A common question I get a lot is "How did you learn to do all that stuff?" Well, I dont know. I just started doing it. Clearly, the early stuff is not as nice as the what I can turn out now, but I owe a ton of my experience to David Crow in a lot of different ways. Lets start back a ways though
Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, my first car was a VW 72 Super Beetle "The Ocean" because it was blue and wavey with Bondo. This was around 1985. I learned quickly out of necessity how to work on that car, and that got the whole thing started. That and HotVWs magazine that is. Seeing all the cool cars in the magazines was my inspiration for the first few street cars I built.
Skipping ahead a bit, I moved to Austin, TX in 1991. There I became a member of the Austin Volkswagen Club, which at the time had around 75 members, including a small but very active group of about 5 or 6 guys that were dragracers. This is when I met David Crow. I was already had the parts for a 2110cc motor, so with this new inspiration, I traded my 66 Bus for a 66 Bug and got to work. Crow built a nice close ratio street tranny for me, and I finished up the motor. I competed in my first drag race in the latter half of 91 at a Houston Bug-In and won the Street Trophy class running mid to low 14s in my Bug that I drove to the track. I was hooked!
I continued to drive that car for a couple of years and race in full street trim through most of 1992 in the TVWDRA street class.
Somewhere in mid 93 I think, I decided to build a real racecar, so I sold my 66 with a stock motor and tranny and started buying tools. For some unknown reason I thought Id like to build a Pro-Turbo car (not really knowing what it costs to do that.) Its probably a good thing I didnt know the $$ involved, or I wouldnt have started. Regardless, I bought a bunch of DOM tubing and a mig welder and borrowed a tubing bender from David Crow and set out to build my own tube chassis under a 50 split window body Id gotten from one of the other Austin racers, Chuck Storvik.
Eventually, however, I realized that the split-window was a seriously long-term project, and I wanted to get back to racing. I talked David Crow into letting me borrow one of his racecars that he wasnt currently using, thinking that Id just build the turbo motor and put it in his car and go racing.
Thats really where it all began
In an attempt to get the car lower to the ground, I set out to simply raise the engine and transmission. That snowballed into a complete back-half job on the car, complete with ladder bars, coilovers, Folts Type2 swingaxle conversion, new wheelie bars, and a complete new aluminum interior. Then, of course, the car needed a narrowed beam, new wheels and tires, wing and engine cover, and new glass rear fenders. It turned out wonderfully, I think, especially since I was basically leaning on the fly as I went. Eventually, however, by the time all that was done, I had decided it was time to get back into school and finish up the degree I had started.
Somewhere in there I also did a couple more small racecar jobs for friends, including a roll cage and interior in one car and a Super Street wing for another. But, from early 94 until about 97, there was no racecar activity. I finished my Mechanical Engineering degree at The University of Texas at Austin in May of 96 and moved to Plano to work for Texas Instruments in Dallas.
During that time, David Crow had purchased a chassis from Ron Lummus Racing, with the intent to build a new Ghia bodied racecar. The problem was, with all the transmission and engine building he was doing for others, he didnt have time to work on his own car. He commented to me a couple of times "I wish you were still down here in Austin so you could finish that Ghia for me." That got me thinking, and that was pretty much all it took! We struck a deal to have him deliver the Ghia body and the RLR chassis to my house in Plano, and for about the next 14 months, building that car is what consumed most of my weekday nights and weekends.
Nearly all the money that I made off that car went toward buying the tools that I needed to do the job properly, and I guess thats when Big Wig Race Cars was officially born. I hadnt really planned on doing this type of stuff on an ongoing basis, I just like having cool tools, you know. However, word got around, and since I received Davids car in December of 97, theres only been about 2 months (immediately following the completion of Davids Ghia) that I havent had at least 1 VW racecar stuffed in the 2 car garage I worked out of.
In June of 1998 I got a job with Solectron and we moved back to Austin. That slowed the racecar construction for a brief period as I had to pack up and move everything back down here, but Im not complaining a bit. We love Austin! Big Wig Race Cars has found its permanent home.
Mainly due to space, Im still not at a point where I can build a full tube chassis, so I still rely on shops like RLR to provide the chassis for the cars which I then finish out. Who knows though, someday I might get to that point. This will never become a full time job for me, because I dont want it to. As it is now, I can take or leave any particular job that gets offered to me, and frankly thats the way I like it. Because of that, Ive been able to specialize somewhat in building Pro-Stock VWs for the past couple of years, and to me, thats exactly where I want to be for now.
So there you have it. Ive still got a lot more to learn, and a lot more cool tools I want to buy! Im always welcome to hear tips and new techniques for racecar fabrication from people who know more than me, as well as critiques and criticisms from those who simply see the cars Ive worked on and like or dislike something in particular. Ill try to field any questions others might have too, and if theres any interest, I might even start a do-it-yourself type section on aluminum and show some techniques. So, send any comments or questions you might have to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did I answer the original question? If not, here it is in summary I learned how to do this stuff just by doing it. I was lucky to have someone like David Crow who provided what I consider the first two racecars on which I really did a lot of learning through trial and error. You dont need a lot of expensive tools to make a nice looking racecar either. Good tools only turn out crap faster if you dont have patience and dont take pride in what youre doing. Fabrication takes time, so get used to it.