Rodger Lee Ironworks Speed and Kustom

Five Minutes With Rodger Lee

If you’re a frequent Fuel Curve visitor, you likely remember the silver ’67 Mustang that scored the Goodguys 2023 PPG Street Machine of the Year honors this past summer. The car was built by Ironworks Speed and Kustom in Bakersfield, California, which Rodger Lee started from a 700sq. ft. shop more than 20 years ago.

Today, Rodger and his team have refined their talents for making old cars ride, drive, and perform as good as a new car, while being a lot more fun to drive. Rodger has been a proponent of using modern design technology in the way of CAD, 3D printing, CNC, and other tech to improve the fit, form, and function of the shop’s builds. He’s also eager to share his experiences, both good and challenging, with his industry peers and fellow shop owners through a special series of Business Development Classes. All this and a father of two daughters! He’s got a lot going on, but we tracked him down for a quick five minutes.

Rodger Lee Ironworks Speed and KustomGoodguys: What do you see as the biggest hurdle facing the future of hot rodding?

Rodger Lee: The biggest hurdle facing the future of hot rodding is the lack of skilled, interested, passionate, and motivated employees. Schools don’t put out the passionate kids they once did. I’m not sure if young people have the attention span to build these large projects anymore, or the attention to detail that older generations have had. I believe there is a time coming where a skilled craftsman that can build, fix, or engineer mechanical things might be more valuable than a doctor. That is great for the tradesmen, but bad for the industry as we will be limited. Every shop in America could use up to 20-percent more employees than they have today.

GG: Ironworks was established in 2001, what do you feel has changed significantly in the industry over that time?

Lee: Technology has changed immensely. And the ability to use that technology so easily. Computer design software and scanners make some of the projects we do so much easier, but once again, we need the skilled and passionate workers. The builds have gotten more detailed and the drivetrains are way, way better. Rodger Lee Ironworks Speed and KustomGone is the 700R4 kickdown cable, replaced by a drive-by-wire set up. The cost of insane technology is now low enough that a shop like mine can have this technology and equipment pretty easily.

GG: Ironworks has embraced modern technology such as 3D scanning and printing, CAD, and CNC during the design and build process. How has this changed the way you design or even build a car and what are the pros and cons?

Lee: This technology allows us to see something close to reality and decide if the design could be better. It allows even more details to be built in the design software in less time than the most talented guy could have made. It’s a gain in engineering and a gain in overall calendar time. Plus, I feel with a strong designer you can make up for the lack of where young people are now days. With a CNC plasma table, you can now design brackets and get them all to the exact same size in much less time than going from templates to a stack of four plates that are cut and sanded slowly by hand. This doesn’t cut cost per se, but it does speed up the calendar time.

GG: You just finished the Goodguys Hall of Fame Road Tour shaking down two “Production Chevelles.” What’s the plan for these cars?

Lee: We are attempting to build a very high-end test car that is intended to be a nice car, but not too nice. It’s meant to be driven and make good modern horsepower with drivability. These cars all have LT4 engines making 650-plus horsepower with 10-speed automatics or six-speed manual transmissions with specially valved shocks from JRi front and rear. They have custom floor pans to lower the seats 2.5-inches to allow modern power seats and to position you “IN” the car, not like an old muscle car. We are trying to use validated and tested parts that we are familiar with and know they will provide the consistent results we want in every car we build.

GG: You created Business Development Classes directed toward you peers, other hot rod builders. What brought you to offer these classes?

Lee: Years ago, I wanted nothing more than to have a chance to ask some business questions of other fellow builders and there really was no way to get those questions answered. Everyone talks about the thought process in the design and what EFI controller they use and what tool they are using to form sheet metal, but no one talks about a business that starts with a passionate individual that wakes up one morning and realizes this building cars things is a full-on business that requires bookkeeping, getting insurance quotes, and learning finances. Suddenly you need to become a businessman and if you run your shop as a business, you can actually turn a profit.

So, in trying to improve the hot rod building industry, we are raising the new generation and sometimes the old. A rising tide raises all ships.

GG: Congrats on winning the 2023 PPG Street Machine of the Year title. What was the experience like through the event process and since then for you and the car owner?

Lee: Thank you very much, I still feel like that award is won buy big-time famous builders and we are just not there yet. I think the owner may not fully grasp how big of deal that award is, but it might sink in this November in Scottsdale.

Todd Ryden is first and foremost a car guy and admits to how lucky he is to have been able to build a career out of a hobby that he enjoys so much. He’s owned muscle cars and classics, raced a bit and has cruised across the country. With over 25 years in the industry from the manufacturing and marketing side to writing books and articles, he just gets it.