In the field of reproduction parts, the market continues to grow as vintage or collectable cars need to be maintained or restored to original condition. From 1976, Classic Industries has made a name in the muscle car marketplace by selling small and hard-to-find items for restoration.
Beginning with a small facility in Palm Springs, California, selling parts for early Camaros, Classic Industries has grown into a major force in the reproduction parts marketplace. With headquarters located in Huntington Beach, California, the company has spread out with corporate offices, production areas, an onsite call center, shipping center and a massive warehouse that houses one of the largest inventories of parts and accessories for collector cars.
Nobody has a crystal ball, but there are some cars that withstand the test of time from a design and performance aspect.
At the heart of Classic Industries is Detroit native Jeff Leonard. Leonard came to Southern California in the ‘70s and it didn’t take long for the young auto enthusiast to notice the well-preserved vintage ‘60s muscle cars. Midwest cars tend to have lots of rust on aging cars so seeing well kept muscle cars being actively driven on the streets excited Leonard.
Having trouble locating parts for his own 1967 Camaro, Leonard saw the demand for parts and accessories to keep these vintage cars on the road. In 1976, Leonard began Classic Industries with the intent of bringing quality parts to an enthusiast market that was in desperate need of them.
We took a moment to ask the Classic Industries founder and company front man a quick 5 questions about the reproduction parts industry.
Jeff Leonard, Founder and CEO of Classic Industries.
Q: In the ‘70s you saw a need for reproduction parts for vintage ‘60s musclecars, what do you see for the marketplace in five-years?
A: Well, originally I noticed that the Ford Mustang, which was built and released about three years before the Camaro, was becoming popular. Several companies were starting to sell replacement parts. We’re talking about the mid 1970’s. You could buy a new set of carpet, upholstery and other cosmetic parts that needed to be replaced. I had purchased a 1967 RS Camaro with a front bench seat for 500 dollars and was looking for replacement parts.
However, no one was selling parts for the early 1st gen Camaros. The Camaro was about 10 years old at that time and was not considered to have much value. I went to the local Chevrolet parts dealership and was able to obtain some original GM parts books for reference as to what was still available.
There was no Internet in those days, or personal computers for that matter, so I had to do research the old fashioned way. I studied what was available and researched the current GM price schedule. From that point, I was able to determine what was available for the 1st Gen Camaros – ’67, ’68, and ’69. I started categorizing product and put together a small catalog, and that’s how it really got started – I think that was around early 1977, maybe late ’76.
If you look at cars that are on the road today, for example, and think back to 10 years ago, is it possible to look at any 2003 model today and have a particular car stand out where you can determine that it’s is going to be a classic car 10 years from now? I’m not referring to Ferraris, Lamborghinis, or Maseratis. I’m referring to high production vehicles that are produced by the American auto manufacturers.
That just doesn’t happen in today’s day and age. Nobody has a crystal ball, but there are some cars that withstand the test of time from a design and performance aspect. You can go out and spend money on a 1st gen Camaro today and be fairly confident that it’s going to be at worth at least what you’re paying for it, if not much more five or ten years from now. It’s a great investment!
Many of Classic Industires’ reproduction parts are licensed by the OEM.
Muscle cars and performance will always have an enthusiastic passion attached to them. They’re like works of art that move from place to place and can be enjoyed by everyone who appreciates that particular era of our automotive history.
In the current market, we see a trend that automotive consumers are broadening their horizons. They are starting to look beyond the normal restoration builds, and into newer and more sophisticated types of builds.
For instance, there are the purists; the ones that want to restore a car back to its exact original specifications. These restorers find value in the originality of the car. They will look for OEM parts or high quality reproductions that represent the best replications on the market.
Then you have the enthusiasts that are driving their classic car on a daily basis. They enjoy it, work on it occasionally and take it out for drives often. They may not be that concerned with originality. They might replace parts when necessary, upholstery, carpet, headlining, the type of items that are cosmetic and help maintain the appearance. They’re more concerned with keeping their cars and trucks on the road and enjoying it.
The market is growing yearly as the original classic vehicles become more difficult to find and of course, more expensive.
Then there’s the Resto-Mod consumer. What they do is maintain the cosmetic originality of the car, but add additional modern products that are produced to fit the older car. They’ll keep the right color, the wheels and the external details, but they will upgrade the suspension, use modern urethane body mounts, or put a new reproduction chassis together that’s produced with modern materials and redesigned for today’s performance. They’ll modernize and upgrade to today’s technology.
Then there are the enthusiasts who want something nobody else has. They’ll do anything that makes the car their own in terms of individuality. Paint it some unique color, put some wild aftermarket wheels on it, install a high performance crate engine, it’s an extension of their personality.
Leonard still prefers the classics.
There is also another interesting market that’s been gaining interest, which is dedicated to building a complete replication car from scratch. These enthusiasts will buy a pre-assembled new body, purchase a new chassis, buy the wheels, buy the interior, buy all the internal and external components and actually build the whole car from scratch. You can do that with all the reproduction products available today for certain models.
Most of the components required to accomplish this can be found in our catalogs. It’s not that common yet, but the market is growing yearly as the original classic vehicles become more difficult to find and of course, more expensive. So there is a wide spectrum of consumers who are looking for various types of builds.
Q: How do you decide which parts to reproduce and for which vehicles?
A: We start with the obvious parts that we know wear out fast: weatherstrip, carpet, interior soft trim, moldings, emblems, sheet metal, lenses and other parts that are commonly worn out under normal conditions.
