Shop Tour: Big Oak Garage, Growing Into its Own
Photos by Big Oak Garage
Rising out of the hot bed of rod shops in Northern Alabama, Big Oak Garage is quickly making a name for itself, thanks to several recent builds that have swept the car show scene. The shop, located in the tiny town of Hokes Bluff, is becoming well known for delivering cars with exceptional fit and finish, and attention to detail.
While it can be hard to stand out when your shop is located within minutes of some of hot rodding’s most prestigious shops, owner Will Posey says that having iconic builders so close by has actually worked to his advantage at times.
“Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop is just minutes away, Goolsby Customs is about an hour away from us, the list goes on and on,” said Will, who owns the shop with his father, Jimmy. “We all get along, though. It’s a friendly rivalry with us and the other shops. We actually call on each other sometimes if we need a part right away and they have it on the shelf. It’s kind of nice to be that close to so many hot rod shops.”
In fact, it was Alan Johnson who gave a young Will his first job at the age of 18. “Alan is my mentor,” he said. “That’s who really showed me the ropes and taught me the level of quality that these builds require. He gave me a shot, and I won’t ever forget that. Now our shops are about 10 minutes apart and I like having him down the road.”
Though they both build hot rods, Will said that he and Johnson aren’t really competitors.
“We build different things,” he said. “He has his niche and we’re developing ours.”
PLANTING THE SEED
Jimmy Posey wasn’t thrilled when Will came to him and announced that he wanted to build hot rods for a living. While he wasn’t surprised, given that Will has helped him build cars at home since he was a youngster, Jimmy had hoped that his son would go to college.
“He always told me that I couldn’t make a living building cars because he didn’t want me to go into the business,” Will said. “My parents wanted me to get a college degree.”
One day, Will made a discovery that would help him achieve his dream of building cool cars while satisfying his parents’ desire for him to go to school.
“My dad and I were watching ‘My Classic Car‘ and Dennis Gage was talking about McPherson College. I found out that you can actually get a degree in automobile restoration there,” Will said. “I knew I wanted to work on cars so I told my parents that’s where I wanted to go. I enrolled at McPherson and got my degree.”
Since the Poseys lived in the middle of a thriving hot rod scene, Will moved home after graduation and worked at a few more local hot rod shops to gain experience. Eventually, he decided to open his own shop, operating out of a 30 x 40 garage on his dad’s property.
“That was the start of Big Oak Garage,” said Will.
Big Oak Garage quickly began to establish its identity, focusing on fit and finish.
“First impression means a lot to us. We want people to trust us, to take care of their cars.”
– Owner, Will Posey
“We are really sticklers for fit and finish,” said Will. “We have a high standard that we have to meet, and a car’s fit and finish is the most important thing to us, along with cleanliness. We’re pretty anal retentive when it comes to that stuff. The first impression means a lot to us, and we want people to trust us to take care of their cars.”
One of the shop’s earliest builds was a ’48 Ford coupe done for local car club member Roger Raminger. It marked one of the first full builds done at Big Oak Garage and remains a favorite among the shop’s staff.
“It was one of the nicest cars that we have ever built,” Will said. “We didn’t have a lot of equipment back then, so we had to build everything by hand. There was a lot of love put into that car. It was also the first car that we were able to show at the national level, so it means a lot to us.”
Other cars would follow, each one helping to establish Big Oak Garage’s style.
“I think people can walk by a car that we have built and sense that it’s one of ours,” said Will. “Our cars tend to have a certain stance and are pretty low. We take great pride in the overall appearance of our cars. If something sticks out on a car, it’s wrong. You should be able to run your eye across the car, from bumper to bumper and not one thing should grab your attention. That’s something we’re all adamant about.”
The shop specializes in cars from 1972 and earlier, but the guys are willing to stray from that a bit, should they find the project exciting.
“If we’re going to do something newer than a 1972, it would have to be something that we can customize a great deal, or some type of special build, like a SEMA car,” Will said. “If somebody wanted to get really crazy, we would do it. If you’re willing to let us get creative and make something really cool, we’ll build anything!”
Big Oak’s diversity was evident when the crew took on the challenge of building a ’65 Dodge Dart for customer Willie Maise. The car, which would go on to become the shop’s most successful show car to date, required a lot of work.
“The ’65 Dodge Dart is not really a good-looking car, honestly,” Will said. “We had to cut a whole lot of ugly out of it! We made it an in-your-face color, and the body lines have changed so it’s much more elegant.”
The bright green Dart took the show circuit by storm earlier this year, racking up awards at nearly every show it appeared at. Named a Pirelli Great 8 Ridler finalist in Detroit, the Dart was also a Top 5 finalist for Goodguys 2015 Optima Batteries Street Machine of the Year award. It also made the Top 5 at the Barrett-Jackson Cup.
“That car opened a lot of doors for our shop,” Will said. “The car we had out there last year did too, but that Dart got us noticed by a lot of vendors and people in the industry.”
The shop plans to introduce a new build each year. Its next show car will be a ’32 Ford Tudor sedan that Will says is the exact opposite of the Dart.
“The Dart was a later model, fuel injected supercharged Hemi kind of car,” he said. “It had all the modern conveniences of a new car, but our next car is going to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Dart. It will be very simple. It will have body modifications but nothing major – it won’t even have air conditioning.”
Many shops find it hard to follow up a blue-ribbon-winning build, but Will said he and his crew aren’t worried.
“We don’t feel any pressure to top the Dart with our next car,” he said. “We do the best work we can and keep focusing on the fit and finish.”
Luckily, Will’s seven-man crew has the same kind of vision that he does.
“These cars all require great detail, and you have to make sure that every car is heading down the right path,” he said. “I have guys that see things the same way that I do. My guys know what the car should look like, and know how to keep the build going down the right path.”
“We’ve been very fortunate to have good employees and good customers that give us creative freedom to let us put our own creative spin.”
– Office Manager, Jason Latham
Office manager Jason Latham echoed Will’s sentiments.
“If it weren’t for the guys busting their tails and having that talent, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have good employees and good customers that give us creative freedom to let us put our own creative spin. We’re able to do what we do because of the guys in front of us.”
“It’s not just a one-man deal over here,” added Will. “We are a great team and we all just want to keep heading down the road we’re on now. Over the last three or four years, we’ve established our identity in the industry and we want to keep things going in that direction.”