Refining Icons – Enhancing Classic Rides at American Legends Hot Rods
When Tony Arme opened up American Legends Hot Rods in Phoenix, Arizona, it seemed like a logical step in his car-building career and has led the way to a number of eye-opening builds. Besides his own Ferrari-powered ’68 Mustang – a Goodguys 2019 Griot’s Garage Muscle Machine of the Year finalist – Tony and his team have built several other Goodguys Top 12 finalists, multiple SEMA Show vehicles, and a wide array of award-winning rides. They recently settled into a new, larger facility and have their sights on modifying and crafting many more incredible vehicles.
Like many builders, Tony became interested in cars while watching his dad and family work on their family cars. Besides the typical DIY maintenance, Tony’s father was always tinkering on the cars and showing Tony the way. Arme bought a ’68 Mustang while in high school and fixed it up to be a reliable driver with help from his dad. He has even managed to hold on to this Mustang throughout life’s changes and moves.
Tony figured that automotive repair was a good career path and enrolled into the automotive program at Mesa Community College in Arizona. After taking most of the courses offered in the program, he left and took his first job in 2004 with a local hot rod shop.
After a short stint at his first shop, Tony moved to another Phoenix-area shop where he honed his skills over eight years and eventually worked his way up to shop foreman. He then moved on to another shop in Scottsdale, Arizona, but a shift in management direction made him think a little harder about what his next move would be. As he built his resume, he reasoned that everything was a stepping stone toward better things. And as he closed the bay door at one shop, another door opened.
With the encouragement of his coworkers, Tony decided to test the entrepreneur waters and in March 2017 he opened the garage bays at a 5,600sq. ft. shop that he called American Legends Hot Rods. Within three weeks he had 18 cars in the confines and many past customers looking for him to craft some metal magic. Actually, four co-workers from the previous shop where he was employed came over to work with him at American Legends.
The shop does just about everything on hot rod and vintage car projects, from basic repairs and mechanical upgrades, to custom fabrication and complete builds. The shop’s services have been in strong demand since day one, and the team has been successful enough that earlier this year Tony moved the business to a new location with 8,900 sq. ft. to allow for expansion.
Build styles vary somewhat from project to project, but Tony said the shop’s broad goal is to bring American classics a little more up to date. “We like to build what it was originally, but more refined,” he said.
A good case in point is the custom ’57 Chevy “Bill Air” for a local dentist that took two years. How about a fuel injected 572c.i. big block making over 600 horsepower while sitting on a Roadster Shop chassis? The car gained attention at the 2017 SEMA Show, including being recognized at the Hot Rod Industry Alliance dinner. Tony noted that the car was very nice, “but built to drive,” which is a balance he strives for with all of the shop builds. He explained that he wants to make the driving experience better with these vintage cars – a strategy that has kept customers coming in.
The shop is working toward the possibility of doing paint work in-house soon and can do some light upholstery work as long as the build doesn’t require a sewing machine. Arme enjoys working with customers who come in with a concept, which makes it easier for him to gauge their intentions and desires. He says he likes to “create something most won’t want to do.”
Like his Mustang, dubbed Corruptt. Tony has owned the car for 14 years and it actually sat for ten years before he decided to go all in on the build. You might understandably notice that engine first. Tony thought outside the box and instead of keeping a Ford in a Ford, he squeezed in a Ferrari F430 V8 and added twin turbos. Look closely and there are tons of body modifications, as well, including some carbon fiber accents and a top chop. He took it out to the 2018 SEMA Show and in the Battle of the Builders he made the Top 100 and also won the Best Toyo Tires SEMA Car Build. This is in addition to being a finalist for the Goodguys Muscle Machine of the Year.
The American Legends team now includes five full-time members, one part-time employee, plus Tony’s wife, Casey, who runs the front office. The team enjoys working on different builds and stretching their skills to push the limits. When we visited the shop recently, we saw several Chevelles and Tri-five Chevys lined up, but also a ’72 Datsun 240Z and a dune buggy along with an ’83 Range Rover Defender 90. They’re definitely keeping the work eclectic. Tony says he enjoys doing what he is now doing and looks forward to “straying outside the lines” with future American Legends builds.