Murray Kustom Rods – Keeping it Creative
Heath Murray, owner of Murray Kustom Rods in Ft Worth, Texas likes to keep things interesting.
Murray Kustom Rods doesn’t shy away from any kind of custom build—whether it be doing a complete overhaul of a 1960s Lincoln or building a cool Bonneville salt flat racer from the ground-up. Now in his eleventh year in business, Murray has assembled a like-minded team that shares his love of taking on the big projects, no matter how difficult or “out there” they may seem.
“I really like doing a little bit of everything,” Murray said. “It keeps you creative, and it keeps it entertaining. It keeps the stuff moving around in your head so you’re not doing the same thing and getting comfortable. Some shops focus on one certain type of car and, while they may build that car well, for me that would get monotonous. I need a challenge. I love customers who challenge us.”
Murray Kustom Rods likes to mix things up, and that includes bringing West Coast elements to their Texas builds.
“Here in Texas, we have our own style for sure,” he said. “Texas has a lot more of the hot-rod-style cars. We are into that, but you will also see some elements of California styling in our builds. Texas is more into hot rods, and California is more about custom cars in my opinion.
“I have studied all kind of builders, from all over, and I appreciate so many styles,” he added. “I pay attention to what other builders in other parts of the country are doing, and I think [that helps] keep us in the game.”
Bringing a blend of styles is easy for Murray, due to his ability to fabricate his own custom parts.
“Ordering from a company is something everyone else can do, but there’s nothing unique about ordering from a catalog,” he said. “We hand-make everything, so there’s no limit on what we can build!”
Getting Down to Business
Murray was always been into cars, but he never imagined that he’d eventually be running a hot rod shop.
“I didn’t start out thinking I would have an automotive career,” he said. “I thought I might be a doctor or something!”
After Murray landed a job in the automotive field as a youngster, though, his dreams of practicing medicine went out the window.
“I learned several different specialties and really got to learn a lot of trades,” he remembers. “That period really helped me develop into who I am now. It really fueled my passion for cars even further. It kind of set me on the path to get to where I am today—actually getting to play with cars all day, and being able to drive them!”
Murray eventually found himself working in a racecar shop, and began to do work on his own vehicles on the side. Once word spread that Murray had the skill (and the tools!) to tackle some side jobs, Murray found himself overwhelmed with extra work.
“It kind of snowballed,” he said. “It got to the point where I rented a shop and worked my day job, and then worked late into the night at my shop.”
The long hours began to take a toll on Murray, who soon realized he had to make a decision: go out on his own or shuck the side work and stay at his regular job.
“It got too hard to do both,” he said. “I felt like I could make the same amount of money working for myself, so it was a no-brainer.”
Despite the influx of work coming his way, Murray was still scared to quit his steady job.
“I was nervous; the anxiety was huge,” he said. “At first, you don’t always have work. But I stuck with it and didn’t get discouraged. I found that if you maintain your integrity, and not just chase a quick buck, you start getting people who want to do business with you. I feel like that’s where a lot of guys go wrong in this industry—they don’t hold true to what they say, and they lose people’s trust.”
Once Murray officially opened Murray Kustom Rods in 2006, he was able to bring all of the styles he enjoyed and blend them into something unique for his own shop.
“When I started in 2006, everything still had that late-1990s, mid-2000s styling,” Murray said. “Everything was slick and smoothed-out, lots of polished aluminum, which wasn’t exactly where I wanted to go.”
Murray, who favors the traditional styling, tried to keep his builds as timeless as possible, in hopes his cars would have a longer lifespan than some of the trendy offerings being put out at the time.
Keeping it Kustom
These days, Murray and his six-person team will tackle just about any pre-1970 domestic car. Although many shops have found success expanding into the 1970s vehicle market, Murray isn’t ready to budge on that just yet.
“I really enjoy building early 1950s-style customs,” he said. “But it’s more about the quality than the kind of car. We strive to do quality work at a very high level. Some shops have one thing that they do on all their cars that lets people know that it’s their car, but we don’t do that. Our build style changes all the time, depending on the car, and depending on the customer. We’re very adaptable to our customer’s wants and needs.”
Currently, Murray Kustom Rods does all work in-house, except for paint and upholstery, which are outsourced. All chassis work, metal shaping, and other work is completed right inside the 15,000-square-foot shop. Murray also makes a lot of the parts used on his shop’s builds, which he said not only helps up the quality of the build but also gets his creative juices flowing.
“We make a lot of our own parts,” he said. “I design them on the computer and then cut them all out. Once I get them cut out, I can pass it along to my guys to weld it up and do the work. Everything is pretty much one-off. We can make frames in-house, depending on the application and we engineer a ton of custom parts.”
The shop is equipped with a large high-definition plasma table and CNC mill, among other tools. At this time, Murray only custom-fabricates parts for his own builds but hopes that someday he can expand and start doing production work.
“I want unique stuff to sell. I don’t want to sell the same stuff everyone else is selling,” he said. “I don’t want to be another one of those people who just flood the market with the same parts. I want to find my own little niche. Once I do that, I’ll start selling some stuff.”
For now, though, Murray is concentrating on creating customs. Currently, he has 12 full builds in progress at the shop, in addition to a few partial builds.
“We have a huge range of styles in the shop at the moment,” Murray said, listing several early Fords, two ’51 Mercs and two ’66 Lincoln Continentals as just a few of the current projects.
Since he opened his shop, Murray says that the projects have come in Noah’s ark-style: two at a time.
“What’s weird is that from day one, the cars tend to come in pairs—we get two of the same cars in at the same time, for no apparent reason,” Murray said.
Murray predicts that one of those ’66 Lincoln Continentals will be his shop’s Next Big Thing.
“That’s the one to watch for!” he said of the car, which will be completed by next year. “That car is really cool because it’s giving me an opportunity to go wild and build a ton of cool stuff for it.
It’s not something that I’d personally build, but the customer is giving me the opportunity to build it how I would want the car.”
Murray said that the Lincoln will feature all handmade parts and plenty of aluminum.
“The amount of fabrication in it is insane, and everything is super-detailed,” he added.
When Murray’s not building customs in his Texas shop, he may be found racing the salt flats of Bonneville in a ’34 Ford affectionately known as the “Salty Cracker.” The car was built for customer Don Smith, but Smith allows Murray to drive it at Bonneville.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” Murray said of driving the car. “Bonneville is something else. You won’t see anything like it, anywhere. It’s really cool to be out there where it all began. Being in that environment, you get to see all different types of cars and engineering and fabrication. I’ve learned so much from being out there.”
Murray and his team do the mechanics on the car during the races, and it’s been a dream come true for Murray, who counts Smith as one of his favorite customers.
Most of the Bonneville stuff completed at Murray Kustom Rods has just been for Smith, but the shop’s team is beginning to branch out a bit more into that area.
“This year we will be helping out with another team as well,” Murray said
Still, Murray’s day-to-day operations focus on his original goal: creating cool customs.
“I wake up every day excited to go to work because I get to do what I love,” Murray said. “I am living my dream!”