BELLVILLE -- Henry Richards is a Michelangelo with a welding torch, a Rembrandt with a wrench, a Leonardo Da Vinci of automotive detail.
Just as Orson Welles once intoned on behalf of Paul Masson California wine, Richards and his Steadfast Manufacturing will sell no car before its time.
His latest classic car art, a 1932 Ford Coupe that his Bellville company recently built from the ground up, took 2 1/2 years to develop for a buyer in Wellington in Lorain County.
The flashy car was recently selected as a national, top-five Classic Instruments Street Rod of the Year finalist. It's one of more than a dozen cars and trucks under construction in the 7,800-square foot facility.
Why are prospective car buyers so willing to wait so long for their vehicles? Namely, because they know the final product is worth the wait from the eight-member Steadfast team.
"We've been blessed with a lot of good customers that just understand we don't work on deadlines," the bearded Richards said. "A lot of shops, they will turn out a car every year or multiple cars a year."
The 36-year-old Richards and his wife, Amber, have been married since 2018 and have a daughter, Olive.
"I tell my customers, my little girl is only going to be little once. So they just have to work with our pace. If they come in here one day and we're using the sidewalk chalk, or she has decided she wants to paint a picture, that's what we are going to do," Richards said.
"There are a lot of times we will go down in the woods and play or whatever. Two weeks ago, Olive wanted to learn how to weld, so that's what we did. That took priority over building any car that day," Richards said.
ROOTS RUN DEEP: A graduate of Crestview High School and the Pioneer Career & Technology Center (focused on auto repair, of course), Richards has always loved cars, especially hot rods.
"All through school, my dad (Ellis Richards) would bring home a stack of car magazines a mile high. I didn't pay as much attention as I should have on the school side of things," Richards said with a laugh. "But in the magazines, I would see a certain chop or certain wheel-and-tire or a certain stance that I liked that really stuck out. That's one of those things so now, when I look at these cars, I only see them in a certain way."
The newest car has a low-slung Steadfast chassis built using a 5-inch dropped axle, Steadfast hairpins, a Durant leaf spring, and a Pete & Jake’s rear suspension locating the Winters quick-change rear end on the five-window coupe.
It has Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop 16- and 18-inch wheels, with power from an Aaron Blatter-built 383-cubic inch small block engine, fed by triple carbs and backed by a 700R4 overdrive transmission.
"This one here has got stuff most people would never notice. The wheelbase is stretched. The hood is changed. The chop's chopped a little bit more in the front than the back so it kinda rolls down," Richards said. "The roof inserts (are) refined compared to the way it used to look. So there are just a lot details."
LEARNING NEVER STOPS: The learning and creative process continues from build to build for the Steadfast team, which has gained international recognition and sales.
Buyers literally come from around the world to Bellville for Steadfast vehicles, including New Zealand, Japan and Australia, all of whom love the American muscle cars and trucks.
"We built one and it was kind of a straight-forward build. Each one kind of evolves into something more and something more. The last one, I am sure we all see things that we would change for the next one. And then the next one' s like that.
"It's kind of just snowballed into a really refined, nice car," Richards said.
According to fuelcurve.com, the award-winning creation has, "a wedge-cut top, reshaped hood, and custom grille and roof insert highlight the body mods under the deep black PPG paint. Inside, M&M Hot Rod Interiors diamond stitched distressed leather over the seat, while Classic Instruments gauges, a custom steering wheel, and a trick louvered headliner insert complete the look."
CUSTOMERS COUNT: The start of a project begins with the customer, who may come to Steadfast with a photo or a sketch of the vehicle they have in mind. Or they may just ask Steadfast to build them a cool car.
"Their idea of what they want needs to be as much fun for us to work on as it is for them to own," Richards told Richland Source in 2013 when his much-smaller operation was located near downtown Mansfield.
He has conservatively grown his business and now lives and works on about six acres along Rhinehart Road. Don't bother looking for a big sign at the site. Richards and his team are about what goes into the cars they build, not the show outside the front doors.
Ellis Richards has "slowed down" his work at the shop, according to his son. That is likely because he knows the boy he once brought car magazines to is now a man with a firm handle on the business.
"He hasn't let me down at all," the elder Richards told Richland Source in 2015. "And there isn't a day he doesn't amaze me with the ideas in his head, which is always spinning."
What's next for Steadfast?
"The ultimate goal is to glorify God," Richards said. "I think a lot of people think the cars and God don't go hand-in-hand. Our shop has been blessed in so many ways.
"When COVID-19 hit (in March), there was a lot of uncertainty and fear. But our phone has been ringing off the hook and it just keeps coming. It's like a lot of people think you can't mix cars and God and the crowd we hang out with, but it's not true. It's not the vision I think people have.
"I know a lot of shops are closing down a lot, a lot of big businesses, (due to) COVID-19. Customers are pulling out left and right," Richards said. "I had one customer who wanted to slow down (his ordered build). When he slowed down, there was a little twinge of 'wow, I wonder if this is gonna keep coming.' We prayed about it, and within the next day, we had two more full builds come through
"We have run the shop the whole way. That's where the Steadfast name came from, no matter what's happening. The goal? I don't know if I am going to be here tomorrow. I don't know if I will be here three weeks from now.
"But as long as we are here, I don't want to take the credit. That's not the goal. When we get up there, I don't want to see the TV shows and business name written in lights and have people not see (God) in the shop," Richards said.