When Bernie Guerrero was 16 years old he restored his first hot rod, a 1957 two-door hard top. He ended up totaling that car, “but it’s my dream to get one like that again,” he says.
That passion for tinkering with cars and working with his hands has stayed with Bernie ever since and he’s had many hot rod projects over the years. He credits “the older hot-rodders, like Bob Nall at the Adult Toy Factory and Larry Lynch of Saunders Garage” with taking him under their wings and teaching him the tricks of the trade.
“It’s so neat that there are so many local people willing to help each other and share what they know,” Bernie notes. “Bob showed me how to do front ends, Larry taught me paint and bodywork, Fred Gamboa painted my rims for me. They actually went out of their way to teach me and they didn’t have to do that. I’ve built different cars over the years and the experience is always just a lot of people trading work and helping each other out on their projects.”
Building a hot rod is no easy task. It takes ingenuity, creativity, and yes, time and money. If a person has the funds, a project can be completed very quickly, but Bernie says that tends to take the fun out of it. “I actually did a ’67 Nova in about six months, but it was stressful. I would never do that again,” he explains. “I’ve built some for friends that took about a year. That’s not a bad time limit.”
That extra time is spent, not ordering ready-made parts online or from a magazine, but figuring out how to make junkyard parts work. Bernie likens his hot rods to the Cadillac in Johnny Cash’s song “One Piece At a Time.” His projects may have a posit rear track from a Camaro, bucket seats from a Saab, and tilt steering from yet another model. “For one dollar you can scour the junkyard in Vinton and look at parts and think, ‘Ok, what can I buy and retrofit to make it work for this project?’” he says. “That’s the fun part and that’s where all this local expertise is invaluable. These guys have been doing this their whole lives and they know all the little tricks. Thankfully, they are willing to share that knowledge with guys like me.”
That sense of camaraderie and giving back to the community is quite common in the local hot rod scene. Bernie points out that when you drive by a car show on the weekend, they are usually putting their hobby to work for a good cause, whether it’s raising money for a family that needs help covering medical bills or drawing crowds to promote a new restaurant or business. The Christian Rods and Customs club raises money all year long to help provide holiday meal baskets for families in need.
From start to finish, hot rodding is more than just a hobby for guys like Bernie. It’s a way to build memories with friends and family, to be creative, and to keep learning new things. “I’m a strong believer that we should keep educating ourselves our whole lives,” Bernie says. “This city and its great people have really allowed me to keep learning.”
About this truck:
- This 1956 Ford Pickup was rebuilt with an all Chevy drive train. “I put in a Chevy engine because it’s the only way to make a Ford go fast,” Bernie says with a laugh, a good-natured rib towards his buddies who are Ford fans.
- Don’t call it tan. Bernie carefully chose the color for this project because he wanted to stand out amongst the popular reds, blacks, and yellows. “Everyone asks me: What is it? Is it brown? Is it cream? Is it white? For the record, it is almond.”
- Under the hood sits a 400 small block, hi-performance engine and a 700 R4 transmission with a stall speed converter.
- The 411 posi-trac rear end helps this pickup “jump from stop sign to stop sign really fast,” Bernie notes.
- The bed of this old farm truck had rotted away from hauling hay bales. Bernie welded it all up and handmade a new bed with sanded and varnished Birchwood.
- This truck also boasts tilt steering, bucket seats, a reverse-opening hood, solenoid electronic doors that pop open with the press of a button, and custom-made 12 inch rims.
Bernie’s Tricks of the Trade
“Before you buy a vehicle from somebody, it’s smart to make sure it is titled. Back in the day, we would buy projects that were left in a field or a yard somewhere and wouldn’t worry about it because it was so easy to go to the DMV and get a title. Now, because of new laws, they are very strict. Somebody can buy something, invest money in it, and not be able to get it titled. Then you can’t drive it.”
Keep it Clean
“At the end of a day spent working on a project, pick up everything and clean up everything as soon as you’re done. If you see a big mess the next time you go back in to work on it, you’re not going to be as inclined to get started again. It’s like trying to cook when the dishes from your last meal are still in the kitchen. No matter how late we stayed working, my kids always knew we roll out the project, sweep, wipe down all the tools, and put stuff back where it’s supposed to be.”
Take it Step by Step
“When I have friends say they want to build a hot rod, I start asking them questions: What do you want? Do you want a little bit of rake in the front? Do you want power steering? Do you want performance or a nice ride? And usually they want a cool color or a nice radio. They don’t know much about it. So I tell them, it’s an ABC process. You’ve got to start with your drive train, your front end, your rear end, your brakes. Then you start going into motor, transmission, and performance. Everyone wants to jump to gauges and upholstery, but those pretty things are the last piece of the puzzle. The icing on the cake.”
“Keep money in the community. Sure you can go to El Paso or buy from a magazine, but you’re never going to get the expertise. These guys know what they are doing and they will tell you, ‘No, this part would be better for you,’ or come up with an idea you never thought of. That’s why I love buying local.” m
Bernie gives credit where credit is due. He thanks JESUS and his wife for allowing him to get dirty in the garage. He also gives a nod to his kids for getting under the hood with him and these local businesses:
Adult Toy Factory
6185 Bataan Memorial
ABC Paint & Body
490 N. Valley Dr. #C
3485 Bataan Memorial #2
Mike’s Performance and
765 S. Compress Rd
Rick’s Performance Center
138 Wyatt Dr.
125 Farney Ln.