5 Minutes with Dave Shuten
Like many kids growing up in Michigan, Dave Shuten became fascinated with cars at a young age. Thanks to the indoor car shows that took place near his hometown, not to mention growing up in the shadows of General Motors (a place he’d go on to work for 17 years), Shuten caught the car bug early and has dabbled in automotive pursuits ranging from making tools, to building automotive creations, to appearing on a car-themed reality show.
“I’ve literally been building cars since I was 14,” said Shuten, who today does double duty as the star of Discovery Channel’s “Car Kings” reality show and the creative force behind Galpin Speed Shop.
Galpin Speed Shop is known for pumping out unique creations and restoring well-known hot rods, including creations by George Barris and Ed Roth. We talked to Shuten about his decision to leave GM (and Michigan) behind for life in Sunny California, as well as his unexpected career as a reality TV star.
Goodguys Gazette: You were a tool maker at GM in Michigan for almost 17 years. What made you give up that job and move to Southern California and join Galpin?
Dave Shuten: That was the result of me making a series of crazy decisions in a very short period of time. I worked for GM and would go home and build cars at night. Right around when I was finishing a replica of Roth’s Mysterion, I met Beau from Galpin. We became friends, and when they found Roth’s Orbitron, Beau bought it and called me out to California to lead the restoration. I took a leave from GM for four months and restored it. Six months later, he called and wanted me to work on a Mustang for SEMA, and after that, he suggested I just move there. At the time, GM was a mess, and I was very unhappily married, so I just bailed. Within a month, I had moved across the country, quit a job at GM most guys would kill for, and filed for divorce!
GG: You’ve restored some pretty incredible historical cars since then. Do you have a favorite?
Shuten: The Orbitron has to be up there. When they found Orbitron, it was in Juarez, Mexico, being used as a dumpster in front of a sex shop! Another favorite is the Dan Woods Ice Truck. It was so far ahead of its time. My favorite car I ever built though was the Iron Orchid. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted with that one, and then we realized it would cost way too much money to ever do that again. I did a lot of cool tricks on that car that I had been saving up for years.
GG: The first season of your reality show, ‘Car Kings,’ just finished airing. Did you ever picture yourself as a reality TV star?
Shuten: Hell no! It still feels weird to me. I hate seeing myself on TV and I hate how I sound. I would have never thought I’d end up on TV. But it’s been cool to learn the process and see how things work behind the scenes. One thing we’re really proud of is that we’ve focused on important historic cars and showed people how to do them right and not half-ass. We got to do the show we’ve always wanted to do, so even if it doesn’t take off, we’re proud of it.
GG: Now that you’re on TV, do you find yourself getting recognized more by fans?
Shuten: If I go to a car show, everyone knows who I am. But when I’m just out, I’ve only been recognized a few times. Our season premiered during the [COVID-19] shutdown, so everyone was stuck inside. I’m not a giant people person so I’m OK with that! But the response to the show has been great. We’ve been getting a lot of nice messages on social media, and people have told us that our show got them through the lockdown, so that’s been nice.
GG: If you had to describe Galpin in three words, what would they be?
Shuten: Hot Rod History. Almost everything I’ve worked on for the last 15 years generally has some sort of historical significance.
GG: When you’re not filming the show or building a car, what do you do in your spare time?
Shuten: I like to create all kinds of art. I’m usually creating something, even if it’s not a car. I like hanging out with friends, going to concerts and I spend a lot of time in Downtown LA and Venice Beach.
GG: What’s next for you? Another season of ‘Car Kings?’ Any more big builds in the works?
Shuten: I wish they’d tell us if we’re getting another season! The response we’ve gotten from fans has been overwhelmingly positive, so we’re hopeful. As for projects, I just found and purchased Tom Booth’s car that he built in 1965. It’s a famous historical car that’s almost completely original. I’ve also got three Thunderbirds in the shop, and another crazy project for Jeff Dunham. I’ve got a big Caddy convertible coming up next that will get a bunch of custom mods.
GG: What excites you the most when you walk into your shop every day?
Shuten: Every day is different. Once I start something, I literally can’t stop until it’s finished. I become semi-obsessed. I have a fear of not finishing things. It drives me crazy when I see people tear something up and then it sits there forever. In 10 years, I’ve built over 70 cars, so the goal of finishing drives me. I just like making rad stuff and that’s all I ever want to do.