Jerry Smith’s Cool Cars at San Tan Hot Rods
Hot for hot rods: That’s Jerry Smith.
His San Tan Auto Body and San Tan Hot Rods & Restorations on the west edge of Queen Creek, Arizona, offers body-off restorations to minor repairs on hot rods and classics and just about any vehicle you bring to him and his team. Smith, 74, has worked on cars for neighbor Ken Roberts, whose collection was recently featured as a Highline Autos Great-Garage. “We do body, mechanical and paint work,” he says. “No job is too small or too large.”
The two-year-old restoration shop, on the southeast corner of Power Road and San Tan Boulevard by the San Tan Mountains, is themed as a 1950s Conoco Filling Station.
“Hot rods are special as they keep the love of the American automobile alive, the sound, the look and the sport of it,” Smith says. “The ’50s were a great time for hot rods, and people today still enjoy the sights and sounds of the ’50s as seen in many movies made to depict that era, Grease , for one.”
He built and opened San Tan Auto Body in early 2009 on land he had purchased a few years earlier. But, a demand for a separate specialty shop for hot rods, classics and specialty vehicles was also strong from new and existing customers. “Since there is quite a different time schedule working on classics over daily collision repairs, we started planning the new shop to fill that need,” he explains.
The adjacent hot rod shop opened in August 2017, and he’s been motoring along with it since. Hot rods, Resto-mods and customs are very popular now, as evidenced by their strong showing at the Phoenix-area January car auctions.
Smith was born in Clarinda, Iowa, a town of about 5,500 people today, also the birthplace of Glenn Miller, the great band leader. He grew up in Denver, where he and his dad had a paint and body shop in nearby Evergreen. His dad moved to the Valley in the early ’70s for health reasons, and Jerry followed shortly after. “I grew up in the car business and am happy to say my two sons and granddaughter are following in my footsteps and running the body shop today,” he says.
Smith explains that owning and or restoring a classic car can be a hobby everyone in the family can enjoy and, in this way, help keep the art vital for the next generation. He notes that weekly car shows of various sizes nationwide underline the enjoyment they offer for families. “They bring people together that have like interests and new friends are made,” he says. “Not only are the finished projects fun, they are also a work of art.”
Smith’s friend, client, and hot rod collector, DJ Heimeyer, 59, lives a mile from the shop, “I go see him every morning for coffee, and we have a Friday night get-together,” Heimeyer says.
He’s been associated with cars since he was 12, when his dad connected him with the business in native Willamina, a small town of approximately 2,000 people about 55 miles from Portland, Oregon. He started driving hot rods to school when he was 14 – muscle such as Camaros, Chevelles and Cudas. “I always had a hotrod.”
For him, as with Smith, hot rods will always be special: “the rumble, the speed, the looks and the memories of the good-ole days.” His favorite rodder movie: Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), with the ’55 Chevy driven by James Taylor.
The two men recently showed off some of their rides to Highline Autos magazine. The first four cars are from Smith’s, followed by three from Heimeyer’s collection.
•1956 Ford F100 –– Smith’s donor vehicle for the power plant was a 1997 Lincoln Mark 8 with a 4.6-liter, dual-overhead-cam, fuel-injected Ford engine connected to a five-speed automatic. The build includes a custom tubular frame, independent 8.8-inch positraction rear end, billet specialty wheels, low-profile tires, air-conditioning and custom paint color.
The truck is in process, as the interior is incomplete. This was a friend’s, and Smith first painted it in 1965 for him. A few years ago, he bought the truck and began restoration and modification. “I wanted to have a Ford vehicle with a Ford engine in it since most Ford hot rods and such are powered by Chevy,” he says.
•1968 Chevy Camaro –– This second-year pony classic belongs to a longtime friend, Dick Bergamo. It is powered by a 427-cid, 400-horse engine with a Ford nine-inch rear axle. “This car was and still is a very popular in-demand year and model. Everyone who sees it loves it,” he says. “Of course it is bright red!”
•1972 Chevy C-10 –– The short wide-bed pickup is powered by a 327-cid, 400-horsepower Chevy engine with a Muncie four-speed, 12-bolt posi-track rear axle, custom interior and paint, four-wheel disc brakes, air-conditioning and Boyd wheels.
“I chose this to restore because it’s always been a favorite model of mine,” says Smith, noting he found one locally and began a six-month complete restoration. “It seems to be a favorite of several who see it also.”
•1931 Ford 5-Window Coupe –– “This is a purple all-steel-body open-wheel hot rod with a rumble seat, which was very popular in the ’50s and ’60s,” Smith says. It is Chevy powered with a tunnel ram and two four-barrel Holley’s owned by customer Terry Hanna. The car came to Smith’s shop originally for some minor repairs.
•1969 Camaro SS –– The car still features the original Cortez Silvery paint with a black Landau top and red interior. Born with a 396 powerplant, it now has a 427, both Chevy. “I’ve only driven it 150 miles in the eight years since restoring it,” Heimeyer says.
•1969 Plymouth Roadrunner –– “A real ‘Wow,’” he says. The “Beep-Beep” muscle car is colored “Vitamin C Orange” with a black interior. The numbers-matching Mopar still has the original 383 V-8 and four-speed in place. “Every nut and bolt has been redone,” he notes. “The underneath of the car looks just as beautiful as the top. A show-winner and flawless.”
•1972 Chevrolet El Camino –– Heimeyer got this car from a friend who purchased it from a lady whose husband had died. The six-year restoration began from the ground up and included paint, chrome and a leather interior. The original gauge cluster and tach are also in place. The hot rod has a Cowl Induction hood with a chrome exhaust and a beefy 454. “It’s a real head-turner and a blast to drive,” he says, “a true work of art.”
San Tan Auto Body welcomes everyone to its 10th annual Open House, April 6, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 18415 East San Tan Boulevard in Queen Creek (480.988.1598).
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