For example, if you examine rubber weatherstrip on a 15 year old car, you can see the wear and tear. Good examples are rubber stoppers, trunk weatherstrip, door frame weatherstrip and other rubber components. If you look at die-cast or aluminum moldings, they simply deteriorate over time.
We listen to our customers and try to predict what the demand might be for specific products. Many times our customers will call in and ask if we supply a certain part or product.
What we try to do is make an accurate reproduction of those items where it’s more cost effective to replace the worn part with a new item than it is to have the original item restored. If it matches the original in quality, fit and finish, we have found that consumers would rather spend less money for a new part, than spend more money and time restoring the original part.
This is especially true when the quality meets or exceeds the original specifications. If the part is not available, we will look at the production numbers of the vehicle, how many were produced, and if we feel there’s a high enough demand for the product, we will take a very serious look at producing it. We listen to our customers and try to predict what the demand might be for specific products. Many times our customers will call in and ask if we supply a certain part or product.
We have built literally thousands of tools over the years and produce many products, but we still have a long way to go. We have our hands full these days with all the projects currently being tooled. Fortunately, we have some great people on our staff overseeing the originality, materials, timing and overall quality of every component that we produce. It’s a group effort and I’m proud of what’s been achieved over the years.
Classic Industries has kept its roots in California.
Q: As a California company, how do you stay competitive when the political climate has chased many companies out of California?
A: Now that is a very good question! We’ve been fortunate in the sense that we’ve created an established business that works, even in this current environment. We could pick up and go elsewhere, but we like California and have a strong customer base in California.
We may open a facility on the East Coast one day, as many of our customers have asked us to do, so we are looking into it. We’re very well established in California, even in the current political climate we have right now. Nobody likes paying high taxes, but we’re loyal to our state.
We remain competitive from that standpoint, and although it’s not easy to do, we’ve been able to remain here without too much difficulty.
Q: What does Classic Industries do so well and different to remain competitive in a very tight marketplace?
A: We’ve been in business for 35-plus years. So, we’ve been able to grow slowly from the time this industry was in its infancy. Now it’s become a very viable sector of the automotive aftermarket.
There are thousands of people employed by various companies across the country in various sectors of the restoration industry. We work with consumers directly as well as many of the auto body shops, restoration shops, auto parts stores and other companies that are involved in selling or installing parts and accessories for restoration and performance. It’s just an incredibly large industry these days.
When we first started, the restoration industry, if you want to call it that, wasn’t even on the map. Now you’ve got literally millions of enthusiasts, not to mention incredible media attention including television shows that are geared toward the auto enthusiast. We’ve had involvement sponsoring and supplying product to many of the popular television shows including “Overhaulin”, “Chop Cut Rebuild”, “My Classic Car”, “Car Chasers”, and others.
One of the interesting points that set us apart from other industries is that the people we deal with, essentially our customers, are extremely passionate about the hobby. It’s a great feeling to know that we can bring products to the market that simply make people happy. There is a passion and enthusiasm in what we do and it’s felt everyday.
It’s not just me. Our customers, my colleagues and all the great people that work at Classic Industries share this same feeling. They are the ones that keep this dream alive.
Q: Once upon a time, reproduction parts had a bad reputation. Now these reproductions are the same, and in most cases, better than the OE factory parts. Is this because of modern materials or manufacturing processes or something else completely?
A: I can get into a long conversation with you about the detail and quality of reproduction parts, what the perception is, what the realities are, etc., but the bottom line is we make every effort to recreate or reproduce the original part exactly as it was produced by the factory. That includes the correct materials, correct colors, correct plating, correct markings, along with trademarks like “AC Delco” and “Guide” for lenses.
When the original tooling isn’t available, Classic Industries builds a duplicate set that match the original tooling. The results are stock parts that are very representative of the original part in every manner.
We want to have our customers look at our part and not be able to tell the difference between our reproduction, and the original part.
These small details are all essential ingredients in reproducing the part correctly. If there was particular mark on the original part, we try to put it back on the part, almost right down to the flaws in the original part. Let’s take a ’68 Camaro standard grill for example – we actually have the original General Motors tooling, so it’s not just a reproduction, it’s an actual part being manufactured off of the original General Motors tooling.
Our arrangement with General Motors allows us to obtain tooling that might have been otherwise scrapped. We’re fortunate in the sense that we have access to these original tools and can sometimes refurbish them when necessary. Other times, we simply run the tool as is because it’s in good condition. We’re occasionally even fortunate enough to work with the OE manufacturer, although many of the OE suppliers from those days have long since gone out of business.
All automotive manufacturers produced tooling that in some cases were multiple cavity. Generally, multiple cavity tools created parts that were very similar to each other, but not necessarily 100% the same. You might have slight variances in any given part. Finding an NOS part that will match the original is very difficult in some cases. We look at various samples before we decide on reverse engineering a particular part. It is essential to investigate every aspect of the reproduction before deciding on which OEM item to reverse engineer. This is just one of the areas of concern we encounter.
All of the domestic automotive companies did an incredible job of manufacturing and assembling cars in those early days. When you consider that they built all these cars without the help of sophisticated computers and they were built in incredible numbers, it’s mind-boggling.
Take the GM B-Body for example. They included Impalas, Bel-Airs, Biscaynes, Caprices, along with various station wagons and other similar models. They were producing over a million cars a year from the late 50’s to the mid-70’s on the B-Body platform alone.
There are still so many cars from that era on the road these days and our job is to provide our customers with the parts they need. We find out where the demand is and build the tooling to manufacture parts they need to restore their cars. That’s essentially what our mission is. We want to have our customers look at our part and not be able to tell the difference between ours, and the original.