Kustom Kurriculum: How one Colorado shop is shaping the next generation of restorers

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Nathan Leach-Proffer

Jack Weaver had been building custom cars for more than 20 years when he founded Acme Chop Shop in Grand Junction, Colorado, a decade ago. His business grew quickly, and he wanted to expand. But finding experienced help with the right blend of skills proved tough. “There wasn’t any well-rounded restoration help out there,” he says.

Weaver tried on-the-job training for a handful of people, but getting new hires up to speed took time, and business never slowed.

Instead of bemoaning the inexperienced help available or the general lack of knowledge around doing custom work, Weaver decided to do something about it. The result is Kustom Built Cars Educational Workshop.

“During the five-month course, we teach the full restoration process,” says Shelby Robison, the workshop’s lead organizer and first point of contact for students ages 18 to 24 looking to enroll. “From how to evaluate a project to the total disassembly of the car. Rust repair, metalwork, basic suspension, welding, painting, color sanding, engine work, and basic electrical—we prepare students for the real world of restoration, plus the day-to-day operations needed to run a successful hot-rod and custom car shop.”

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Jack Weaver started the Kustom Built Cars Educational Workshop in an effort to train the future of hot-rod and custom carbuilders. Nathan Leach-Proffer

After the inaugural class early in 2020, COVID-19 restrictions temporarily halted the program. Robison and Weaver used the time to turn Kustom Built Cars into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. “This allows us to keep classes small—typically four or five students—apply for funding, and accept donations to help those who might not otherwise be able to afford to come here,” says Robison. Kustom Built Cars reopened to host its second class from February to July 2021 and offered scholarship money to a qualifying student.

By leveraging social media and name recognition built through a regular presence at SEMA, Barrett-Jackson, and other popular car shows, Weaver’s workshops attracted students from Oklahoma, California, Oregon, and beyond. The program provides students with B&B-style accommodations for the duration of their stay.

“The workshop was an absolute gateway into the world of restoration and the best five months I ever had in my life,” says 20-year-old Felipe Chavarria, a Washington native who took part in the 2020 workshop. For that project, Weaver chose a crumbling 1953 Chevy 3100 five-window pickup he found in a field.

Chavarria, who had never even picked up a wrench before the workshop, remembered thinking the job was impossible. “There was an actual pack rat living up in the steering column,” he says.

College studies never interested Chavarria, but cars did. “Every free moment, I watched videos about car history and car repair. I bought a newer five-speed Mustang, then a 1968 Mustang coupe that I wanted to restore—which is funny, because at the time, I was afraid to change the oil in a car.”

colorado restoration program body work
Nathan Leach-Proffer

Over five months, Chavarria’s class worked under Weaver’s direction and watched their project slowly transform. They tackled every phase of the rebuild, including dropping in a supercharged 6.2-liter LS3 V-8, a new automatic transmission, and a four-link Camaro rear end. Along with Mustang II independent front suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, the class equipped the truck with an oak bed, chrome accents, a custom leather interior, Dolphin gauges, Vintage Air climate control, and a metallic Desert Sage Green paint job.

Chavarria had the honor of driving the truck onto the auction block at Barrett-Jackson this past March, where it sold for $99,000. More important, Chavarria returned to Washington with the confidence and skills necessary to begin working on his own car and—like everyone else in his class—land a job. “When I’m not working at Classic Car Addiction, a full-service restoration shop, I’m working on my Mustang. The goal now is to make the car my daily driver and to use what I learned at Kustom Built Cars to keep growing my skills. One day, maybe I’ll even have a shop of my own.”

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Nathan Leach-Proffer
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