RAMSEY'S RODS AND RESTORATION
Ramsey's Rods and Restoration has been featured in four major
publications in the last year.
Fort Worth Star Telegram-Feature Article
Street Scene Magazine-Feature Article
GM Repair Insights-Feature Article
FD Luxe Magazine
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Models for life: Stephen Ramsey loves, his customers, classic-car
BRIAN MELTON, Special to the Star-Telegram
Imagine strapping yourself into a fine work of art and roaring down the
road. It's hard to do with a Picasso, but easy if you're Stephen Ramsey
or one of his numerous international customers. For more than 30 years,
he's been restoring and rebuilding big iron from Detroit's glory days. His
cars have won multiple awards from virtually every big-time car show in
the country, including last year's GoodGuys show at Texas Motor
Speedway -- a 1969 Chevy Camaro Pace Car that he had built for a
customer took top honors from a field of more than 3,000 entrants as
the Muscle Car Finalist of the Year. His office walls are plastered with
awards from show after show, as well as pictures and letters from
ecstatic customers that encompass a lifetime of what some might call
He just calls it "being a car guy."
"I love the looks, the designs, the power and the sheer fun of driving a
beautiful piece of art, because that's what they are," he says with a grin
that lights up his still-youthful face (he's nearly 70). "I can't help it, I
just love 'em all."
Love them all he may, but Ramsey confesses to being especially partial
to "Tri-Fives," the series of iconic 1955-56-57 Chevrolets that many
aficionados regard as the golden age of post-war American motoring.
(Although the Bel Air Sport Sedan and the two-door Nomad station
wagon are the most recognized of the lineup, the less-familiar, economy
model 150s and 210s are also coveted by collectors.) And a few years
back, when GM paid homage to Tri-Fives with a massive display of
flawless examples at its headquarters, it asked another of Ramsey's
customers if he'd lend it his stunning coral and black 1955 Bel Air Sport
Coupe, updated with custom leather interior, 502 cubic-inch ramjet V8
and state-of-the-art suspension and transmission. In a testament to the
car's superb rebuild, GM awarded it "Best Modern Restoration."
"I've often thought," he reflects, "that if GM built these same cars with
today's modern mechanicals and safety features, they wouldn't be in the
shape they're in now."
GM's loss is Ramsey's gain. He's happy to rebuild a classic to original
factory specs, or to customize it with today's high-efficiency engines,
transmissions and suspensions. And in the world of car guys, that's a
fairly provocative philosophy.
"There are two basic approaches to classics," he says. "Some people want
their classy chassis rebuilt and updated with modern amenities and
mechanicals. Others want their cars restored to exactly the same
condition as when they rolled off the line. Both sides get pretty
passionate about their preferences," he adds with a chuckle. "My passion
is all about delivering what the customer wants. If the car is already
near original, I'll usually recommend that we keep it that way and make
it better. But if it's already been modified, then let's update it and have
some fun. That's the key word."
That sense of fun is palpable at Ramsey's shop, a neat-as-a-pin,
12,000-square-foot space spread out between two aircraft hangars at
Hicks Airport, north of Fort Worth. A traffic light blinks
red-yellow-green, casting its light on a vintage gas pump, a giant tin
Texaco sign and a squat, '50s-era Coke machine. Music by Elvis and the
Beach Boys fills the air. Tigger and Beauty, two rescue cats, continually
prowl the grounds and nap with Sadie, Ramsey's beloved Heinz 57 dog.
"They're our on-site security patrol," jokes Ramsey, who set up an office
for them, complete with food, water and litter boxes.
A classy, classic lineup
The animals are cute and speak to Ramsey's softer side. But the real
attractions are the cars, obsessively fussed over by five specially trained
mechanics. Just sitting there quietly, the black 1963 Corvette Sting
Ray with the broad red stripe running front to back looks dangerous.
Crank the high-performance 383-cubic-inch engine, and the shop fills
with a menacing rumble. "That's a rare one," says Ramsey, "because it's
still got the Bill Mitchell-designed split window. Lots of owners back
then had it removed for better visibility. Chevy got the message and did
away with it a year later, but this one is original and all the better for
Then there's the sky-blue 1968 Camaro Z28 Rally Sport Coupe with twin
white stripes fore and aft and 302 engine, restored to blinding glory and
blistering performance. "It's one of only 7,199 made," Ramsey says. "It's
only got 290 horsepower, but that Muncie transmission will get it going
pretty quickly. If you really want to move, though," he says as he opens
the hood on a nice but unassuming jade-painted 1965 Dodge Coronet,
"this one's for you." He gestures casually to the beastly 426-cubic-inch
Ramcharger V8, equipped with dual-quad carburetors and says, "It's got
620 horsepower. Passes everything but a gas station."
He's also working on a special project in his "secret room." As he cracks
the door to a narrow room away from the main hangar, his face lights up
like a little kid showing off his private fort. And sitting there like
Sinbad's treasure is a 1955 Chevy Nomad that he is rebuilding with a
Corvette LT-1 engine and C-5 suspension. Basically, it's a modern
Corvette disguised as a 55-year-old station wagon.
Even Ramsey's forklift isn't immune: spinners sparkle on the little
yellow Clark workhorse's wheels as he uses it to set a pallet of Camaro
spare parts into a customer's truck. "It used to have flame decals on it,
but they wore off with all the abuse it gets," he says with a shrug.
Ramsey traces his obsession to fond remembrances of scampering
around the family garage as a boy, fetching wrenches for his grandfather
and father as they souped up Model A's and Model T's. The attraction
persisted, even as he attended the University of California-Berkeley and
hung out at Haight Ashbury during the tumultuous 1960s. "My dad said
packing me off to California was a bad idea, and he was probably right,"
But the long-haired hippie was also a practicing capitalist who
marshaled his funds into a decade's worth of successful real estate
investments in Fort Worth's hospital district. He also noticed that when
he took his own collectible cars into various shops for restoration work,
progress was generally slow, poor quality and much more expensive than
the original quotes that he'd been given.
Sensing an opportunity to feed his soul as well as his bank account,
Ramsey's Rods was born.
Ramsey credits wife Denise ("a fellow car guy") with being the catalyst
to getting the business off the ground, setting up the corporate structure
and inspiring what he calls "our very simple business philosophy -- we
put our work and our customers on the same high level. Cars don't
gather dust in our shop. We always have a queue of projects, and when
yours is at the top of the list, it gets done quickly and correctly. I want
people to say that we did what we said, on time and spent wisely and
fairly. It's a philosophy that's served us well for more than three
decades, and I'm proud of that."
Today, Ramsey is mindful that while his days of picking up
transmissions single-handedly are over, he's still adept at getting his
hands dirty with electrical and detail work. But his specialty has always
been the overall planning and design of rebuilding and restoring cars, and
that's what still energizes him every morning.
"Even if I wind up in a wheelchair someday, I can still point and tell our
crew what I want done," he says. "I've always taken solace in working
with cars and taking what's there and making it better and putting my
personal imprint on it. And the knowledge I've gained over all these
years tells me what needs to be done and dictates how I want it done,
and I'm pretty picky about that. I have a real zest for life and a hugely
positive attitude. With that, I can do anything I want. And this," he says,
waving at his shop and the rolling art that he brings to life, "is what I
want to do."