A long-time Deep Ellumite gave me a tip the other day: If you want to see a cool place where a guy with a great beard makes motorcycles from scratch, check out the gray building on Main Street.
So I did, and that's where I met Aaron Kaufman, the 29-year-old self-taught hot-rod builder and motorcycle maker. After working at Gas Monkey Garage for nearly 10 years with Richard Rawlings, a rock-star presence on the hot-rod racing circuit, Kaufman opened his Main Street shop a little over a year ago. "So many cars are good-looking, but they're not sexy," Kaufman told Unfair Park. "You can fix a lot of that."
The shop operates like a plastic surgeon's office for cars and motorcycles, and it moonlights as a recycling facility, giving old cars a second chance at life. While the bulk of his business is smaller nips and tucks -- lowering a roof, lifting a car, routine maintenance on old hot rods -- he also builds vehicles nearly from scratch.
When I visited last week, Kaufman had a '67 Ford pickup in the works. With a replaced engine, suspension and brakes, the beat-up shell was nearly in street-racing condition, with transplanted parts that came, ironically enough, from recycled Crown Victoria police cruisers.
"Cars don't really die," Kaufman said, "They just have multiple lives. They reincarnate."
In the back room, a much more beautiful vehicle held court: a 1940 Ford Coupe, covered with fabric for protection. It was in the shop for maintenance work and upkeep.
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Kaufman became hooked on the craft of hot rodding shortly after learning to drive. A Jeep Cherokee was his canvas. He lifted it, rebuilt the suspension and made a new bumper. "You have to fix all the things that bother you," he said. "I like to fix things that are perfectly fine."
In order to improve his craft, Kaufman has surrounded himself with older, more experienced hot-rod builders. A self-described "hippie" who previously wanted to become a park ranger, he's become hooked on tricking cars, and that addiction landed him the job working with Rawlings.
Rawlings and Kaufman's life on the road caught the attention of a St. Louis production company.The pilot for the resulting show, Fast and Loud, centers around Rawlings's life of partying and racing and features Kaufman. Discovery Channel bought the pilot, but no concrete plans for a series have been made.
In the meantime, Kaufman is busy with his shop, ready to hit the road at a moment's notice if the show gets picked up. Whatever he hits it in will probably be damn cool.