One of a Kind – Building Distinctive Rides at One Off Rod and Custom
“I like to do badass with class.”
That’s the way Gary Corkell describes the style of cars that come out of One Off Rod and Custom, his shop in Middletown, Delaware. Anyone who has seen the shop’s signature powder blue Deuce roadster at a Goodguys event knows what he’s talking about. It’s clean, nostalgic, and nice enough to have been a Top Five contender for the Goodguys Tanks Inc. Hot Rod of the Year title in 2017. It’s also commonly seen smoking its whitewall tires during a Burnout Competition – or elsewhere.
In contrast to the tough attitude of many builds that come from the shop, Gary is a soft-spoken guy who worked his way up to running this award-winning business. He grew up in Maryland – a self-described farm kid and speed freak who enjoyed taking things apart and rebuilding them. “I always liked anything mechanical,” he says.
Gary first put his skills and talents to use at a shop he owned in Florida. “I started out doing custom motorcycles and choppers when that trend was big,” Gary says. Beyond two-wheeled customs, he also applied his fabrication and paint skills on airplanes and other forms of transportation.
Gary had relocated to Dover, Delaware and was re-evaluating his professional options when a friend mentioned that Larry Stewart at One Off Rod and Custom was looking for help – and possibly considering retirement. “I came in and painted and worked for him for a little bit to see what it was all about,” Gary says. Eventually, Gary ended up managing the shop, and ultimately purchasing the business from Larry.
Now in its sixth year under Gary’s ownership, One Off Rod and Custom employs 12 people, all of whom have come on board since Gary took over. “This is my group of guys,” Gary says.
Like most shop owners we interview, Gary says finding and retaining good talent is not easy – or inexpensive. “To get the true craftsmen, I have to pay them very well,” he says. Sometimes that means recognizing raw talent and nurturing it through the mentorship of others on the team. The shop is not always able to find experienced craftsmen, “so we’re trying to build them,” Gary says. “With the right attitude, we can accomplish anything.”
In addition to demonstrating strong hands-on talent, Gary says many of his employees share a similar vision in terms of the style and quality of the cars they build. “I’m fortunate to have the guys I have, the team I have,” he says.
A good example of the shop team’s dedication was demonstrated when they built a Brookville ’32 Phanton (a phantom two-door Phaeton) in just 118 days to compete for the coveted America’s Most Beautiful Roadster trophy at the 2019 Grand National Roadster Show.
“In September we went to Brookville and took [the body] right off the fixture,” Gary says of the build, which had to be completed by the following January. With no customer to foot the bill, Gary financed the build himself and asked his guys if they’d commit the time – more than 12,000 man hours – to make it a contender. “They’d kind of have to give their lives to me,” Gary says of his proposal to them. The team was all-in, so that became the car’s name, “All In.” It had a strong showing at the Grand National show and earned a lot of attention and many awards through the 2019 season.
The “All In” build came on the heels of completing another significant project – Ed Sears’ ’41 Ford pickup, which won the Goodguys 2017 Scott’s Hot Rods Truck of the Year Early title, as well as being a Great 8 at the 2017 Detroit Autorama. Gary says the pickup, along with the blue ’32 roadster built before it, helped demonstrate the shop’s capabilities. Those vehicles were the culmination of a challenge Gary had given himself as a builder and shop owner. “I set my sights on being the best I could be,” Gary says. “I went for a Ridler Award and got a Great 8, and that kind of put us on the map.”
The Phanton ’32, ’41 pickup, and blue roadster all represent Gary’s personal favorite style – early hot rods. But the shop’s output reflects a broad spectrum of the rodding universe, from street rods to muscle cars, all-out customs to simple resto-mods. “We do all kinds of cars,” Gary says. And while the high-end full builds get a lot of the attention, the shop also takes on smaller jobs like mechanical upgrades or aftermarket air conditioning installs. “We’ll do everything from change your lightbulb to a full build,” Gary says. “We do a lot of paint jobs.”
That versatility has resulted in strong demand for the One Off’s services. When we spoke with Gary in April, there were 23 cars in the shop, and almost twice as many pending projects on a waiting list. Every car gets a barcode so employees can scan in and out on projects and keep track of time spent. This simplifies the time-and-materials-based invoicing. Customers are billed weekly. “They pay only for what they use,” Gary says. “It’s all documented, and they can see it.”
Full builds are a little more involved. After meeting with a potential client to assess the scope of the project, Gary will do some initial sketches to make sure he and the customer have a common vision. From there, he usually employs artist Eric Brockmeyer for a more detailed rendering and will develop a build plan and parts list from there. A customer deposit will then be put into an escrow account, which the shop draws from as parts are purchased and labor is completed. When funds drop to a predetermined level, the shop reaches out to the customer to replenish the account.
Keeping the business side of things running smoothly has been an important part of the shop’s success, but Gary is quick to point out that it has taken the help of others. “I’m a dreamer and a visionary and a creative; I’m not a businessman,” Gary says. “I hired a CFO who knows how to run the business and the books. I don’t even have a computer at my desk; I’m out in the shop.”
Gary’s girlfriend, Kristina Plumley, has also been instrumental in building the business. She runs the shop office, taking care of calls, billing, and other day-to-day tasks, while also helping out in the shop as needed. This allows Gary to stay out in the shop and do what he does best – see the vision through.
OPEN ROAD AHEAD
With a full slate of builds and no slowing down in sight, Gary has ambitious plans for the future. He’s in the process of designing a 30,000sq. ft. facility about a mile away from the shop’s current 6,000sq. ft. space. The goal is to be in the new shop by August of 2021 and add a few more people to the build team. Gary says he’d ultimately like to incorporate upholstery work into the shop’s list of services, which would provide more control over the complete build process.
“I’d like to be the guy you can come to and get everything,” Gary says. “It’s going to be neat. It’s what I’ve been working toward my whole life.”
As he anticipates that expansion, Gary is extremely grateful in reflecting on the success the shop has already experienced. “I was lucky enough to find some killer people who were able to help me do this,” he says. “We’ve been lucky that [hot rodders] liked our builds, and that we’ve had an opportunity to do this stuff. It’s humbling.”
In considering the shop’s accomplishments to date, Gary credits the goals he has for all One Off Rod and Custom projects – objectives that are easy to see in that powder blue shop roadster. “That car is a testament to what we build,” Gary says. “My main goal is to make them drivable, no matter how pretty they are.”
The philosophy is pretty simple, he says: “Win the show, and then go win the drag race, and then go clean the rubber off.”
One Off Rod and Custom
118 Sleepy Hollow Driv Suite 6
Middletown, DE, 19709