Vini’s Hot Rods: Serving up Southern Style and Craftsmanship
Vini’s Hot Rods is located in Alabaster, Alabama. Where is Alabaster? Consider the numbers: With around 31,000 residents, it’s the 16th largest city in Alabama, which is the 24th largest state in the United States. That translates to this: Alabaster has less than one one-thousandth of the population of a state that has 1.5 percent of the U.S. population.
Why do you need to know this? Because from this small town just off Interstate 65 south of Birmingham, Vini Madrigal’s shop turns out vehicles that could rank in the top one percent of hot rod and custom builds, if such a list existed.
In a little more than 10 years, Vini’s shop has produced Goodguys award-winning rides, a Street Rodder Magazine Top 5 Street Rod of the Year vehicle, and SEMA Show display vehicles. SEMA News has also included Vini in its Top 35 Under 35 listing.
Vini’s small but talented staff – and two loyal, dedicated shop dogs – delivers a variety of top-notch results, from traditional hot rods to cutting-edge pro-touring machines. Vini and his crew approach each workday with a healthy attitude. “It’s fun,” Vini said. “We get paid to spend people’s money on things we could never afford ourselves.”
How many of us can say that?
Like many successful shops, Vini’s Hot Rods had humble beginnings. Vini went to tech school in Alabama and started working in a restoration shop belonging to one of his instructors after graduation. Restoration work wasn’t really Vini’s dream job, but a customer who wanted to build a pro-touring Nova station wagon opened the door to his true goal: building hot rods and custom rides.
“I started building the wagon,” Vini said. After the Nova wagon was complete, the owner of a local wrecker service provided a truck that needed Vini’s touch. “That’s the one that paid us enough to get going,” Vini said.
After 12 years in business Vini said the growth can sometimes seem like it came pretty fast, but it didn’t. “It feels like it was slow for the first few years, but then I got one great employee and once he and I started building cars it just took off,” he said.
Another major boost on Vini’s career path came in the form of a T-bucket roadster. The owner wanted the car pulled together from a collection of parts left over from other projects, but as it often happens, the build turned into much more. The result was a gold beauty that was recognized as a Top 5 Street Rod of the Year by Street Rodder Magazine.
“He let me and Moon [one of the shop’s longest-term employees] tackle it,” Vini said. “He became like a father figure to us. He still comes around a lot.”
The team at Vini’s Hot Rods handles mostly complete builds, from fabrication to paint. Only interior work and some custom CNC work is farmed out to other suppliers. A recent look around the shop showcases the variety of vehicles that come through the doors: ’50s and ’60s Ford and Chevy pickups, vintage hot rods, early Ford Broncos, a cutting-edge pro-touring Firebird, Corvettes, Tri-Five Chevys and a pair of fastback Mustangs. And something you don’t often see in a hot rod shop: an original Avanti.
The shop’s resume of high-quality builds does afford Vini the freedom to have a big influence on the end results. Customers often rely on Vini for design direction. “A lot of the time we get lucky,” he said. “They let us do whatever we want. That’s what you want all the time. But most of the time they give us a list of what they want. What are your 20 ‘gotta have this’ items?”
Keeping up with Growth
Key to the success of any shop, though, is having the staff to keep pace with the demand. Vini faces the same employee challenge as shops in major metro areas – not enough skilled, dedicated employees. Being in a small market makes it even harder.
“We have people wanting to hand us money to build something, but I can’t because we’re so busy,” Vini said. “We have so many cars that we could complete, but we just don’t have the people to put on them. Everybody out there has a full shop.”
Design trends come and go, but Vini expects the pro-touring style to remain strong moving forward. Road tours are growing in popularity and people want to drive their cars. “They want it as close to a car from the factory as you can get,” Vini said.
Vini’s Hot Rods does have two staff members who are there through thick and thin – Titan and Freya, the shop dogs. Titan, the yellow lab, is 14 years old and has been around Vini and the shop team since he was a puppy. Both dogs are semi-retired, but still drop by the shop on a regular basis.
“They go home with us every day,” Vini said. “They’re definitely sleep-in-the-bed dogs.”
- Vini’s First Car: 1989 Chevy 1500 Silverado. “It’s the first one I worked on.”
- Vini’s Worst Car: “That same truck because I didn’t know what I was doing.”
- Best business advice he’s received: “Just work hard. If you put the work in, it will come. If you think of excuses for why you didn’t get it done, you didn’t try hard enough.”
Photos by Steven Bunker