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Westergard Hot Rods
Travel north out of Sioux Falls on Cliff (475th) Avenue and in fifteen minutes you will pass an unassuming building on the east side of the road. The front door is located in the back of the building. But step inside and you will see the world of a talented car builder and his staff. Born and raised in Sioux Falls, Brad Westergard, owner of Westergard Hot Rods, moved around between Iowa and South Dakota at a young age. He lived on a farm near Renner and commuted to Garretson where he graduated from high school. His daily commuting car (which was also his first car) was a 1940 Ford. It had a small block Chevy engine with chrome wheels. “It was a cool car at the time,” recalls Westergard. “It was a pretty good runner and we did a little ‘illegal’ racing with it a few times.” Brad received the car from his Dad for working on the family farm. The car needed some work and that was Brad’s first attempt at restoring a car.
His dad, Wendell, restored antique and classic cars as a hobby and that’s how Brad got the bug. He was always hanging around his Dad helping him work on his cars. The pair attended car shows all over the US. One of his cars (photo included) he is especially proud of is a 1925 Ford Frontenak Indianapolis race car that won a National first place honor. It was a factory production race car. After his dad passed away, Brad restored the car again and continued to show it for a couple of years continuing to receive awards. He eventually sold the car. Another car that Wendell owned was a 1929 Packard Dietrich convertible. It is a very rare hand-made aluminum body. It was the only one known to exist. Wendell restored it with Brad’s help when he was a kid. They showed it all over the US, winning many awards. After his death, Brad sold it to a movie production company in Hollywood and it appeared in the movie “Sunset” with Bruce Willis and James Garner. Both actors drove the car in the movie.
Restoring cars is in the family blood. Wendell’s cousin, Harry Westergard is known as the “Father of Customizing.” He lived in California and worked with famous builders like George Barris (who will be appearing at this year’s Automania event). The Westergard family loves to customize antique cars. Harry hand formed and fabricated cars, which is what Brad likes to do today.
In the business he started in a building on his parent’s farm, Westergard restores classic cars, hot rods, street rods, customs, and muscle cars. Westergard provides all forms of customizing and fabrication, as well as restorations. He started the business with no employees, until the business began to take off six years ago. They have moved locations four times; each time to a larger facility to accommodate the additional work. The shop fabricates much of what they use. With equipment like metal brakes, sheers, water cooled mig and tig welders, mandrel tube benders, drill presses, exhaust pipe bender, and custom made sheet metal forming tools, Westergard does most of their work in house. “This keeps the quality at a level that we expect,” says employee Travis Fedders. Westergard echoes that statement. “Everything we do is precise and performed by conscientious, talented car lovers. We do not cut corners and nothing leaves the shop unless WE are absolutely 100% satisfied it is the best it can be.”
Brad Westergard is an artisan. As a custom builder, he has a vision for what his creations will look like. This vision is what makes them unique to the industry. They have an ability to combine old and new or create something totally unique. The process for his customers is very simple. He has an initial meeting with them and from that he adds his touches. In order to do this, he has to be very explicit with his explanation of what he sees for his cars.
Westergard has two full time and three part-time employees. Travis Fetters and Matt Hoffman started working for Brad over the past year. After graduation from Roosevelt High School, Travis did some farming, worked at a junk yard and did custom work for Luverne Truck Equipment and Crimson Fire companies. He does a little bit of everything for the company and also works on a few of his own hot rod projects. Matt has been there for about six months. He graduated early from high school in Dell Rapids. Brad got to know him when he worked for another body shop. Brad recognized his talent and asked him to come to work for him and he now works there full-time. Brad oversees their work. He still works on the vehicles but all of the guys know what Brad expects and they are talented enough to do it. Brad’s son, who owns Exhaust Pros, also worked for Brad for a few years. He builds race cars as well.
Quality is king at Westergards. “Nothing goes out of my shop if it does not meet my standards. They may meet other people’s standards but if it does not meet mine, I do not send it out. Customers can be assured that their restoration will be done to the highest of standards and finished on time. How do you not do your best on every restoration? We have people that say this is not going to be a show car. It may not be a show car, but it has to be done right. Cost is very important and we are upfront with our customers. They get updated with the progress including the costs. Our customers are satisfied when their car leaves our shop. We have built a number of show winners.”
They have built an exact copy of the America Graffiti ’32 Coupe for a customer in Aberdeen. The car is a driver yet wins many awards at area car shows. They have also reworked a Jesse James built Monster Garage car; a 1969 Chevy Impala Low Rider that was built on one of the TV episodes in Folsom Prison.
Another example of Brad’s vision is a 1995 Honda Civic. In 2009, the owner was hauling the body in for scrap metal. He stopped by Westergard’s shop to see if we had any scrap to take. Brad immediately saw what the car could be and made an offer to purchase it. Within 15 minutes they had the car loaded off the trailer. They are currently working on the car and plan to have it finished next year. When it is finished it will be a drag race car with a 605 Chevy big block with nitrous oxide, tunnel ram and 2 four barrels, and power glide transmission. The top is chopped four inches, the nose is extended one foot, the side windows are filled, and it has a Funny Car style roof hatch. It also has a narrowed Ford rear end. The car has hand formed ground effects and a hand fabricated chassis by Brad. It will be built to SFI specs to certify to race in the 7-second quarter mile bracket. The pride of the entire shop shows through on every job from a custom to a rougher Rat Rod.
The shop is open at 7 AM and closes when the work is done, sometimes it’s all night. A big benefit of doing business with them is their respect for deadlines. “We have to keep up on our work. We currently are working on 12 vehicles in the shop, another three are getting painted, and five more are in line. They range from a ’31 Model A to a ’98 Camaro. They work on all types of restoration. They do sub out some painting work to Scott Wilson with Plum Krazy in Dell Rapids, and their upholstery work is done by the “old rock n’ roller” Marty Miller owner of Marty’s Upholstery in Dell Rapids.” When asked why Plum Krazy paint shop is so busy, Scott said, quite simply, “Because we do it right.” “I am fussy and I trust these guys to do the job right and they always come through,” according to Westergard. “Our business has grown over the years. I attribute our growth to ‘doing it right’ and delivering the job on time. When we say we will have it done by a certain date, it will be done by that date.”
Brad sees a bright future for their industry and his company. “As the years go by, we continue to learn and combine old school skills with the new techniques and technology. This allows us to work on all types of vehicles.” When asked to sum up his philosophy on his business, Westergard smiled and said,“Anybody can restore a car, but it takes a real man to cut one up.”