Shop Tour: Precision Hot Rods & Fabrication
The Precision Hot Rods & Fabrication team stands inside the body shop: (from left to right) Frank Brunkala, co-owner Danny Tesar, Ryan Piotrowski, Mark Mindzora, Jack Taunt, co-owner Larry Brunkala, Chris Campbell, and “Lil Chico” Caraballo. Not pictured is employee Jim Phoenix.
Photos: Goodguys Staff & Mike Harrington
Keeping the “Ohio Look” Alive at Precision Hot Rods & Fabrication
Danny Tesar and Larry Brunkala build cars using the “Ohio Look” made famous by Barry Lobeck, but their Macedonia, Ohio-based shop is paving a path all its own.
The year was 2011, and the Ohio hot rodding community was reeling from the death of legendary builder Barry Lobeck. The death of Lobeck, well-known for his distinct “Ohio Look” style of traditional hot rods, left a void in the community and the hot rod industry. Lobeck’s longtime chassis specialist, Danny Tesar, and his friend, Larry Brunkala, recognized it and made a life-changing choice.
Tesar and Brunkala decided that they would be the ones to keep the “Ohio Look” alive.
“I was working in residential construction and Danny had worked for Barry for years,” Brunkala said. “We had worked together on my car, which won Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year in 2007 and had gotten close during that build. A few years later, Barry passed away. Around that time, the housing market was in a slump. We were in a position that I wanted to make a change and Danny needed to make a change.”
For Tesar, there was no other option than to continue to work on cars.
“This is what I’ve done my whole life,” he said. “I started with Barry right out of high school and I was with him for about 23 years.”
Both Tesar and Brunkala wanted to continue to work on traditional hot rods and create cars in the style made famous by Lobeck. They decided to open their own shop, Precision Hot Rods & Fabrication.
“I think Barry (Lobeck) would be proud to see what we are doing over here.”
– Danny Tesar
“We really liked the look of Barry’s cars,” Tesar said. “We did Larry’s car in that style. We wanted to keep our cars in that [Ohio Look] style as much as possible.”
That style—which Brunkala describes as “small front tires with real wheels on them, ET3 wheels on the back, a bitchin’ rake and a solid color”—was highly desired by Lobeck’s former customers, something that Brunkala and Tesar quickly discovered.
“After we decided to open the shop, we only told a few people what we were doing,” Tesar said. “Word must have spread because we had a lot of work [lined up] and the doors weren’t even open yet!”
“We were relieved,” added Brunkala. “We had hoped the Lobeck customers would trust us with their cars, and we were fortunate that was the case. We’re very fortunate to have a lot of repeat customers, and a lot of formerLobeck customers who came to us.”
Lobeck’s former customers weren’t the only ones who came knocking: many of the guys who had once worked for Lobeck also showed up. The first to arrive was Lobeck’s body shop lead, Mark Mindzora.
“When the offer came from Mark [to work at our shop] we certainly weren’t going to say no!” Brunkala said. “He’s an amazing asset to our shop and has been with us since the start.”
More former Lobeck employees continued to make their way to Precision Hot Rods & Fabrication, even some who had left Lobeck’s before the shop closed. Today, the shop employs seven full-time guys, and two part-time, most of which had spent at least some time working for Lobeck.
CARVING A PATH
Brunkala and Tesar wanted to continue building cars in Lobeck’s style, and the first opportunity came from former Lobeck customers Bill and Maureen Cromling, who commissioned the new shop to build them a Packard Blue ’32 Ford five-window.
“That was the first car to really come out of our new shop,” Tesar said. “Bill and Maureen were the first ones to have faith in us with our new business, and I think that car will always be special to us. It showed off the quality that we could produce.”
Although they admired and were heavily influenced by Lobeck’s style, they knew they wanted to change some things up in their new business, particularly the kind of cars they would work on.
“I think we offer more to the customers—good, bad or indifferent,” Brunkala said. “Barry was very set on doing Fords from the 1930s and 1940s and wasn’t interested in doing things like Tri-Fives or the ‘60s muscle cars. Dan and I like anything with four wheels.”
