Building For Bonneville at Eddie’s Chop Shop
Photo credit: Steven Bunker
Eddie Umland spends his time building wild Bonneville cars and road warriors at his Northern California-based one-man shop.
Umland has been building things for years — he’s created everything from furniture to fireplace mantels with his own two hands but he never imagined that one day he’d be building streamliners to race at the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats.
“Growing up, I was clueless,” says Umland. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was always into cars but never considered doing anything with them for a living. To be honest, right up until I opened my shop, I never thought I’d make building cars a career”
Always a hands-on guy, Umland says he enjoys the creative process of building something, no matter what he was building — be it a piece of furniture or a hot rod, which he first started building at home in his spare time. After years of working full-time running a company that built fireplace mantles for new homes, Umland found himself laid off during the economic crash of 2008. Without his steady job, he had a lot more time on his hands and considered making his part-time hobby of building cars his new full-time gig.
“I had a lot of friends in the car hobby who wanted me to build them stuff but I never could because I didn’t have the time,” Umland said, adding that he went to work at a small hot rod shop shortly after being laid off.
“Within two days of starting at the shop, I knew it wasn’t for me,” Umland said. “I stuck it out there for two years and I learned a lot about the car industry, and I learned how I wanted to run my own shop.”
In 2010, Umland opened Eddie’s Chop Shop, deciding that he would do the work he wanted, his way.
“I really wanted to be the guy that was known for getting the work done,” he said. “So many shops are really bad about making their deadlines. I wanted people to know that I’d get the work done for them. I still had friends that wanted me to work on their cars, so I called them up and instantly had work. I’ve been booked a year in advance ever since”
Umland soon became known for his wild creations, particularly his unique motor set-ups.
“The ugliest fast car can become pretty if it’s winning.” – Eddie Umland
“I’m known for doing things that aren’t trendy,” Umland said of his build style. “Usually, my cars are pretty out of the box. Because I do a lot of crazy engine set-ups, I get to work on a lot of cars that aren’t your normal cars that have been done a million times by other shops.”
There aren’t too many successful one-man shops in the hot rod industry, and there are even fewer guys that tackle the task of building Bonneville cars on their own. For Umland, however, working without employees actually makes things easier for him, and cheaper for his customers.
“I enjoy working by myself,” he said. “I don’t have to take on jobs just to keep my employees busy, so I only take the jobs I want to do. I’m not getting rich working by myself,
but it’s more enjoyable. Being a one-man shop means that I can do things for less money than bigger shops can because I have the ability to do a lot of stuff myself that bigger shops have to sub out. Most of the guys that are doing really wild stuff like I’m doing are charging outrageous prices because they have all these different guys on staff, but I don’t have that.”
Umland’s preference for the exotic also makes it hard for him to work with others, he says.
“I like doing weird stuff, and it’s harder for me to explain it to someone than to just do it myself,” he said. “It’s not a good business model, but I’ve always done what I’ve wanted.”
While Umland admits that he will eventually have to break down and hire a few employees if he wants to continue growing his business and building bigger and better things, right now he’s content to keep things simple. Instead of working on a project with employees, Umland says he enjoys bringing his customers into the building and engaging them in the creative process.
“Car guys are awesome!” he said. “They have such an appreciation for what you’re doing. They love it, so it makes it more enjoyable to work with someone like that.”
Staying solo means that Umland can’t take on too many projects at a time. He usually has two major projects in the shop at any given time and will filter in smaller jobs in between.
“I’ve only been open for six years but I’ve produced a lot in those six years!” he said.
BREAKING INTO BONNEVILLE
While there are several other shops in the area that are building hot rods, Umland is the go-to guy for anyone who wants a landspeed car.
“I’m definitely known for being the shop that does Bonneville stuff,” Umland said.
Umland became enamored with the landspeed scene about 10 years ago when he first went to Bonneville as a spectator.
“The first time I went I was overwhelmed!” remembers Umland. “Streamliner is the fastest class, so that’s instantly where I gravitated. I wanted to go the fastest!”
Resisting his urge to jump in his garage and attempt to build a Bonneville-worthy streamliner, Umland started smaller, first helping crew for a neighbor who was running cars at Bonneville.
