Huntington Beach Bodyworks – Huntington Beach, California
Collision work pays the bills, but they live for the custom jobs
By Karyn Hendricks
A man’s home is his castle, however in the case of Rich Evans, his castle is his home. Evans and wife Patricia have created a magnificent medieval motif for their 13,000 square foot Huntington Beach Bodyworks, a custom auto shop, located just south of Los Angeles, California.
Patricia, Rich, Dylan,
Lytra and Drahcir Evans
Imagine a Chevy pick-up turned into a Hummer limousine. Envisage a wheelchair-friendly DeLorean-type PT Cruiser. Tattoos on cars. A unique red, white and blue patriotic painted semi. This is just a sampling of the creativity bursting forth from Rich Evans’ shop.
Evans comes by his involvement in cars honestly. His father was a mechanic at Midas Muffler in 1965 in Pasadena. In 1988, he purchased his own shop in Auburn and now owns a shop in Sacramento. Evans grew up in that shop fabricating brakes, doing mechanical work and building hotrods with his dad.
When Evans was 13, his dad purchased a ’69 Chevy Nova on which Evans could develop his body work skills, and by age 15, he attempted to rebuild his first car. A buddy of Evans’ dad, Dave Popkins, owned a body shop in Sacramento where they worked on the project. Popkins did the hard stuff, letting Evans handle what he could. Observing Evans’s talent for creative body work, Popkins recommended he consider making a career of working with cars.
Evans and his dad always had a project car. Even though no project was ever really finished in their opinion, a “completed” car would be sold off and a new project begun. Evans learned good, solid values from his father. He was told, “If you are going to do something, be the best you can be at it. If you don’t have anything to do, act like you are working.”
“Looking busy” turned out not to be a problem for Evans. He was always finishing projects as fast as they were put in front of him and searching for more.
His interest was further aroused as he became involved in auto body repair by working with his grandfather, who lived in North Hollywood at the time. His grandfather was a race car driver, mechanic and shop owner. He worked on a project where two cars were split in half, then welded together middle-to-middle so one couldn’t tell which way the car was going. “Every designer was really talented back in that day, and my grandfather was right back up there in it,” says Evans. He is currently rebuilding a ’58 pick up for his 94 year-old grandfather, calling it “Vern’s 58.”
Through his grandfather, William, Evans became acquainted with the work of his ultimate role-models, Sam and George Barris of Barris Kustoms Industries. William Evans met the Barris Brothers in Compton in the 1940s and they have maintained a friendship ever since. (Sam Barris passed away in 1967.)
The infamous “Hirohata Merc” was born in the Barris shop in Lynwood, California, in 1952. The two-door Mercury was cut up and reformed according to plans resting in Sam’s head, then displayed at the 1952 Motorama when completed. Thereafter the Barris brothers produced such Hollywood movie cars as the futuristic Batmobile, Knight Rider’s “Kitt” car, John Travolta’s Greased Lightnin’ from the movie Grease, and so many more. These custom-designed, futuristic-looking cars later inspired Evans to move into the design of one-off, extraordinary custom car design.
Life begins at 16
At age 16, Evans helped run a body shop for Dave Popkins, who worked for a Toyota dealership during the week and operated the shop on weekends.
At age 17, he worked at Harbor Body works on Placentia in Huntington Beach as a body man helper. From there, he jumped around to four or five different body shops as a helper, gathering all the best techniques from different body men, thereby developing his own expertise. At OVH Autobody, owned by Richard Wolfenstein, Evans graduated from being a helper to doing his own jobs. “Whatever they put in front of me, I did,” according to Evans. He continued to work with Wolfenstein at Freeway Autobody, where he worked on a commission basis, bringing jobs into the shop, then later doing the same at California Auto Collision. Moving on once again, to University Olds this time, he worked for Don Lynn as a metal man. When Evans, age 18, applied for this position, he was told he was only a kid and couldn’t possibly have the knowledge required. To prove himself, he offered to work for a week free to show he could do the job. Well, prove himself he did and climbed the ladder at University Olds. Actually, climbed it right up and out!
About this time, Evans became good friends with Mike Chandler, who also worked at University Olds. Chandler left there to work at Quality Craft, a shop specializing in repairing Porsches and other high-end cars. Rich eventually joined his friend there, thinking it would be a great place to learn about working on high-quality autos.
