Ida Automotive Inc – Where Excellence Takes Shape
Rob Ida, a third-generation coach builder, designer, fabricator and head of Morganville, New Jersey’s Ida Automotive Inc. is so driven by his passion for building and driving vintage cars, he sometimes doesn’t make it home from the shop for days on end, especially when project deadlines are tight. That’s primarily because Rob and his three-man team build cars by hand, one step at a time. That’s a literal statement.
On certain projects, Ida starts with nothing but an empty shop floor, then one to two years later, a completely handmade automotive sculpture sparks to life, backs out of the shop and sets sail on its new journey. Often that journey leads to the finest concours events in America – Greenwich, Pebble Beach, Amelia Island and other prestigious regional and national meets. Once set up and displayed on the green, Ida’s creations are lauded by the automotive press and awarded with well-deserved blue ribbons. Ida always gets it right.
Rob is so focused on getting the projects correct, the process consumes his every thought, every action. When you set foot into Ida’s shop you quickly realize the magnitude of what they’re doing here. It’s the ultimate skunkworks – a serious place where both form and function outweigh tidiness. Welders fire off every few minutes, the English wheel gets weekly if not daily workouts while other industrial grade equipment is put to good use. Mills and lathes offer a digitized symphony. Conducting this metal orchestra is Rob Ida. You can bet It’s a shop that is on Detroit’s radar in terms of groundbreaking ideas and systems. Everything needed to build a complete custom vehicle is packed into just 6,000 square feet here.
In the case of Ida’s one-off creations, each vehicle is designed, engineered, constructed, painted and upholstered without so much as seeing daylight or another shop for one minute. This process repeats itself year in and year out.
To understand Rob’s process, you must understand his father Bob Ida. A baby boom era hot rodder, drag racer and engineer, Bob is well known throughout northeast drag history for his killer, record-setting gassers. You may remember his copper 1940 Willys sedan or his ragtop “Hemi Healy” to name a few. They are etched in right coast drag racing lore. Like Rob, Bob Ida did everything himself.
“Being back east thousands of miles from the west coast speed parts manufacturers, it was expensive and too time consuming to wait on parts. So we had to make our own stuff,” Bob said during our visit. “So that’s what we did.”
That creative process grew to the point where Bob started taking on customer projects and building hot rods from the ground up or restoring them, often designing parts, making them in the shop and testing them before final assembly. In that light, the Ida’s are akin to Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, Don Garlits and other American speed legends who forged their fame by doing it all themselves. Through his father, Rob was exposed to the process of coach building at a very young age. “Rob would get off the school bus, throw his lunch pail in the house and come out to the shop to work on projects with me,” Bob said. “He didn’t want to do anything else.”
Rob and his father still work together. While Rob is crafting cars in the south wing of the shop, Bob has his own space where he still designs and makes one off parts through CAD and CNC machines, mills, lathes and more. He also dyno tunes most of the shop’ cars. How many shops do you know of that have a Dyna Jet 4-wheel chassis dyno on hand? The Ida’s do.
Bob tinkers on and tunes contemporary cars as well as vintage iron. When Ford relaunched the GT-40 (officially rebranded as the GT) in 2005, Bob felt it was a tad underpowered and needed a stiffer suspension. He re-engineered the factory supercharger pulley for more boost, retuned it, made some new upper and lower control arms as well as other refinements. The performance gains were substantial. Word got out and Ida Automotive became the place to have your second gen GT hot rodded and tuned. Bob started producing a limited run of performance parts one at a time. When the latest versions of the GT were produced last year, it seems as though Ford took a few cues from Ida’s improvements offering a kick ass machine. “I have one on order,” Bob smiled.
If you follow Ida Automotive’s Instagram page (@rob_ida – we highly recommend it), you’ll notice a familiar theme. The shop focuses primarily on three Marques- Tucker, Willys and Porsche. Bob Ida’s father Joe opened the one and only Tucker dealership in New York City in 1948 instantly connecting the Ida and Tucker families. After Preston Tucker’s venture heartbreakingly collapsed in 1950, the two families stayed close.
