Charly’s Garage – A Family Affair
Charly’s Garage in Mesa, Arizona can accommodate whatever need a hot rod or custom car owner, or a future owner might desire. This tight knit family-owned business truly is a one stop shop, making it unique to other shops in the area. They do enough volume to keep their team busy five to six days a week, but also have time to build their cool cars methodically with an eye on perfection, turning out custom vehicles that drive right down the road comfortably and reliably while also winning big awards.
If you’re anywhere near the valley of the sun, you’ve surely heard of this rod shop with the catchy name. Charles Spencer officially opened for business in 2000 and wanted a name “that stood out from the rest” he said. So, he used a play on words as a variant to his given name for the shop. It’s obviously working out!
California transplants, Chuck and Anita Spencer moved their family to Phoenix when Charles was just three years old. Even back then he had an affinity for cool cars helping his father Chuck in the garage on Chuck’s hot rods. Hot rodding is truly generational like that.
When it came time for Charles to drive to high school, a cheap import like all the other kids drove wouldn’t cut it. He and his dad built a 1955 Dodge C Series pickup in the garage. It was Charles’ first cool car and served as a catalyst to a life of custom car building. “People would ask me about the truck so I kind of used it as a starting point for building up some clients,” Spencer said. Even at 16 he was hustling business.
After high school, he had enough work to keep him busy full time. You know this next part of the story. The fledgling business “outgrew” the Spencer family garage necessitating a move to a shop which they rented from one of their car clients. Charles was joined in the venture by both parents and eventually his brother Mike. They were off and running.
With more growth comes a need for yet more square footage and more help. In 2006, they packed up their mills, lathes and sheet metal equipment and moved into their permanent location at 948 W 1st Avenue in Mesa, AZ. It’s a great spot with enough room for all their equipment, lifts, mills, lathes, mandrel bend machines, fab shop, paint booth and upholstery work space. You see – they truly do it all here. Every task in the process of building a custom car or truck is carefully and artfully done in house. You really don’t find that in many rod shops these days, especially the upholstery side of things. While building elite hot rods and trucks isn’t cheap, the final bill is a little less painful here with the shop not having to rely on third parties. Except for chrome and polish that is. With employees like Al Wilkie, Dave Palmer, Nathan Howe, Shane Moyle, and Nicole Lindahl, the Spencer family has a tight knit team focused on building the best.
One of the vehicles from Charly’s that first caught our eye was a radical ’40 Ford coupe styled in traditional custom trim. It was one of five cars Charly’s has built for Maryland’s Don Kirk over the years. How does an Arizona shop recruit customers from Maryland? “We have a fair amount of snowbird clients,” Spencer said. “It’s one of the advantages of being based here in the desert. We have roadster weather all year and the population of car guys doubles after Thanksgiving.”
A year after Kirk’s ’40 Ford custom won a Goodguys Del Mar Builder’s Choice award, Charles returned the next year with a flawless root beer brown ’56 F-100 for client Dave Jones. It was immediately chosen as a finalist for the Goodguys 2014 Truck of the Year. It was a killer pickup with one of hot rodding’s first Ford Coyote V8 swaps. The dress up of the engine along with the Paxton supercharger raised plenty of eyebrows. Years later, Coyote swaps are common but Charly’s was on this trend before it became a trend. They currently have a ’67 Ford F-100 with a Whipple-charged 1,000 hp Ford Cobra Jet V8 under construction.
Some say hot rodding, especially the pre-war scene is fading. Builders like Charles Spencer would disagree. It might seem that way to some graybeards but to guys like Charles Spencer, there is nothing like the cars from the 30s. “I drive a Model A roadster,” Spencer said. “I just really like the style of the cars from that era. They’re my favorites to build and to drive.”
The Spencer’s really do have the ideal setup. An old school, hands-on shop dedicated to quality craftsmanship. And they get to walk this journey together. A family that builds hot rods together stays together!