You would never know it from his humble nature, but a young man named Henry Richards, 29, and his team at Steadfast Mfg have been earning international recognition since 2012 as one of the finest hot rod and custom car shops in the world. They have accomplished this in a modest shop on a quiet residential street not more than a couple of miles from downtown Mansfield where they build cars of a quality and refinement that warrants coverage in international publications and visitors from as far away as Kuwait.

Imagine the exact opposite of the TV dramatics of “American Chopper”, Discovery Channel’s now canceled show about a dysfunctional father and son whose custom motorcycle business nearly collapsed under crushing debt and eventually left them in civil court and near bankruptcy. There’s none of that drama evident at Steadfast Mfg. In fact, what one finds there is that Henry has gradually grown his company by believing in his artistic vision, focusing on the details, valuing his team, and refusing to cut corners.

It all started for Henry at the tender age of three months when his grandfather, who loved custom cars and shared that passion with Henry’s father Ellis, passed away and left Henry a Ford Model A body to someday build for himself. Ellis Richards, who began working in the auto body business at age 13, spent a lot of time in his shop and Henry naturally took to the garage to spend time with his dad. After attending Crestview High School and the Pioneer JVS, where he concentrated on auto mechanics, Henry made a big – and pivotal – move to Colorado.

“I had an opportunity to move to Denver to work in a big shop and learn the custom car business. It was more of a parts store/factory. The entire time I worked out there, 98% of their business was from outside Denver – the customers never came to the shop. I thought, ‘Why can’t I do that in Mansfield?’ I figured that we could come back here and build something cool enough that people would want to come here.” And that was that. Henry packed up and headed back to his hometown to start Steadfast Mfg. four years ago.

Henry chose his company’s name carefully and the reasons behind the choice say a lot about how he manages the business and his creative process. “I wanted Steadfast because of the definition. Fixed in place, resistant to change, not going anywhere. I wanted the customer to know Steadfast Mfg. and the team here. It isn’t about me. We’ve built fifteen cars here. None of them would have happened without the team. I guarantee you that none of them have had less than ten pairs of hands touch them.”

Equally significant, and something he is visibly proud of, is where those teammates call home. “We have assembled a team that can build a pretty sweet car and keep it 100% here in the Mansfield area.”

The sweet car that was the breakthrough for Steadfast was first shown in bare metal in 2011, and officially debuted in 2012 at the Goodguys car show in Columbus, one of the largest in the country. A 1932 Ford Tudor sedan in olive green paint, the car made a huge splash and led to a major uptick in both recognition and business for Steadfast. “We knew we had made an impact when one of my heroes, Alan Johnson, came up to me and said, ‘Henry, we aren’t people you look up to anymore. We’re your peer group.’ That just floored me”.

The exposure at Goodguys led to the cover and a feature in the premier magazine for hot rodding, The Rodder’s Journal. And that did it. The phone starting ringing off the hook with potential customers and the question for Henry became less about getting noticed and more about how to manage the growth of their business while staying true to Steadfast’s values.

The shop was busy on the afternoon of our interview with Henry. We sat on mocked-up frame rails while one of Steadfast’s employees, Jack Henson, worked on a custom exhaust for a truck he is building and another, Matt Ater, spent time on another project. As the work day wound to a close, Henry, Jack, Matt, and Ellis were able to sit down and talk about Steadfast and what they are about.  

The creative process

The beginning of a project at Steadfast usually starts with the customer. They often come with pictures or a sketch of the car they think they want to build. “Their idea of what they want needs to be as fun for us to work on as it is for them to own.” says Henry.

The Steadfast look.  

Because Steadfast builds their cars with a traditional look and style, they end up staying away from the trend of the moment. “I think our look is pretty timeless.” Henry says, “We try to build cars that would have looked cool 10 years ago, are cool today, and will look cool 10 years from now. We honor the traditions of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, but we try to refine them.”

 “There’s a hardcore aggression in our look, but it’s refined”, says Henry “I like everything tucked in and super narrow. I want it to look like you could take it to the salt flats and race it.”

Keeping a low profile.

“What keeps it fun for us is not having a ton of overhead. I’m not ready to commit to trying to grow Steadfast into a huge business.”  Wary of taking on a lot of growth or debt, Henry has chosen a more conservative path. “For us, it is more important to have the time to concentrate on the details. The way we are set up now, we can come in here and spend two weeks figuring out how to build the perfect transmission tunnel with just the right look. That is what’s important to us.”

The art is in the details.

“Everything that Henry envisions is a piece of art.” Says longtime helper and Steadfast employee Jack Henson. “Every piece that goes into a car is a sculpture in and of itself, and then all the pieces have to come together and unify into one piece of art – the car.” Matt Ater, who sat in with us after his work day was over added, “It’s not normal, what we do. We have a week in just building and finishing a motor mount. But we do it because those details – for us – are what set our cars apart from the crowd.”

What’s next for Steadfast?

“A few years ago, I always thought we would have a big shop with a big showroom. But since we have gotten so busy, I’ve decided that is not what we want. It’s too much chaos. It’s not fun.” Instead, Henry has chosen to slow things down. “Our ultimate goal is to work on one, maybe two cars at a time. That way we can relax, focus on the details times ten, and just build really nice cars.“

Ellis, clearly Steadfast’s elder statesman and a big influence on its values says “Everything we do here comes from the heart. Every car we build from here on out has to count. It’s that important to us.”

There’s no doubt that the cars, the quality, and the artistic vision at Steadfast are what count. It’s equally clear that Henry and his team are committed to making their vision a reality for customers all over the world from their under-the-radar shop on a shady, tree-lined street in their hometown. Follow the cool cars and the distinctive rumble of a V-8 engine and you just might find them.

The rest of the world sure has.

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