NEW BUFFALO — On most days hot rods and race cars are being steadily created or upgraded at U.S. 12 Speed and Custom in New Buffalo.
On the third Saturday in July, there’s a party going on.
The fifth annual Full Throttle Throwdown and Miss Full Throttle Pin-Up Contest drew a large crowd to 19015 U.S. 12 on Saturday, July 16.
The show featured approximately 200 hot rods, race cars (including Matthew Zukauskas’ pair of junior dragsters and his dad Al’s jet-powered Hot Blade), rat rods, one-of-a-kind trucks, motorcycles and various motor-driven rarities including a 1964 VW Notchback and the 1961 “Gizzle Hopper” dragster that caused many in the crowd to plug their ears when its alcohol-powered engine roared to life.
Among the amazing rides drawing raves were machines that took shape right there at U.S. 12 Speed and Custom. As owner, welder and fabricator Rocky Troxell said, “If somebody can dream it up, we can build it.”
The shop in New Buffalo Township specializes in custom fabrication hot rod and race car builds — “pretty much whatever anybody can think of,” according to Troxell. He said the shop also does a lot of performance upgrades, dyno-tunes engines and handles the appearance part of the equation as well with its state-of-the-art downdraft paint booth.
Troxell said himself and four full-time employees (Billy D, Brett Miller, Max Gordon and Vick Sokolowski) along with a few more part-timers work on cars at U.S. 12 Speed and Custom.
“We’re really fortunate to have a good group of guys that are super talented,” he said.
Rocky’s wife, Lindsey, runs the front office.
“I couldn’t do it without her,” he noted.
An especially unique ride that’s taking shape inside the shop is a heavily customized “Lincoln” truck that belongs to (and is designed by) U.S. 12 Speed and Custom worker Billy D.
Troxell said the design is being built around a chopped and modified 1934 Ford truck cab. The rest, including the hand-made partial tubular frame, a raw aluminum and copper interior, a sparkling new stainless bed and a 292 Y-block For Engine topped by three carburetors with custom-made headers headed the opposite direction. The level that opens and closes a cowl in front to let air in is amde from a stainless steel Stryker hip joint replacement. The stick shift lever is topped by a vintage microphone.
“Everywhere you look on this it’s got a lot of ‘50s bomber plane-inspired touches,” Troxell said.
He noted that Lincoln didn’t actually make a truck in 1934, “but we’re making one.”
In the same space as the Lincoln truck is the beginnings of a project to build a “high-end street rod” based on a 1938 Studebaker that will integrate the suspension from a C7 Corvette.
On the race car side, Troxell pulled the cover off a drag car that runs the quarter mile in around 7 seconds based on a 1987 Dodge Daytona that has been set up for a unique driver.
“The driver (Joe Gouger of Porter, Ind.) is handicapped — he’s a quadriplegic and the car is all hand-controlled … This was a big challenge to get this thing to go A to B in a straight line at 180-plus miles an hour,” Troxell said.
Gouger built the drag cars’ engine in his family’s machine shop, and Troxell said that shop supplies parts to U.S. 12 Speed and Custom all the time.
Another high-powered project currently being worked on in the shop is a 1993 Mustang with a twin-turbo Ford small-block engine expected to crank out more that 2,000 horsepower.
“A lot of the drag cars need upgrades every year and things fixed … a lot of small jobs like that come in through here, and typically I get the ‘while it’s here do this and do this,’” Troxell said.
A recent success story at U.S. 12 Speed and Custom involved a project that began with a 1969 Camaro Z-28 owned by Kathy and Don Hoover of Hobart, Ind., that had been badly damaged in a barn fire.
“We started with the shell of the car, built our own chassis, got a GM performance crate engine,” Troxell said.
That mill ended up generating 525 horsepower in a car that weighed in at 2,400 pounds,
“It’s a rocket ship, it really runs good.”
Troxell said the build process took just over a year from start to finish, and the Camaro (nicknamed “She 28”) that emerged has been noticed at major shows such as the Detroit Autorama and World of Wheels in Chicago.
“We just kept raking in first place everywhere we’d go and everybody was just loving the things that we did on the car,” Troxell said, adding that Hot Rod Magazine was scheduled to do a feature shoot on the car at the Street Machine Nationals in Milwaukee (which took place the same weekend as the show in New Buffalo).
“The newest craze is to build a really fast, race-inspired car and make it street-legal … They’re basically race cars with all the modern amenities,” Troxell said.
An actual race car that had been turned into a street car at U.S. 12 Speed and Custom was delivered a day ahead of the Full Throttle show.
“This was a six-second drag car that when he (Ken Biesboer of Chesterton, Ind.) got it he wanted to convert it to a street car. We put a different engine in it, lights, turn signals, all the things you have to change to make it street legal,” Troxell said.
The sleek, black 1937 Chevy-based ride certainly still looks like a race car, complete with a parachute out back to assist in braking and an all-business metal interior with no padding on the seats and roll bars everywhere.
“I just take it out to have fun and scare myself,” Biesboer said.
“They did a great job on the car — the car speaks for itself.”
Troxell said he’s been involved in speed and custom work for about 15 years.
“I started working with my dad, who owns a hot rod shop in Bridgman (Troxell’s Speciality Cars). I grew up with him racing and having hot rods, helping him out in the shop and working through apprenticeships through school and after school.”
Troxell eventually went into the business for himself and has doing business at 19015 U.S. 12 for five years (look for the race car on the roof).
One of the Full Throttle Throwdown Car Show traditions is awarding hand-made trophies made from “old parts and stuff” including pistons and wrenches. One of the 2016 trophies included the airplane-style hood ornament off a 1955 Chevy painted to resemble a shark.
Those presented with trophies on July 16 were: Paul Mathis (1957 Plymouth Savoy); Ernie Adams (1933 Ford Coupe); Adam Howard (1967 Chevelle); David Koepke (1957 Ford Pickup); Larry Habel (1946 Chevy Pickup); Pat Youngren (1962 Chevy Impala); Kevin Snyder (1951 Mercury Convertible); Scott McGee (1968 Chevy Camaro); Paul Richez (1947 Chevy Pickup); Ken and Jane Nowatski (1967 Ford Mustang); Chuck Gigulio (1966 Chevy); and Terry McMillen (1941 Willies Gasser).
The Miss Full Throttle Pin-Up Contest held on July 16 featured 21 contestants — 12 of them chosen to appear on a calendar designed by Lindsey Troxell using photographs (taken by Kristin Railton) of the pin-up models posing with the top cars from the show.
Crowned Miss Full Throttle 2016 was Miss Golden Gams (Jessica Golden), with runners-up Amanda Miehle (first) and Kayla Boye (second).
The 12 calendar girls (as identified by their “stage names”) include Olivia May, Miss Gin, Heather Horror Show, Miss Lacy, DeDe Bangs, Sadie Spitfire, Rosie Taylor, Rita Rose, Lady Violet, Victory Bell and Miss Maddie.