5 Minutes With Jim Ries
Jim Ries might not be a household name, but car and truck enthusiasts are certainly familiar with the business he started 31 years ago – Classic Performance Products. Over the past three decades, CPP has grown from a small startup selling disc brake conversion kits and dropped spindles, to an aftermarket powerhouse that manufactures complete suspension systems and a wide range of chassis components, upgrade parts, and accessories for vintage Chevy, Ford, and Mopar cars and trucks.
A true Southern California car guy, Ries grew up around vintage trucks and cars and rebuilt his first car as a teenager. A longtime advocate of suspension and brake modifications that improve handling, safety, drivability, and performance, Jim recognized the synergy of getting CPP involved as the title sponsor of the Goodguys CPP AutoCross Series beginning last year.
As a busy business owner, Jim can be difficult to catch, but we recently reeled him in for a quick discussion about the earlier days of mail-order parts, industry changes, great drives, and monster trucks.
Goodguys: How did you first get interested in vintage cars and trucks?
Jim Ries: Working for my father at Southern California Custom Pickups and Panels (SoCal Pickups), which specialized in 1953-56 Ford F100 restoration parts. This was the early days of mail order. SoCal Pickups was one of the pioneers to this market. I was only 15 when his assistant would pick me up from school and I’d go to the shop and dismantle trucks, restore and prepare parts for shipping, and answer phones. It was truly a 15-year-old’s paradise.
GG: What was your first old car?
Ries: I learned to drive when I was 14 years old (without a license) making deliveries in my dad’s shop truck, a ’56 Chevy Cameo. My first personal car was a ’65 Mustang GT-K that I completely restored and as I remember it hauled ass for a car built back in the day!
GG: What specialty vehicles are in your personal collection now?
Ries: I’ve managed to collect a stable of cars and trucks used for R&D and for enjoyment. I have early Mustangs, first- and second-gen Camaros, almost every year Chevelle, early Novas, Tri-fives, and Ford and Chevy Trucks from 1948 to 1998. I rarely sell a car we’ve used for R&D. My favorite changes frequently but right now it’s my black ’67 Nova with a LS3 and six-speed. It’s pretty sweet.
GG: We hear you spent some time building and racing monster trucks in your early years. How did that experience help you in developing Classic Performance Products?
Ries: LOL, I’ve asked myself this question many times. In the late 1980s I was challenged to build a monster truck. I wasn’t even into off road vehicles, so I really had no idea what I was doing. I learned that if I was willing to invest in learning something new, way outside of my comfort zone, with hard work and a strong commitment I could be successful and have fun. I still have the last monster truck I built, The Ecology Eliminator, and in 2017 I was inducted into the International Monster Truck Hall of Fame.
GG: What’s the most noticeable change you’ve seen in the vintage aftermarket in the past 30 years?
Ries: The products being offered today are better designed and the quality is exceptional. The tools we have now in both design and manufacturing have brought the aftermarket to the next level. Consumers get more for less and the ease of installation is better than ever.
GG: CPP stepped up in a big way last year to sponsor the Goodguys CPP AutoCross Series. What makes that form of competition a good fit for the company?
Ries: The easy answer is that we enjoy being involved because we want to have fun with our cars, too. We love when we can to bring our cars to Goodguys CPP AutoCross events and participate. Our cars are built for the street with CPP products. My daughter Sadie fell in love with AutoCross after only one lap, and she now looks forward to every event we can attend. Goodguys CPP AutoCross has something for everyone, not just the professional drivers, so we really wanted to be involved.
GG: Who have been your mentors in the hot rod industry? And who do you turn to now for input and advice?
Ries: I have so many, some from the design and manufacturing world and others from the business side. Car builder would be the great Bobby Alloway, for design and manufacturing, probably Kyle Tucker, and from the business side, well I probably shouldn’t answer this, most of them our also my customers.
GG: What are your proudest accomplishments at CPP?
Ries: We’ve designed and brought to market many great products over the years, but my staff and how hard they work is my proudest accomplishment! We continue to grow every year, we take on new challenges all the time, and we have a staff that shares in our vision and trusts us to provide a good future for them.
GG: What’s a current old car trend you’re happy to see?
Ries: Cars and trucks from the ’80s are on a comeback. For CPP it’s especially noticeable in the truck world. Those once-old junkers that us older guys used to drive daily are now current and future builds. The cycle repeats itself, as it opens the doors to develop many new and exciting products that only insures the future of our industry.
GG: If you had a free day to yourself to take a short cruise, what would you drive and where would you go?
Ries: Pretty simple, me and my wife Jill would take our red Week to Wicked ’55 Chevy and cruise on up the coast. Once you’re out of the city there’s nothing quite like cruising the coast with your best friend and one of your favorite cars. I think it’s time to hit the road!