Fine Lines – Building Style and Substance at Streamline Custom Designs
About a 30-minute drive southwest of Salt Lake City, the small Utah town of Tooele is home to a small shop – Streamline Custom Designs – that produces head-turning cars, trucks, and hot rods.
Barely five years old, Streamline has already built a number of striking award-winning vehicles that have graced the covers of national magazines. For business partners Donnie Hall and Isaac Gonzales their relationship started when Donnie built a truck for Isaac.
“I worked for another local shop,” Donnie says, “and was building a truck for Isaac on the side and got busy enough that I could split off and we started Streamline.”
That project – a charcoal grey ’50 Chevy pickup – helped highlight Donnie’s abilities as a builder. “We call that first truck our case study,” Isaac says. “We sometimes refer to that as Streamline One.”
Isaac owns and operates a company that works for the federal government doing nuclear cleanups. He says his business background and project management experience, combined with Donnie’s skills as a builder, helped them get Streamline up and running.
After the ’50 Chevy came a ’32 Ford roadster that earned a top five finalist spot for both Goodguys Street Rod of the Year and America’s Most Beautiful Street Rod in 2019. That was followed by a ’64 Corvette. Donnie says these builds demonstrated the new shop’s potential and functioned as life-size, rolling business cards.
Working with a small staff in a shop nearly 8,000 sq. ft., Streamline Custom Designs provides a variety of services, essentially everything needed to produce complete projects, except for upholstery work. In addition to ground-up builds the shop offers engine and chassis upgrades and other services.
“We do survivor cars,” Donnie says, describing the upgrade projects. “We’re not doing body or paint work (on these projects), we’re building nice drivers.”
When it comes to executing full-build projects Donnie works to meld the customer’s ideas with his own to produce the desired result. “Our clients get their ideas, and we collaborate to give it that Streamline twist,” Donnie says. “When they come to us, they have an idea of how we’re going to do it. They have their ideas as well. We have discussions and come up with a happy medium.”
An important ingredient is getting all of the ideas on paper to make sure everyone agrees on the concept. Donnie often does preliminary drawings but turns to artist Eric Black to produce final renderings.
“I can do artwork, but I’m not very good with the Crayons so we sub that out,” Donnie says. “Our clients are able to get an idea of what the car will look like in a realistic scale.”
Color is a critical part of the Streamline process. He relies on his father’s influence as a long-time car builder and painter, including using his old paint books from the 1930s and ’40s. “I like to be creative with the colors,” Donnie says. “We’ve been doing warm, earth-tone colors for a while. I like to go through those old paint books and find some of the older colors.
“We’ll do a spray out with our formula, then add toners to create our own colors.” The colors are named and kept on file.
Shortly after Streamline opened its doors, the Covid pandemic and its impact necessitated changes in how projects and supplies were managed. For example, the lead time on many components went from 120 days to nine months to a year.
“We definitely had to be more accurate with our forecasting,” Isaac says. “A lot of that was post-pandemic. During the pandemic it seemed that most people had enough supply. We were fortunate. We checked in with our clients and everybody was in a comfortable position and that allowed us to keep building.”
Donnie says they still see delays in items like chassis, epoxy primers, polyester primers, and other supplies.
Streamline mixes what are now traditional tools – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – with other strategies. For example, building cars that win major awards at shows like Goodguys and earn exposure in national magazines helped put the small shop on the map. Donnie and Isaac also find collector car auctions a good way for promoting the shop.
“Barrett-Jackson has been a big help,” Donnie says. “We’ve sold a couple of cars there. We’ve gained clients who were bidders on a car that we built, but they didn’t get it.”
Building the Team
With just a few employees, Donnie and Isaac want people with versatile skills and the ability to work with a team. “I like the guys who work for us to be pretty well-rounded,” Donnie says. “I don’t want just a fabricator, just a body guy, just a paint guy. All of our guys do a little bit of everything. I want to be able to move them around. Being a smaller shop, there are not a lot of times when we’ll be just on fabrication, for example.”
Being away from major cities in a town with about 35,000 residents means finding the right people is not always easy. A couple team members commute from the Salt Lake area.
Donnie says they would like to add one or two people, but they are holding out to find someone who is at 80 percent of everything rather than 100 percent of just one skill. “When we do find someone, we like to bring them in for a couple of weeks, give them a little tryout,” Donnie says. “If they cut it, they’re hired. If they don’t, they had two weeks of paid work.”
Having a team that works well together is important. “We’ve been lucky with the guys we have,” Isaac says. “Not only the talent, the skillset, but their personalities fit. We’re all the same kind of crazy.”
With a productive and successful first few years, what do Donnie and Isaac want for the future? “Still doing what we’re doing,” Isaac says. “It comes back to large and small projects. We just hope to have these cars out on the road, being part of the American culture.”
Streamline Custom Designs
Photos by John Jackson & Steven Bunker