Shape Shifter – Bobby Walden Speed Shop
When we worked together at Pete Chapouris’ SO-CAL Speed Shop, Bobby Walden’s 1963-vintage Yoder power hammer was backed up against my office wall and I’m certain that whenever he saw me go to my desk he would turn that sucker on and pound metal until my desk moved and my teeth rattled. It was like the San Andreas Fault ripping through California.
Joking aside, I had to admire the guy’s talent to take flat sheets of steel and beat them into sexy curvaceous forms. It’s an art that few can master, however, Bobby is a master metal shaper.
At the invitation of Chapouris, Bobby moved from his home in Borger, Texas, to California in 2003, where he worked on numerous projects including chopping GM’s 249mph four-door SSR. Like many, though, Bobby had a hankering for his own place and in 2005 he dragged his Yoder around the corner to Price Street in Pomona and set up Walden Speed Shop in a 7,500 sq. ft. building – he’s been there ever since.
For many years, Bobby concentrated on building complete cars but as time has passed and the industry has changed, he has shifted focus to making niche products from blower and vintage brake parts to chassis and components and, of course, his signature roof inserts and door skin replacement panels. The frames and related components such as hairpin radius rods, ladder bars and ancillary parts owe their heritage to ‘Jitney’ Jim ‘Jake’ Jacobs (of the original Pete & Jake’s) who worked with Bobby when he first went out on his own. Needless to say, they are traditional in concept and clean in style.
Currently Walden produces a ’32 step-box frame either stock or pinched and most recently a similarly step-box, pinched ’32 frame for 1928-’31 Model A bodies. This frame, which likewise originated with Jake, is pinched in the front and modified in the rear, having its kick-up removed to allow a Model A body to sit flat. It’s not inexpensive but it sure takes all the work out of that configuration. The frames are built in-house by Jerry Edeleman and feature a tubular X-member that incorporates a brake mount, an adjustable trans mount and forward ladder bar tabs. They’re available with leaf spring or coil-over rear suspension and are designed for buggy spring front ends.
To complement the chassis, Walden also owns his own line of Kinmont-style hot rod disc brake kits for fronts and rears. The fronts are designed to fit 1937–’41 Ford spindles and the rear kits are designed to bolt to Ford 9-inch or quick-change rearends and can be had with an optional parking brake. Walden also produces a version of the 54-fin Buick-style brake drum fitted with a disc brake. Paul Carroll originally developed both the Kinmont and Buick brake assemblies, and they have been updated with new permanent molds and improved detailing. They feature proprietary parts with Wilwood four-piston calipers.
Something I really like at Walden’s is his 4-71 blower assembly. Of course, they can be fully polished, but I prefer the as-cast finish or even the Ferrari-style wrinkle red finish. Available parts include blowers, snouts, V-belt pulley systems, idler arms, rear covers, etc. What’s really cool is his clever linkage kit that positions the two carbs facing each other.
Of course, Walden is well known for his replacement doors skins and roof insert panels. He’s been hammering out the latter for 30-plus years and figures he has made more than 3,000 – that’s two a week, every week for 30 years. Door skins and roof inserts are available for most early Fords from 1928 through 1940 and for some Chevy and Plymouth models.
Walden’s metal shaping talent has led his business down two distinct but related paths. The first began some years ago when he started hosting metal shaping seminars for those who wished to learn what is fast becoming a lost art. In pre-Covid days Walden hosted up to eight seminars per year and they ranged from basic metal shaping 101 to how to install a roof insert, how to build a hot rod chassis, to more advanced metal shaping. Sadly, due to the pandemic the seminars have been put on hold but by the time you read this maybe they are available once again. Check Walden’s website.
The shaping seminars led to a relationship with Baileigh Industrial, well-known manufactures of metal and woodworking machinery. Working with Chris Rush, the equipment designer at Baileigh, Walden decided to explore the pros and cons between vintage equipment and modern equipment in a real-life comparison of old versus new metal shaping machinery. The experiments have been filmed by Mad Fabricator himself Piero De Luca and the results can be seen at Walden Hammerworks presented by Baileigh Industrial on YouTube, Instagram, etc.
The hot rod scene is one of ever-changing styles and trends and master metal shaper Bobby Walden uses all of his talents to stay ahead of the curve and give customers innovative products and top-quality metal shaping services.
Walden Speed Shop
Photos by Tony Thacker & Eric Geisert