After working at a few other shops, including Anaheim Hills Auto Body, Evans ended up at Fountain Valley Body Works, where he worked for Dave March for close to a year. All of this and he was just 20 years old!
Couldn’t Evans hold a job? Well, the problem was that none of these shops could keep him busy enough. Evans explained, “I just got tired of having to constantly ask for more work. I started thinking about having a shop of my own one day where I could create a working environment that was fun and productive; where the people who worked with me couldn’t wait to get going in the morning.” Evans teamed up once again with Mike Chandler, now working at Toyota of Orange. Frustration set in big time, however, and Rich, a really good-looking guy, went to Hollywood to try acting and modeling. He found this work profoundly unfulfilling and returned to his roots – fixing cars.
Evans lucked out in 1991, at which time he went to work at Sierra Showcase. His boss, Mr. Misques, allowed him to do side jobs at the facility, because, once again, he couldn’t keep Evans busy. He just kept eating up the work. It got to the point where Evans was bringing in these side jobs every day of the week to keep himself busy, all along working at his home garage on the weekends.
On his own at last
In August, 1992, Evans took the big step of opening his own shop called Huntington Beach Bodyworks out of his garage. Business came knocking on his door. There were a lot of Porsche 356 restorations. He even did a restoration for David Letterman and his reputation as a meticulous and creative artist was growing. Evans worked on every aspect of collision repair and restoration. No aspect of the work was out of bounds for him.
The time came to move out of the garage and into a rented 1400 square-foot shop. As business grew, Evans expanded into another 1300 square-foot space right next door. By the time, he left this location on Slater Avenue, there were three separate units totaling 3900 square feet.
Growth gets out of hand
In 1994, Evans moved his business into a 5000-square-foot facility off Talbert Street. While the plan was to remain at this location for about four years, it was bursting at the seams by the time the business moved in. Working for Evans now were four body men, two painters, two detail men, two preppers, and, of course, Evans, who worked at any task where he was needed.
As with many upstart businesses, this one grew too fast and by 1995 was in financial trouble. With the help of his wife, Patricia, Evans set out to turn things around. He needed to conserve his resources, so he laid off his crew and worked for about six months with only one employee. In eight months he dug himself out of the hole he was in, restoring his pride and reputation.
Evans reassessed his goals and determined just what kind of business he wanted to have in the future. He did collision work primarily to support the growing artistic side of his nature. With a more professional outlook, Evans hired a new crew and moved the business forward.
A New Start
Fate stepped in once again when Evans met a couple of guys from New Zealand who worked for him for a short time. Through them he met an airbrush artist named Terry Stevens, also from New Zealand. Once they collaborated on a project, Evans says “The chemistry was unstoppable!”
Evans had already been designing graphics and flames for cars, but the airbrush part of it let him go further into what he wanted to do – heavy graphic art on vehicles. The airbrush technique made him a more well-rounded artist and began opening doors for him to offer people incomparable designs on their cars. “To catch the public eye, you need to have something that everybody wants,” Evans states.
Tattoos for cars
During the mid-90s, tattoos were very popular in Southern California. However, many tattoos were hidden on a person’s body. What if a person were able to express themselves with a highly visible tattoo – on a car? Evans designed a trademark tribal flame that became very popular, but after a year or so everyone was doing tribal flames. Once again, it was time to move forward creatively.
In order to develop the art and airbrush aspect of the business, Evans began traveling to shows – first with his own vehicles, then with those of his customers, and ultimately with a trailer displaying his unique designs. Evans could be seen at the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix, Harley shows, even the Pomona swap meet – “anywhere he could be seen or get people to see what he was doing, passing out cards, answering questions, bidding jobs.”
Predictably, more room was needed for this exploding business. A shop only 100 yards up the street went out of business and Evans bought his first facility – a 13,000 square foot building on a 30,000 square foot property. Evans finally had his castle. Around 2001, the project of merging both shops began. First the body shop was moved to the newly-purchased facility, then gradually the paint shop. Within six months, with no down time, the sole facility was up and running.
In the new venue, the New Zealanders came into play once again. Willie Newman amazed Evans with his talent. “Craftsmanship in New Zealand is at least 10 times better than craftsmanship in the U.S. Being on an island forces them to be more creative. They can’t just call up the local parts store and get a new component. They need to find unusual ways to repair the parts they have. This helped me grow and look into devising new things.”
