East Bay Muscle Cars – Building for Balance
East Bay Muscle Cars was founded on Steve Keefer’s insatiable desire for fast cars. A veteran mechanic for BMW, he learned the fine art of blending horsepower with precision handling and balance – a hallmark of the beasts from Bavarian Motor Works. When it came time to match his true passion (muscle cars) with his mechanical aptitude and eye for engineering, East Bay Muscle Cars was born.
Keefer opened his shop in December 2007 out in the farming community of Brentwood, California and 12 months later a 1970 Ford Mustang Mach I emerged which put him and his shop on the map. It first appeared at the Goodguys summer Get-Together in early June which prompted several Goodguys officials to encourage him to bring it to Columbus, Ohio for the Street Machine of the Year competition. Being brand new with all of his capital tied up in opening and developing the shop, he stayed home but would return in 2012 with one of our top 5 Camaro’s of all time – “Tenacity.”
A road-hugging, laser-straight ‘69 Camaro cloaked in gun metal gray on Forgeline wheels, Tenacity announced Keefer’s arrival on the national scene. The extended rockers, the front spoilers, the tight gaps and razor straight lines were just a few highlights. Under all that exquisitely modded metal was a full perimeter Art Morrison Max G chassis and under the hood was a masterfully finished engine bay housing a gnarly 416ci LS3 Mast Motorsports Black Label SS engine. It was chosen as a top 5 finalist for the Street Machine of the Year – a major coup for a fledgling shop nestled next to Brentwood’s corn fields.
More mega muscle machines followed as East Bay Muscle Cars got their intricate build system dialed in and grew from three employees to ten. Several signature builds have emerged in the last half decade including a white twin turbo ’67 Camaro named “Snowblind,” “Nailhead” – a ’65 Buick Riviera, Corvettes, GTO’s and even a 7-second Nova to compete in the 7.60-index A/GAS class.
Like any shop built on the solid foundation of integrity, quality and efficiency, the shop has already outgrown its 6,000 square foot space but acquisition of neighboring shop space has filled the need for now. The hunt for a new building is on.
What struck us most when we toured Steve’s shop was the engine setback on nearly every car under construction and there were plenty. We counted six current projects in various stages of completion, motors tucked neatly into firewalls. “We strive for 50/50 balance on every car we build” Keefer said.
We don’t see that much in today’s hot rod shops but it makes perfect sense for a superior handling machine. That philosophy was born during his time working on impeccably balanced and engineered German sports cars. Not only that – only the finest parts and products are used here at East Bay Muscle Cars during the builds.
Inside the office everything is clean and efficient. Outside in the shop space it’s a hi-performance playground where the service bays and lifts are filled with projects in various stages of completion. On the far side, there were two mustang projects underway, one for an All-Star major league baseball player. A broker who aligns pro athletes with reputable build shops called one day and a deal was made to start an “Eleanor” style fastback Mustang.
Keefer is not only talented in all aspects of muscle car construction, he’s adept at business. While some shop owners might have been “star struck” having a big time athlete as a customer, it was business as usual for Keefer in this instance. “We had the client here and we went over everything in detail so he knew exactly what to expect. He said. “It’s going to cost you this much, here are the mods and materials we will be using and this is why we do it this way,” Keefer said the player. No guesswork or misunderstandings allowed here at EBMC.
Throughout Keefer’s decade-long run, the inevitable oddities have also popped up. He built a desk out of a Tesla Model S for a tech company and a “Connected” Mini Cooper for Visa Corp. Most recently, a client from Europe came along and wanted Steve and his team to radically remake a 1978 Volvo 262C sport coupe. We spent the afternoon shooting the car for a feature that will run here soon and let us tell ya – it’s beyond bitchin’ with an LT1 swap and many other complicated yet subtle mods. You will dig it! In addition to all that, two EBMC cars are scheduled for Central Hall at SEMA this fall.
After our day-long visit to Keefer’s shop, we were left impressed not only by the workmanship going down here, but my how passionate his team is. All of the guys were hard chargers in their 30s and 40s, were friendly and knowledgeable. One kid who was working on a Coyote engine swap started here sweeping the floors. It’s a tight knit team. After hours, they crack open a few cold ones and kick tires. Many serve as crew members on the A/GAS car. Steve’s wife Laura also works here part time and his father Ron stops by daily as do other retired hot rodders from the neighborhood.
From the minute we saw Steve’s Mach I Mustang in 2010, we knew he had the “right stuff.” Ten years down the road, now everyone else knows it too.