Great Scott! A Closer Look at the Custom Build Shop at Scott’s Hotrods ’n Customs
When Justin Padfield opened Scott’s Hotrods ‘n Customs in a small shop in Ventura, California back in 1996, his plan was simple: fabricate and build high-quality vehicles. It was certainly an ambitious goal for a 19-year-old enthusiast.
“My first customer was probably in his early 40s and didn’t want to talk to me at first,” Justin says. “He asked ‘who’s your boss?’ I said it was just me.”
That first customer obviously liked Justin’s response, and his work. The shop has built 15 cars for that customer over the years. As a testament to his work, Justin says most of his customers are repeat ones.
Shortly after opening the doors, Justin designed and built one of the first independent suspension kits utilizing air bags. Skeptics told Justin that selling suspension kits was a bad idea, but a friendly magazine editor encouraged him to test the market by advertising. “I advertised for three months,” Justin says. “That first month I sold about 50 front ends.”
Early Years: Suspension and Customs
The suspension kits launched the frame, suspension, and accessory business that many people are familiar with, but it’s just part of the operation that now employs 30 in the company’s Knoxville, Tennessee facility. The steady cashflow generated by the parts business complements the focus on long-term, coach-built vehicles Scott’s Hotrods builds for customers.
Justin credits his father for the dual-purpose business philosophy. “At a young age he told me to develop parts I could sell because you can only build so many cars in a year,” Justin says. “That’s going to be your constant cashflow, he said.”
The build shop focuses on coach-built vehicles and those efforts have produced Ridler Great Eight finalists, a SEMA award winner, and two America’s Most Beautiful Roadster awards at the Grand National Roadster Show.
Repeat Customers, Steady Communication
Justin says there are eight full builds in the shop now, with a waiting list of future projects. “They are expensive, and they are backed up,” Justin says. Since so many customers are repeat customers, they usually allow Justin and his team free rein to design and build the vehicle. “They say use your imagination, I want it to be a one-off” is the usually starting point, Justin says. However, the key to that freedom is the solid reputation for building outstanding vehicles and constant communication with the customer.
Scott’s customers receive digital photos every day the car is being worked on, Justin says, and that means the customer receives 8,000-10,000 images over the 18-month to two-year build time.
This steady communication began in the pre-digital days when a customer brought Justin a Polaroid camera and a big box of film packs. “He said, ‘take pictures of the car as you work on it and send them to me,’” Justin says. Later, when digital cameras came on the scene, that same customer bought one for Justin. Now, Justin encourages customers to read the almost daily emails, review the photos, and reply with any questions.
Big Move, Major Growth
As Scott’s Hotrods grew over the years, Justin thought about future growth. That planning resulted in moving the shop from California to Tennessee. Over just five business days in 2018, the entire operation made the move to a new 20,000sq. ft. shop on 3.6 acres. Eleven employees made the move east and business has boomed since.
With the move and the growth, finding qualified people is a challenge. With 30 current employees, Justin wants to add more, but like many shops around the country, finding people with the right skills is a challenge.
Justin believes strongly in taking care of, and respecting, his employees. That’s why those who made the move from California received extensive relocation packages. He also believes in giving his team members credit for their work. “When we post work on social media, we always give credit to the guy in the shop who did the work,” Justin says.
The new location puts the shop closer to the majority of its customers, meaning most orders have shorter shipping times. Justin also says the majority of his chassis customers pick them up, saving substantial shipping costs.
Because of the complexity of starting each project with a blank page, Justin works with artist Eric Brockmeyer to develop the design and the renderings that serve as blueprints for the builds. “I tell Eric what I want to do,” Justin says. “We work on the whole car design – engine compartment, interior, trunk, etc.”
Scott’s Hotrods does not offer paint or interior services by choice. Justin says they work with a small group of top-tier paint and interior shops for those portions of the builds.
Scott’s doesn’t specialize in one type of vehicle, but trucks (Chevy and Ford mostly) are a common site in the shop. One unusual truck is in the shop now – an ’84 Dodge D150. The customer only had two requests: A Hellcat motor and a push-button starter for his wife. “You have to be creative,” Justin says. “It’s an ugly truck and we’re trying to make it cool.”
Probably the most unusual vehicle in the shop currently is a 1976 Bentley. As in British luxury barge. The customer brought the car to Justin’s crew to make it a modernized hot rod with Bentley character. That means an LT4 engine, custom chassis, and major metal work, especially removing 186 pounds of factory-installed lead from the body before any other work could be done. Justin says his crew is reworking almost every body panel, along with making one-off trim pieces.
Another service that Scott’s Hotrods has provided over the years is building custom headers and exhaust systems for all of their builds, as well as customers who send vehicles from all over the country. “We have about 60 cars waiting to come in just for custom exhaust systems,” Justin says.
About the Name
One question many people have about the shop is the name – why is it Scott’s Hotrods when the owner and founder is named Justin? Justin says when he started the business, he wasn’t sure what to call it. “All the ideas I had sounded kind of corny,” he says. Justin’s Hot Rods didn’t sound good to him. Neither did Padfield’s. But his middle name – Scott – sounded pretty good, he says.
“So, I called it Scott’s.”
Scott’s Hotrods ‘n Customs
Photos by John Jackson