MANSFIELD, Ohio – Steadfast Manufacturing’s reputation for quality custom hot rod fabrication and design just keeps growing.
But that hasn’t forced the local three-man operation of Henry and Ellis Richards and Kenny Gibson to stray from their commitment to quality.
The unwavering craftsmanship of the Mansfield business has allowed the team to begin exploring new projects and reaching a bigger clientele.
“We’ve been playing with some of the pro-touring-style builds, where you take an old ’60s, ’70s muscle car and make it handle, perform and have the technology a new car would have,” Henry Richards said. “Previous to that, we were mainly doing '28 to ’32 Fords.”
The pro-touring builds offer a fresh perspective from the early 20th-century hot rods Steadfast usually does because there aren’t “any real rules,” according to Henry Richards.
“So now with the right technology, you can make those cars outperform a new [Chevrolet] Corvette,” he said.
The workload and demand for products have led the business to back away from many trade shows, such as the 2012 Goodguys Rod and Custom Car Show in Columbus that helped Steadfast become an international hit among the custom car community.
It’s the same showing that led to a cover and feature in Rodder’s Journal, the premier magazine for hot-rodding enthusiasts.
“We can’t really take on any more,” Henry Richards said. “Finding help is the biggest problem – if I had help, we could take in more stuff and get more done.”
Despite the low number of showings and assistance, prospective clients from all over the world keep seeking out the team and its craft.
And perhaps more importantly, the team's belief that location isn’t everything is proving to be true.
“I went to lunch last week with people from Kuwait,” Henry Richards said. “They didn’t care if we were in Mansfield, Ohio, or sunny Southern California, they still come here because they like what we’re doing, and they like the look.”
Ellis Richards, Henry’s father, agreed, adding that product is the key to success in the custom car business.
“We’ve always wanted to see it be the best,” he said. “It isn’t always about the almighty dollar, it’s about the way the car has to turn out.”
The proof is in the subtle details of each build, in which Henry and Ellis said most people – even the most dedicated car enthusiast – may not notice. From hoods and lights to fenders and running boards and everything in between, minor details can take upward of a month or more to finish.
That’s why Steadfast takes on average two years to design, fabricate, and build a single car – none of which are taken on for less than $150,000.
“The main thing to me is it’s always been about the customer and his car,” Ellis Richards said. “It isn’t about the money or the bottom line or saving someone some money or anything – it’s always been about doing the best thing we could possibly do to each vehicle.”
Practicing that philosophy, according to Ellis Richards, sometimes means not getting paid for certain things. However, that doesn’t stop the team, he said, because each of them know that is what it takes to make the car right and give it the Steadfast look.
“He hasn’t let me down at all,” Ellis Richards said of his son. “And there isn’t a day he doesn’t amaze me with the ideas in his head, which is always spinning.”
Because of the trio's reputation, Steadfast lately has been doing fabrication work for some of the biggest hot rod shops in the country, including a 1928-29 Ford Roadster they are putting together for the East Coast Hot Rod Garage near Baltimore, Maryland.
Likewise, Henry said the shop is currently taking on its biggest project to date – a 1929 Ford pickup that the men hope will capture Goodguys’ Truck of the Year when finished. The truck, which Steadfast made into an extended cab, is destined for a photo shoot and feature in California for Rodder’s Journal before it even is painted.
“They never actually made that truck in an extended cab, so we did all the fabrication here at the shop,” Henry Richards noted. “There are more details on that truck than even somebody who really knows those trucks will be able to point out.”
Moreover, Steadfast does little in the way of advertising and instead relies on word of mouth to spread its name, a practice which hasn’t stymied the operation in any way, according to Henry an Ellis.