“You don’t want to jump into a streamliner for your first build!” he said. “There’s a huge learning curve!”
Instead, Umland started by building a modified roadster.
“I built it from start to finish in six months and I got my first record with it that summer,” he said. “In 2013, we ran it in Bonneville and got a record!”
Breaking into Bonneville is no easy task, no matter how talented the builder, says Umland.
“It’s all the same players; old-timers who have been doing it forever,” he said. “Everyone wants to give you advice.”
Umland took the car to El Mirage dry lake in November of that year and ended up getting the fuel record, but he had even bigger goals.
“I wanted to go 300 mph at Bonneville with it,” he said. “That was my goal. That’s a really big deal because only a few guys have done that.”
Unfortunately, Umland wasn’t able to run the car in 2014 or 2015, due to Bonneville being canceled.
“I’m very confident it would have gone over 300 mph,” he said of the car. “I did set several more records with it at El Mirage, though. I ran it eight times and set records on six of those runs.”
STREAMLINING HIS GOALS
Umland hadn’t forgotten his original goal of building a streamliner, though. After one last run at El Mirage (spinning at 242 mph), Umland sold the roadster in order to be able to start building his streamliner.
“The whole time I was running that car, building the streamliner was still my long-term plan,” he said. “The goal is to go over 400 mph at Bonneville. There are only 13 guys who have gone over 400 in a wheel-driven car at Bonneville. It’s a very small crowd.”
Umland is currently building his streamliner—a B/BGS class car that will be built very differently from other cars of its kind.
“Most of the cars that have gone over 400 in a wheel-driven car at Bonneville have been high-dollar, sponsored operations,” Umland said. “There are only two or three guys who have done it on a low budget, so it’s an ambitious goal. Even the cars that have been built on a smaller budget have been built by several people. I don’t know of anyone else who has done it all on their own — designed it, built it and driven it.”
“It’s as much about the building and the tinkering as it is the driving.” – Eddie Umland
In addition to building his streamliner, Umland has built three other Bonneville cars and been involved with several more. While he still builds all sorts of other cars, he sees himself shifting more and more into the landspeed stuff.
“The Bonneville stuff is becoming more of a passion for me,” he said. “The more I do, the more obsessed I become with it. Most of these guys build their cars at home in their garages, but very few guys have the ability to do it all themselves. I have kind of based my business off of being that guy who can fill in the gaps for the DIY-ers. I do the stuff that they’re not comfortable doing themselves or the parts of the build that they don’t have the tools to do themselves.”
Umland says that there’s a big difference between the hot rod and drag racing scenes and the Bonneville crowd.
“Bonneville guys are a special breed,” he said. “Those are the racers who don’t have a speed limit in their heads. The hardcore Bonneville guys are like that. I’ve done a lot of types of racing in my life, but the landspeed scene is like no other kind of racing. We get to actually race so rarely, so we are the guys who enjoy the building process, and like seeing things coming together correctly. There’s a huge sense of accomplishment when you see that your ideas work!”
While Umland and his customers enjoy going for records, he says that they’re not big on going for awards.
“I could care less about the awards a car might win,” he said. “I’m honest with my customers. If they are looking to get a car that will win a trophy at a car show, that’s not really my thing. I like building nice cars that can be driven, so I don’t do trailer queens. The Bonneville records, that’s different. If you get a record there, you weren’t just competing with the people who were there that day. You’re competing with anyone who has ever run there. Your record can stand for 10 years or 10 minutes, and that’s really exciting to me.”
For now, Umland’s hoping to just keep doing what he’s been doing: building cool Bonneville cars and working smart and happy.
“I don’t enjoy doing the same cars over and over again,” he said. “Some guys build beautiful ’32s all day long. That’s a smart business move, but I have no interest in doing that. It’s not fun for me. I’ve always said that if I’m not having fun doing this, I’m not going to keep doing it.
While beauty is important, Umland says a car’s design, safety, and ability mean much more to him and his customers.
After all, as he puts it, “the ugliest fast car can become pretty if it’s setting records and winning races!”
Eddie’s Chop Shop
6243 Main St.
Eddie’s Chop Shop