SOHC. How important is that?
Steve Strope: It’s a hot rod! You just have to have a cool engine in it, you can’t build a Mustang with another 302 in it. You need to show up with something that makes everyone go “OH YEA!” It’s a good formula to have a cool engine. Look at the ’67 Malibu we had on display at the 2023 Grand National Roadster Show. It’s a non-SS, plain-Jane, flat-hood Malibu, but you open the hood and see eight Webers fueling a 511c.i. big-block, it makes people go, “WOW!” It delivers impact.
GG: You also seem to have a design theme or story that directs the build?
Strope: I love creating a back story, even if it’s fake. It helps corral the project. Take our ’67 Fairlane Black Ops build. The story was to build a secret, factory test car. That allowed us to use an engine that may not have been legal in NASCAR but could be used in other racing classes or for research. We were able to use all these cool parts and ideas that looked like they were being tested back then. The themes are fun, but they also help guide the fabrication process and parts development.
GG: Several of your latest builds seem to lean toward less is more. Is this by design?
Strope: The key to these cars is that they are relatable. These cars are relatable to a guy walking through the aisle at a show and they can formulate their own version of that car at home. On the ’67 Chevelle it has the big block, the polished five-spokes, single color paint, and is enough of a show car but it’s still relatable. The ‘72 Scamp is a fun car and yet is still very relatable. Same with the Long Weekend Olds.
GG: Where in New York did you grow up and what was the car scene like?
Strope: I grew up in Apalachin, a small farming town near the Pennsylvania border. There wasn’t really a car scene, but there were two cars that were mesmerizing to me. My older cousin Donny had a second-gen Camaro decked out with Indy SS tires on Cragars, sidepipes, and Hijacker air shocks with the sticker in the window. I would just stare at that car. There was also a senior in school that had a black-on-black ’68 Road Runner with aluminum slots. I was only in middle school and would wait for him to start it and listen to him drive away.
I drew a picture of that car in fifth grade and still have it – framed and in my office. He took me for a ride in it one day, and that just put me all-in. I already liked cars, but that ride put me over the edge.
GG: BMX seems to have played a big role in your life, as evidenced by your collection of bikes.
Strope: BMX was a gateway to hot rodding for a lot of people, and not only did BMX teach us the mechanical side of using wrenches, nuts and bolts, but it also gave us personal choice of parts and colors. A form of expression. And, according to Mr. Petersen, ‘A hot rod is a vehicle modified by its owner for better looks and performance. That is exactly what our BMX bikes were.
GG: Did Hot Rod Power Tour really help put you on the map?
Strope: I had sold my El Camino, but read about the Hot Rod Power Tour and wanted to go so I dug up all the clippings of my Camino, put them together, and worked with a friend on a design rendering of a ’66 Charger. I sent the rendering and plan to Hot Rod, they printed it, and I built the car in the basement of my Studio City parking garage. We drove it on the Tour, it was featured in Mopar Muscle and Hot Rod, and was one of their Top 10 cars of the year. The next year I built a Challenger in a friend’s driveway, we did Power Tour, it was featured and in their Top 10.
The next year Hot Rod asked me to build a giveaway car for one of their clients. They let me build it in their shop out in Van Nuys. Finally, after that one, I took a leap of faith and rented part of a small shop then built a Riviera named Tiki Riv that we took on tour, then came the Dust Ya Duster that made covers, features and went to SEMA (Reggie Jackson owns it today) and then it just kept going.
GG: Any builders that you look up to, or continue to get excited about seeing their next build?
Strope: Scott Sullivan! And I’ve told him that shamelessly. He’s the king of putting thousands of hours into details that no one will ever see. Think about his orange Cheese Wiz ’55. He put a bench seat with a column shift and a flathood with a single four-barrel – then drove the heck of it. It was a back-handed slap to the pro street cars at the time and it continues to be tasteful today. Other guys of course include Troy Ladd, Zane Cullen, Scott Bonowski, Jesse Greening and of course Troy Trepanier. All of those guys consistently bring it.
GG: You play in a rock band, too. Is there a common thread between your three passions, BMX, cars, and music?
Strope: Hot rods and rock and roll go together no question. We’re talking peanut butter and jelly. BMX embodied my childhood, it brought expression, mechanics, and freedom and was a key lever to the past and present. Cars are something I just love. They evoke emotion – they spike something in you. Creating, making, and playing music do the same thing.
GG: Is there a car you haven’t built yet but are yearning to do?
Strope: Yes. I even have artwork for it. It’s a ’67 Camaro and I’m not even a Camaro guy. I don’t want to give away anything buy think Jim Hall and his Chaparral race cars…and a little McLaren F1.