Precision Hot Rods & Fabrications produces a lot of ‘30s and ‘40s hot rods, but they also have a steady demand for other types of cars.
“There’s definitely a lot more flexibility with the two of us than Barry had in terms of cars we’ll do,” Brunkala said, adding that a lot of their customers want both a Tri-Five and a traditional ‘30s car. “Our customer base is still more geared toward the ’30s Fords, but every now and then a muscle car or something slides in and we’re totally OK with that.”
>“Our hearts lie in traditional hot rods. That’s what we enjoy the most and that’s what we like to build.”
– Larry Brunkala
While Tesar and Brunkala are flexible on the type of cars they’ll work on, they refuse to budge on the style that those cars are built in.
“We like the ‘Ohio Look’ and we try to keep to that look within reason,” Tesar said. “We always use good, solid colors. That’s something we don’t really budge on. We don’t do trendy, cheesy colors for our cars.”
Most customers come to the shop because they want a specific type of traditional hot rod, but every once in a while, Tesar says they’ll get a customer who wants something that doesn’t fit the shop’s style.
“We try to work with the customers to build what they want but keep true to the style we are known for and like,” Tesar said. “We don’t like trendy looks, and we won’t do those. We try to talk [a customer who wanted a car like that] into doing something more timeless.”
Still, the guys are tried-and-true traditionalists.
“Our hearts lie in traditional hot rods,” Brunkala said. “That’s what we enjoy the most, and that’s what we like building the most.”
A PERFECT PARTNERSHIP
Tesar and Brunkala share the same vision for their shop, but they play very different parts in the day-to-day operation of the business. Tesar, who specializes in building chassis, is happy to be in the shop, where he doesn’t have to handle the business and financial tasks that Brunkala excels at.
“He’s in the back of the shop and I’m in the front,” said Brunkala, who handles the finances, communication with customers and office tasks, in addition to the powdercoating work. “It works because Danny runs the shop and I deal with the public and business stuff. To do both jobs would be too much for one person to keep up with. Don’t get me wrong, though, I wish I were out in the shop more!”
“I think our partnership works because we’re separated!” Brunkala added.
The guys first realized how well they worked together when they built Brunkala’s award-winning ‘32 Ford five-window coupe.
“That car will always be special to me,” Brunkala said of the wicked black coupe. “After we built that car, Dan and I became much better friends.”
Brunkala had intended to have the ’32 Ford built to be his daily driver, but Tesar had other plans.
“Let’s just say that Danny’s pretty persuasive and that’s how it turned into what it is today,” he said. “Initially I wanted it to be a simple, flat black car, but after I saw what Dan was doing and the way he was building it, I realized it would be a slap in his face to make this a car people would walk right by. That’s why it evolved into what it did.”
A LEGACY OF THEIR OWN
Precision Hot Rods & Fabrications mostly does turnkey builds but also does its own in-house powdercoating, paint, body work, and maintenance. Basically, the shop currently does everything in-house except for upholstery work. The guys also spend a hefty amount of time maintaining cars built at Lobeck’s.
“Lobeck customers still bring us their cars for repairs and maintenance,” Tesar said. “We built those cars, and they’re still our babies, even if we aren’t at Lobeck’s anymore. We still love those cars.”
The shop also manufactures many parts and is known for its frame rails. Tesar and his team handle that part of the business, but both owners would like to see their product line grow.
“We make our frame rails, which sets us apart from a lot of other shops,” Tesar said. “We make a lot of the parts we use.”
“Seeing a completed project—whether it’s a completed chassis or a turnkey build—that makes me really excited,” Brunkala added. “I love seeing the final product, whatever it is.”
The shop has only been in business five years but has already begun to make its mark on the hot rod scene by collecting numerous prestigious awards since Brunkala’s car won Hot Rod of the Year in 2007. While the shop has stepped off the path that Lobeck created, the guys feel that ol’ Barry would be happy that their shop is carrying on his “Ohio Look.”
“People tell us that he’d be proud and I think that’s true,” said Tesar, who adds that he may not have ever left Lobeck’s had Barry not passed away. “I think Barry would be really proud to see what we are doing over here.”