Bobby Alloway has spent the last three decades building kickass black cars and collecting some of the hot rod industry’s most esteemed awards. The Tennessee-based builder already has a Ridler, an AMBR and three Goodguys Street Rod of the Year awards to his name, among others, but he keeps a steady stream of cool cars coming out of Alloway’s Hot Rod Shop.
No matter what kind of car Alloway is building you can bet it’ll be two things: built to last…and black. “How can you get tired of a black paint job?!” he said. “It’s like a Brooks Brothers suit – it’s timeless!”
We chatted with Alloway about his love of the black car, the reason he’s been able to stay in business for over 27 years and how he almost missed out on his successful hot rod career to go waterski.
GG: We have to ask: what’s the deal with you and black cars?
Bobby Alloway: I really love a black car. No one will ever say that they don’t like a certain shade of black! I have kind of adopted Henry Ford’s philosophy. He said, ‘You can have any color [car] you want, as long as it’s black.’ The first car I ever painted was black. Back then, black cars weren’t as photogenic and I couldn’t get any cars shot [for magazines]. I did a red ’34 Victoria and said, ‘I’m going to get on the cover of a magazine!’ I won the Ridler with that car. After that, I said, ‘Screw it. I’m done painting red cars.’ I went back to black and I’ve been doing them ever since.
Every car [currently] in the shop is black except for two – a giveaway car and an Edsel we are doing red for a longtime customer’s wife. Other than that, it’s going to be black.
GG: Alloway’s Hot Rod Shop has been going strong since 1991. Why do you think you’ve managed to be successful for so many years?
Alloway: I’m loyal to a fault. I’m very loyal to products and people. I treat them like I treat my wife. If I tell you it’s a done deal, it’s a done deal! You build relationships and don’t try to get instant gratification. I try to always remember that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and about 15 minutes to lose it.
I never compromised a build just to have the work. I didn’t do it for the money; I did it because I really wanted to do it. I don’t want to sound cocky but I won’t build anything I don’t want to build. You give away so much time [on projects], so it’s really hard to do something if you don’t love it.
GG: If you could road-trip to anywhere in the United States, where would you go?
Alloway: It wouldn’t be a road trip, but I’d like to go to Australia. My wife and I drove everywhere we went for years and years. I never owned a trailer for a car until the mid-1980s. On one of our first road trips, I drove a blown three-window coupe to Disney World. I’m kind of over the road trip these days.
GG: What’s your most-prized possession?
Alloway: I have a daughter that’s almost 19, so I’d probably say she’s my most-prized possession. We never thought we’d have kids; I was 45 when she was born. She’s a great kid and plays college softball. She could care less about cars, but she is the best thing we’ve ever done!
GG: If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it?
Alloway: I’d probably be at the lake or at a softball game. I help coach a high school team here in town. I feel like you have to pay it forward. If the Lord has blessed you, then share it. When my daughter was in high school, I helped build a softball field for her team. If you ever see Troy Trepanier and I talking at a car show, you can bet it’s not about cars – it’s about softball! His daughter plays too.
GG: If you hadn’t become a hot rod builder, what kind of career do you think you’d have right now?
Alloway: I might have been a beach bum. When I was in high school, I had the chance to go to Cypress Gardens to be in their waterski stunt show. I grew up with all that stuff. We were at a lake with my friend, who had just started Mastercraft, and Cypress Gardens was down there trying out one of his boats for the ski show. They were also looking for crazy kids who wanted to waterski. I was out there doing pyramids and all that, and they asked me to come ski. The only reason I didn’t do it was I had just bought a 1971 LT1 Corvette and I was working at a dealership to pay for it. Thank goodness I didn’t. It would have been a disaster!
GG: Back in 1998, your entire shop burned to the ground. How did that fire affect your business and life?
Alloway: If it hadn’t burnt to the ground, I wouldn’t be doing what I am right now. We were cruising along and lost everything. We had 14 cars in the shop, and no insurance. We lost everything we had and it made us work harder. One of these days I’m going to stop and cry about it, but I haven’t had time to do that yet. We started back from scratch and it made us tougher.
GG: You have a pretty impressive car collection these days. Just how many cars do you actually own?
Alloway: I collect and collect, and my wife and I kind of have a deal. She never asks me how many cars I want and I never ask her how many pairs of shoes she wants. But if I had to answer, I’d say I have about 50.
GG: What’s your dream car? Do you already own it?
Alloway: Actually, no I don’t own it. I want a new Ferrari. I’ve never had one. I’d like to have it for a week and then I’d probably get tired of it. Back in the ’90s Boyd [Coddington] dropped one of to hold and that gave me the bug for it. I want it because I can’t build it. Most people want old cars but I have plenty of those. I want something I can’t build myself.
GG: How is building hot rods today different from building them 30 years ago?
Alloway: Parts are so much easier to get now! These days, you can pick up the phone and get any part you want. Back in the day, when you were building a street rod, you had to lie to the old-timers and say you were restoring the car, because they wouldn’t sell parts to someone who was hot rodding cars.
When I first started, I called Pete Chapouris to find someone who would build me an aluminum dash panel and door panel. I had this great idea but couldn’t find what I needed. He told me there was this guy in California who worked for Disney who did some stuff like that at home. It turned out to be Boyd Coddington.
GG: What we will see coming out of Alloway’s Hot Rod Shop next?
Alloway: We’ve got a bunch of stuff in the works at my shop, at least a dozen cars. We’re doing all kinds of stuff, even some strange ones. You’ll be seeing a ’58 Edsel coming hopefully for SEMA. That’s been a challenge. It’s an Edsel with a Coyote motor. We’re going to call it Coyote Ugly!
Lead photo by John Jackson / www.NotStockPhotography.com