Working with the New Zealand crew sharpened his edges. Whenever he works with the Kiwis, he learns a new approach. “If you aren’t learning something each day, it is a wasted day.”
“Quality is my main focus”
The focus with the new team and facility was to have a place where people will want to go to work. “It is a creative and breathless place that has every tool and material you would want to stimulate the creative process, have fun and look forward to coming to work. People at this shop think about the projects they are doing when they go to sleep at night and wake up with new ideas. We have the best guys and best talent with the best tooling in one facility.”
Everyone who works for Evans is part of the team. He doesn’t want to be seen as “the boss.” Evans will do any and every job he expects others to do. Teaching his staff what he knows is rewarding to him. Unlike some artists who prefer to keep knowledge to themselves, he enjoys educating his staff about how to do things in a bigger and better way. And he wants his story to influence other people to follow their dreams.
Key members of the Evans team are Gordon Welliver, shop foreman, Terry Stevens, airbrush artist, and Miranda Ostermeier, secretary, who is involved in finding new ways to better organize the rapidly growing business.
Chooses PPG paint
Huntington Beach Bodyworks uses PPG paints. Evans says, “PPG is the best of the car paints. Quality is #1. PPG stands behind their paints just as I stand behind my work. This makes us a great team and allows me the ability to offer a lifetime guarantee. We get our PPG products from Autocolor Specialists. Polly Chen, with 25 years at the store in Westminster, always provides helpful service and we couldn’t do our kind of quality work without her.”
The creative juices
Whereas collision work pays the bills, customizing and modifying vehicles is what Evans and his crew live for.
When a customer came to Evans with a Badland replica of a Hummer, he combined it with a 2002 Chevy pickup and, lo and behold, a Hummer limousine! He stretched the wheelbase to the maximum street-legal 333 inches, then built all his own frame rails, an all new body mount, all new panels, roof and structure – everything by hand. He dropped the floor six inches and raised the roof six inches, all the while keeping the car delicately balanced. A six-to-eight month project, Evans completed the entire job – from A to Z – at his shop, then shipped the finished limo off to his client, a company in Florida.
A wheelchair-bound John Smith came to Evans with an idea. Tired of being confined to using a van, albeit a PT Cruiser, Smith wanted a luxury sports car. Evans designed a gull wing with a left wing door that would come up at the push of a button, and a rear hatch that opened the same way. Evans designed hinges that were hidden to make the car look factory-built by submerging the actuator to fit into the pillar. It was necessary to reconstruct the weight to reinforce the door to be able to open as a gull wing. Even more futuristic is the arm that comes out and grabs the wheelchair to pull it in.
To further distinguish this custom sports car, Evans came painted a “woody” kit – flames on the side and an all air-brushed beach scene on the back.
“This car is easier to park (than a van), gets better gas mileage, can be parked in a standard garage, and fits more into the general driving population. There are no longer any limits on the style of vehicle a handicapped person can drive,” Evans proudly states.
Stretching the boundaries
Perpetually seeking new creative outlets, Evans conceived the idea of painting his newly-purchased facility to look like a castle. Late one Friday night he set up a flood light, and by 7 a.m. the entire 13,000 square-foot structure had been painted. Once the base color was completed, he began chalking the design out on the walls, creating a color-by-number scheme. Then came line painting, shading and highlights. Air brushing was added to make the whole concept come alive.
As work continued on the outside, the castle theme carried on into the shop. Evans office has a rather dungeon-type look with heavy metal furniture and dark walls.The office slate floors are finished to look like rock.
New projects are always under way at HB Body Works. . Soon to be unveiled – a red, white and blue semi with a patriotic theme. Another notable project was painting a modified 1953 Chevy panel wagon, custom-built by former race car driver Mickey Yeakle, who wanted to honor racing great Dale Earnhardt. “The Intimidator” is painted with red, white and blue flames and has been on tour for the past two years.
Evans attributes much of his success to the support of his family. His wife and business partner, Patricia, runs the office, handles all the loose ends, takes care of customer service, and “is the glue that holds the business together.”
They are raising two children – 10-year-old son Dylan and 3-year-old daughter Lytra. “Everything is for my family; they are my life. They represent and stand behind me. They give me the love and support to do what I love to do. If a man can do what he loves to do, nothing in life is better than that.”