Like most young, mechanically-minded boys, Kevin Oeste never strayed too far from the garage as a teen. Tinkering took up plenty of weekends during his high school years in Park Ridge, Illinois. Being something of a perfectionist, he quickly learned how to turn a wrench and discovered what made cars move quickly. Though this casual pastime would bring him plenty of joy, he never knew it would bring him a following in the hundreds of thousands.
Despite his hobby taking up a good amount of time and energy, he also held an interest in broadcast communication and pursued it through his college years at Illinois State University. The sad reality of a shrinking broadcast industry hit him hard after graduation, and after struggling to find a steady job commanding the airwaves, he realized he had a hard pill to swallow. However, he trudged forward and turned to his closely-held hobby for a source of income in those post-graduate years.
Working odd automotive jobs through the mid-nineties eventually led him to a fortunate turn of events. In 1997, Kevin started working for Hot Rod magazine, which allowed him to put his degree to good use and brought him closer to his automotive passion. Kevin became the producer of Hot Rod’s television show on Speed Channel and moved to Los Angeles. This position, as well as some of the people he met during this period, changed his career path significantly.
When passing through St. Louis on the Power Tour, Kevin met his wife Kelle, who worked as a legal secretary and was brought up working on cars and farm equipment. With the background to help, she lent a hand when Kevin’s team needed assistance with an engine drop. It was kismet.
Kelle soon moved to L.A. with Kevin, but the two wanted to launch a business of their own. They decided to return to Illinois in 2003. Fortunately, Kelle’s family owned a farm in Waterloo, Illinois, and the quiet environment seemed like a conducive and cost-effective venue for their new business. As a result, they relocated and began building a production studio for V8TV Productions.
With experience and the knowledge of how bigger production companies portrayed the muscle car genre, Kevin felt that he could start his own automotive-themed television program with a unique flavor. Instead of pursuing the cliche plot-lines of many so-called car shows, he wanted to take an honest, technical look at his builds and what they entailed.
For him, most car shows were nothing more than a dramatic template; transposable from subject to subject. He wanted something that delved deep into the details behind a custom build.
With his vision established, Kevin handled video production while Kelle and her family spun the wrenches. Though they built cars one at a time – a much smaller volume than they do these days— a strong reputation landed Kevin a deal with Royal Purple to build a custom 1969 Camaro for SEMA: the vehicle that helped launch his business.
With this Royal Purple Camaro, Kevin and his team went into the parts they used, their general approach and vision for the build, and why those particular pieces played a role in the performance gains. The technical orientation of the program caught him a net full of requests from new, excited clients with similarly high standards, and the couple took their next professional step.
Kevin and the V8TV Productions crew churn out twenty-six episodes a year that are broadcast on three networks: Tuff TV, REV’N TV, and The Action Channel. Additionally, it’s featured on YouTube and has a following of over fifty-thousand. The show supplements a not-inconsiderable fifty-two episodes of Muscle Car of the Week.
With a level of productivity that’s hard to fathom, he films TV spots and promo videos for other companies in his sphere. These video commitments not only promote him, his company, and his wares, but serve as the first point of contact, and help put a plan together for many of his clients.
After two years Kevin and Kelle expanded their business to include a complete restoration shop, V8 Speed & Resto Shop. With the expansion came more fabricators, painters, and body techs to help manage the active garage. Kevin, Kelle, and their 14 employees do most of the work in-house, though occasionally need to outsource engines and interiors.
Their cars have been featured at the SEMA Show, Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, and the Trans-Am Nationals. The cars produced from the shop have won numerous awards and get exported to all corners of the globe—a customer from Dubai ordered a gorgeous Camaro featured recently.
The high volume of requests has only strengthened Kelle and Kevin’s build ethos: that quality is paramount to their work. The pair maintains that vehicles produced must be SEMA-worthy and they push their employees to hold high standards.
In an effort to ensure a string of quality automobiles, they refuse quite a bit of odd fixes, re-sprays, and quick, and other low-quality jobs so that the V8 crew must stay working at their best.
That isn’t to say they won’t take on partial builds, but the job must have a certain standard that reflects well on V8 Speed & Resto Shop.
Kelle feels their finished products need to pass her “Step Back” test, by which they must have something—a wheel fitment, a paint scheme, or custom bodywork, say—which distinguishes them from the rest of the cars on display and causes the observer to step back impressed. As we’ve seen with some of their featured builds, there’s a standard of quality evident which anyone can appreciate.
Fortunately, their employees are committed to their craft, and as such, no quality issues go unnoticed; everyone holds themselves to high standards and never cut corners. Whether they’re performing basic maintenance on muscle cars or doing a frame-off rotisserie restoration, they strive to exceed their own interest as well as the clients. The ambiance is close and familial and turnover is low. With everyone putting effort into the builds as if they were their own cars, the turnout of high-quality products is consistently astonishing.
Though many of his cars are made to be neck-snapping pieces of automotive art, he also factors in his love for motorsport into certain builds. For the discerning customer who wants to drive their car in a competitive fashion, V8 Speed & Resto Shop will give them the needed modification to pursue their chosen avenue of motorsport. Many of Kevin’s customers are weekend warriors who need their cars to excel at the drag strip, the circuit, and the autocross course. Plenty in the Pro Touring scene turn to V8 Speed & Resto shop for new suspensions, modern engines, and even retrofitted, modern chassis shoehorned into vintage cars!
After 14 years of overcoming challenges associated with running a multifaceted business with 14 employees, Kevin and Kelle have learned how to play to their strengths. On a regular basis, Kevin spends the majority of his time managing the video and television side of his business. Kelle’s typical day sees her managing the shop-side of things; ordering parts, delegating tasks, filing paperwork, and acting as the organizational mastermind behind the operation. Though she loves wrenching and welding with the rest of the mechanics, most of her time is spent commanding the nerve center of her business.
The two consult one another when a candidate for a new featured car presents itself. Featuring a car is quite a tricky process, as it turns out since there’s a lengthy checklist the potentials must pass to be selected. Obviously, the car must have its own appeal. That doesn’t necessarily mean it must be a top-dollar build; even partial builds are eye-catching, but the car needs to be intriguing or obscure.
Part of the reason for these demands lies in the commitment the team must make to the car if filming does take place. Therefore, they try to build the entire car before airing footage and releasing a feature on a complete build. Provided the customer looks to be dependable and committed, and there’s something appealing about the build, the team moves forward and films as many as ten installments on the car. These segments are dedicated to intriguing areas of the featured car and include insight from the mechanics, driving impressions, and the specific challenges faced during the build.
If revitalizing an aging muscle car or turning a comfortable cruiser into a hard-edged track toy is high on your priority list, contact V8 Speed & Resto Shop. Their completed cars are well-documented, and though their criteria for a video feature is strict, they can do just about anything, provided it’s a standard that reflects well on them. As our coverage has shown, their products are all first-rate and they intend to keep it that way.