They still do today and Ida Automotive is the only shop in the world which has Tucker’s original manufacturing blueprints. Over the years, Rob has recreated his own Tucker’s from scratch as well as restored some of the incredibly rare survivors. At the time of our visit, he and his crew were in a mad thrash to finish a complete restoration of Tucker #44 (Out of 50 ever made) for client Howard Kroplik. It will be at Pebble Beach this August.
But here’s the Tucker coup de grace – Rob is building Preston Tucker’s “Tucker Torpedo” – a concept designed by stylist Alex Tremulis in 1947 that never made it to production. Hyperbole aside, it’s one of the most breathtaking projects we have ever seen. From its three-seat turntable seating arrangement inside the cabin to its dramatic, sweeping full fender profile, it will absolutely dominate the Automotive headlines when completed. Of course, the project has the full blessing from the Tucker family.
The first day we visited Ida Automotive Inc, Winfield had flown in from Los Angeles to hold one of his signature metal shaping classes in the heart of the shop. The joint was packed with eager craftsmen all relishing the chance to watch the 91-year old Winfield work his magic. The next day, Gene and Rob were headed south to Wildwood to the Race of Gentlemen so Gene could race his old roadster across the New Jersey sand. It was an experience Gene will surely carry the rest of his time here on earth. It wasn’t lost on us that Rob Ida is not only dedicated to building the best, he also sacrifices time and resources to preserve hot rod history and the men like Winfield who forged its path. “Gene is amazing,” Rob said. “He was back here four days and between the class and TROG, we ran wide open the whole time. He’s not only tough, he’s incredibly sharp. He just keeps going”
As you can image, Rob Ida is razor sharp too. During our interview, he rattled off dates, places the roadster raced or was shown and what modifications it had throughout its life in savant-like fashion. A brilliant mind like Rob Ida’s is to be appreciated and tapped into as much as possible.
There’s traditional customs here too. Jack Keily’s ‘50 Merc convertible was sitting in the fab shop during our visit. This car would make Sam Barris’ knees weak. It was perfection with a muted green exterior with oxblood guts, a chopped Carson top, Caddy hubcaps and white wall bias ply tires.
In the showroom portion of the shop sat Ida’s unique vision of a traditionally styled custom car which blew the industry away upon its 2016 unveiling – a hand crafted ‘40 Mercury coupe also built for Jack Keily. From the A-pillar forward, it retained much of its original proportions save for custom, steerable front fender skirts and incredibly trick 360-degree brake calipers. The back half of the car was all made by Rob’s hand with dramatic, sweeping lines. It received Ford’s Best in Show award at SEMA in the fall of 2016, grabbed honors at Pebble Beach and won the $10k Winfield award at the Syracuse Nationals in upstate New York.
This is only a glimpse of the genius that is Rob Ida. In the past two years he has built two very nasty race-equipped Porsche 911 turbo coupes one of which was undergoing final assembly when we visited. Parked just outside was more Porsche goodness – Rob’s 365A race coupe which has set four speed records over the years. He drives it to work if he’s not in his Mustang-eating Z06 Corvette. He also mentioned he had just bought back his first hot car – a Willys pickup he drove in high school.
Through his vision, restorations, and custom creations, Rob Ida has established a legacy of excellence taking the family name to new heights. Even better, he gets to work alongside the man who showed him the ropes, his father Bob Ida.
The Ida Automotive Inc mission statement is clear. Rob summed it up best by saying “Whatever kind of project we take on, I want someone who knows that specific make or model of car to look at it closely and say ‘yep – that’s correct and properly done.’ Our primary focus here is to get it right no matter what we’re building.”
Ida Automotive Inc Photo Extra!
Photography by the author. Finished vehicle photography courtesy of Michael Allen Ross and Ida archives.