By Tim Heston
Greg Fuller remembers his father’s long nights in the shop. Ron Fuller, a former shop teacher with a lifelong interest in restoring cars, had launched Classic Auto Works in 1987. As its name suggested, the company focused on restoring classic cars and hot rods, from Model Ts to early
roadsters—a competitive market, for sure, and one driven by people with passion for the work.
Ron loved the work too, but those late nights spent alone a;er the crew had
gone home began to get old. In the early 1990s he purchased the assets of a
bankrupt shop called Classic Stainless. As Greg recalled, “It wasn’t much of a
company. What he really bought was the right to use a couple of fixtures, a few
patterns, and a tube bender. The company produced a handful of products for
older Chevrolets, products we don’t even sell today.”
Still, buying that tube bender changed the course of the company’s future.
What was once a hot rod shop now is Stainless Works, a growing automotive
a;ermarket manufacturer with a custom metal fabrication subsidiary, MetalFab
Group. The 50 employees of the Chagrin Falls, Ohio, organization will be moving
into a new, 65,000-square-foot building later this year, with two acres to spare
for future expansion.
Becoming a Manufacturer
Working on hot rods is a labor of love, and this certainly was the case for Ron
Fuller. He even won the Don Ridler Memorial Award for excellence in building
during one Detroit Autorama hot rod show. Still, time, labor, and component
costs varied substantially from project to project, with unexpected challenges
turning up regularly, o;en at the worst possible times. It would have made good
drama for reality TV (had that been around at the time), but the situation wasn’t
the easiest for creating a sustainable, growing business.
A;er the shop invested in its first tube bender, though, its focus changed, and
a transition soon was underway.
As Greg Fuller explained, “This is when [Ron] began the transition to a manu-
facturing company, what is today Stainless Works. He did some restoration work
[in the 1990s], but his main focus was the manufacturing. By 1999, he restored
his last hot rod, and all resources were focused on manufacturing.”
Instead of building classic hot rods, the company, doing business under the
Stainless Works name, launched its own lines of a;ermarket stainless steel ex-
haust products. These would evolve to include exhaust products not only for
classic cars, but also late-model ones.
As Heath Kohler, national sales manager, recalled, “When the company transitioned to exhaust component manufacturing, it was just an eight- to 10-person
operation. The company founder was smart enough to realize that if he focused
on component manufacturing, he could figure out the fixed costs fairly easily. If
you have one setup and you can build 20 systems at a time, you’re amortizing
the [setup] costs across the run.”
Hot rod origins,
How a hot rod shop became
a growing manufacturer
This is the interior of an a;ermarket stainless steel exhaust system from Stainless
Works. Being first to market with several products has given the company a competitive advantage.