Divers Street Rods: Daring to be Different
Nestled in the small town of Sultan, Washington, northeast of Seattle, a nondescript building houses Divers Street Rods. While the exterior provides little clue to the creativity residing under the roof, the hot rod world knows the Divers team produces consistently high-quality builds.
For more than 30 years, Tim Divers, his brother Scott, and their team have produced an array of diverse vehicles for their customers. From old Jeepsters to Ferrari-powered Rambler wagons, the team welcomes seemingly off-the-wall challenges.
“If you want us to try something new, we’re up for it,” Tim said. “Part of what you’re paying for is our experience building these cars; just realize it’s going to take time.”
While even supposedly routine builds can face snags when mating new technology to old metal, never-done-that-before builds reveal a world of potential stumbling blocks. Consider some of the completed projects Divers has tackled:
• A 1960 Rambler American station wagon utilizing a Ferrari driveline – The Ferrambo – which won the 2008 Ridler Award.
• A vintage VW van, powered by a Suburu WRX driveline, included possibly the best custom interior you’ll ever see in a VW van (shown below)
• A 1950 Jeepster, built on a full tube chassis and powered by a big-block Chevy.
• And, to show that full restorations are on the menu, a 1963 Super Duty “Swiss Cheese” Pontiac Catalina drag car.
What’s in the shop now continues this trend of unconventional builds, including:
• A ’47 Dodge dually flatbed truck that’s been transformed into a pickup, powered by a Viper engine.
• A custom ’64 Corvette with a late-model Corvette LS driveline.
• A ’67 Nova, featuring a reproduction steel body on an aftermarket chassis, tubbed and LS-powered.
Factor in some more traditional projects – hot rods, custom rods, trucks, Tri-five Chevys and muscle cars – and you see that Divers can do pretty much whatever a customer wants. This diversity of builds provides the shop with something any successful business wants: repeat customers. And these repeat customers feed the shop’s desire to tackle one-off builds. “Repeat customers don’t come in to have the same car,” Tim said.
While Tim and Scott launched the shop in 1986, their roots in the business go back further. Tim’s older brother worked in a local hot rod shop when Tim started working there in the evenings. Coming from a family that worked in service station repair, Tim had the basic mechanical skills, but the exposure to the different tasks in a hot rod shop introduced Tim to the professional aspect of hot rod and custom car work. “I couldn’t believe you could get paid to do this kind of work,” Tim said.
Eventually Tim and his brother decided they had the skills to go out on their own and Divers Street Rods was born. Early work in the shop often included upholstery since his brother had picked up those skills. Other abilities evolved to the point where complete-build customers brought projects to the shop.
The brothers faced one challenge shared by anyone starting a hot rod shop: “You’re now in charge of collecting the money,” Tim said. “You’re now in charge of estimating things that we knew how to do, but we hadn’t priced that work.”
Over the years the focus on one-off builds required explaining to customers that each project presents variables when estimating costs. If the shop has done several similar projects (LS engine swaps in Camaros, for example), estimating that job isn’t difficult. However, converting a ’47 Dodge flatbed into a Viper-powered pickup is another story. The key is regular communication with the customer, Tim said.
The constant new-product development in the hobby is part of the price-estimating predicament. With the expansion of LS and other crate motors, new fuel injection and supercharger products, electronically controlled transmissions and more, making everything connect and work properly presents new concerns.
“The hobby functions as a de facto test lab for the aftermarket,” Tim said. “Working with the aftermarket as well as OE manufacturers (think crate motors) to create a finished vehicle that starts and runs requires cooperation from everyone, especially getting electronics from various suppliers to work together.”
NEWER EMPLOYEES, CUSTOMERS
Over the years, finding and developing new employees when needed, as well as attracting new customers, has been an ongoing effort. Tim said he prefers a new hire with a passion for the work and basic skills that can be honed and developed. “I’m not looking for the kind of guy who doesn’t come from a car background, they just want to make money,” he said.
Younger customers present new opportunities since many of them are moving away from more traditional prewar street rods rods to newer cars from the ’60s and even ’70s. “It’s a learning experience for both of us,” Tim said, “especially explaining that full builds don’t happen overnight.”
BUSINESS WITHIN A BUSINESS
One thing you’ll find inside Drivers is another business – NotcHead Parts, Tools and Accessories. What began with designing and making fasteners for customer cars evolved into a company that supplies other shops and customers. While manufacturing and selling parts is not always common for hot rod shops, it works well for Divers.
Adding a proprietary line of fasteners and other products to its menu of offerings fit well with one of Tim’s operational goals. “The more we can do ourselves,” he said, “the more control we have with the outcome.”
With a history of remarkable one-off builds, the ability to do all aspects of those builds in-house, and a commitment to working with long-term as well as new customers, Divers Street Rods has one guiding principle that keeps the shop moving forward: “Our ultimate goal is to get the car running for the satisfaction of the customer,” Tim said.
The Details: Divers Street Rods
509 W. Stevens Ave.
Sultan, WA 98294
Number of employees: 8
Square footage: 14,000 square feet in two locations
Tim’s first job: mowed lawns to buy his first car
Tim’s last major vacation: Hawaii, but it’s a rare event, he says
Tim’s first car: 1960 Chevy pickup
Tim’s favorite type of music: Heavy metal
Photos by John Jackson