5 Minutes With Troy Ladd
Hollywood Hot Rods was racing around the mind of its founder, Troy Ladd, long before he went into business. Troy worked in construction management during the day and built hot rods as a hobby at night and on weekends. In 2002, he decided to follow his passion for hot rods, rent a shop in Burbank, and hang up the Hollywood Hot Rods shingle.
Since then, Troy and his team have crafted some amazing hot rods and customs. He scored the Goodguys Trendsetter Award in 2007 and has gathered trophies that include America’s Most Beautiful Roadster, the Al Slonaker Memorial Award, Goodguys Street Rod d’Elegance, and the 2022 Chevrolet Performance GM Retro Iron Builder of the Year with Goodguys. We talked with Troy shortly after the Grand National Roadster Show, where he debuted his latest personal ride, a back-to-basics ’31 Ford coupe built to drag race and terrorize his daily commute with a blown, six-carb 392c.i. Hemi. The car drew quite a crowd, even without glossy paint!
Goodguys: Hollywood Hot Rods has earned many top awards. Is there one that has eluded you?
Troy Ladd: We haven’t won the Ridler, but we haven’t gone after it, either! The goal is not to win awards, it’s just to build cool stuff. But like any artist, when you make your art, it feels good when it’s recognized and people like it. It’s not about money, it’s about creativity, and when your peers respect that creativity and give you accolades, it’s kind of a big deal. We’re just fortunate we’ve had customers who have allowed us to build things like this.
GG: Is there a car you’re dreaming to build?
Ladd: I don’t have a specific idea in the can. It’s more of a collaboration with the owner. They usually have an idea of something they want, and we can work together and turn it into something amazing. We’re working on a roadster project right now and it’s like nothing we’ve ever done and that’s what I enjoy. I’m dreaming of the car that I don’t know I want to build until it comes along and we build it! Something challenging, something we haven’t done. We always want to top the last thing we did.
GG: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the hot rod industry in the past two decades?
Ladd: The idea of interactivity. It used to be about sitting in lawn chairs, dusting off your car all day to see how many people look at it. Now, there’s opportunities to go run the autocross, or go on a reliability run, or go drag race. There’s been a push for interaction and it’s great for the industry. We need to race them, you need to drive them, you get to do all these things and really use the cars. We’ve always built these cars with big power, but they sat at car shows. Now, it’s time to see how well you can take a corner or use that power!
GG: You had your personal Model A at the Grand National Roadster Show. How was that different than showing a customer car?
Ladd: I’ve had a few of my own cars at the Roadster Show before, but this time was different. I just wanted a rough, true hot rod to go drag race and have fun with – and it is so fun to have a car like that, one that isn’t shiny. We’ve had so many shiny cars at the GNRS that I could take a rusty one and I don’t care – I built the car for me. People really seem to be able to associate with that car and gravitated to it.
GG: “Respect Tradition” is a shop mantra, but what are your thoughts on modern drivetrains?
Ladd: I love the traditional style and traditional look, but I’m not going to talk negative on the advantages of modern technology. The second part of our “Respect Tradition” is that we’re not bound by it. We’ve dressed a few LS engines to look like early fuelie ’Vette engines. I think modern engines are great and it’s my job to make them look better. They have their place in hot rodding. We’re not going to put an LS in a ’32 Ford; we’ll put them in a ’55 Nomad or a ’57 ’Vette. And we’re not going to put an LS in a ’65 Mustang – but I’ll put a Coyote in a Mustang. They all have their place.
GG: Several of your builds have incorporated elements from vintage European cars and coach-built Art Deco cars. What drew you to those influences?
Ladd: There’s just so much beautiful workmanship and design in those cars, early Bugattis and Delahayes, French Art Deco, even in furniture, I thought it could work into hot rodding. American hot rodders sometimes don’t look beyond, but when you look at an early Bugatti race car, they are so amazingly hot rodded for their time! It just made sense that a lot of that styling could translate into our hot rodding.
GG: You have a bachelor’s degree in business – how has that helped at HHR?
Ladd: When a tradesman becomes good at their job, they open their own business. The problem is they aren’t just the tradesman anymore – they’re now a businessman. It’s a different job. At first, I was a tradesman as a hobby and my job was in project management, which is managing materials and manpower. That experience helped a lot, but I now have an ongoing conflict of the artist/tradesman side of my brain with the business-owner brain. The artist brain just wants to build cars and make art, while the business brain wants to pay bills before we go bankrupt!
GG: What is your favorite part of the build process?
Ladd: I like the early design and fabrication process. The chassis, the sheet metal and getting the mechanicals to work. A lot of problems arise in the early stages and these challenges can be fun to solve. It is frustrating when you’re in it, but when you accomplish it, it’s very exciting.