Music fans are sure to know exactly what group you’re talking about if you mention “that little ol’ band from Texas” and it stands to reason that it would be the same with car guys. If you mention “that little shop from Houston” in reference to big-powered, modernized muscle cars and hot rods, there’s only one shop it could be – GAP Racing.
GAP Racing was formed by George Palazzolo in 2007 at the urging of a close friend and fellow hot rodder. George supported his family for years as a general mechanic while working on his own classic cruisers as well as many friends’ rods in his spare time. “My dad always had cool cars around while I was growing up,” his son Tim explained. “He had a couple first-gen Camaros, G-body El Caminos and others, so I got the bug early on. When I was about 11 he had a ’67 Nova which was the first car I remember really working on with him and thinking about how cool it was.”
George was finally convinced to give the hot rod shop a go and started doing repairs and builds in his personal garage. Within a few months he moved into a small building as more work started to come in. At the time, he stuck to upgrades and mild modifications such as installing A/C, engine swaps, wheel tubs, and mechanical work.
While George was launching GAP Racing, Tim would help out in the shop after wrapping up a day at his corporate gig as a regional trainer with O’Reilly Auto Parts. Things were getting busy at the new shop and Tim was faced with a major decision – continue on at O’Reilly, where he had more than 10 years invested, a solid paycheck, benefits and a corporate ladder, or take a chance to work with his pop and build hot rods.
You can see what he decided – and we’re happy they both took the chance, as GAP Racing has produced some stellar machines leaving their mark on the performance hot rod world. Sure, Tim is probably working longer and harder than he ever thought, but there is no question he’s doing what he loves, which helps make up for the extra hours and stress. George also decided that he wanted to continue doing what he loved to do, which is to fiddle with his own cars and take it easy, so he retired from the shop in 2015 (though he still checks in on the projects now and then).
Today, GAP Racing has developed into a full-tilt muscle machine and hot rod shop with scores of accolades from builds such as the Stampede ’69 Mustang, which was a Great 8 finalist at the Detroit Autorama, and more recently the Enigma ’71 Camaro, which received a GM Design Award at the 2016 SEMA Show before becoming the Goodguys 2017 Griot’s Garage Muscle Machine of the Year. That’s quite a list for a shop that has been doing full builds for a relatively short time.
Did you pick up on a pattern for GAP builds? It’s just happened that the shop has gained a reputation for classic muscle cars and Tim agreed that their roots are certainly based in the ’60s and ’70s vintage. That said, the shop team enjoys different genres and has a few unusual things in the works, including a ’46 COE and Tim’s own ’36 Ford coupe for a future build. Tim said he’d also like to craft a roadster to take to the Grand National Roadster Show someday.
It also makes sense that muscle cars just happen to be central to the way GAP Racing likes to build cars. “We like vehicles to be low and ride on some 18s or maybe 20-inch wheels. We also like them to have big horsepower,” Tim said. “Modern suspension is key to using all of that power, and then we want to deliver cutting-edge details.”
By details, no stone is left unturned – or in this case, no retainer is left unturned or improved upon. Tim likes to see subtle custom touches, from the dash bezel to hidden switches and panels. The team will move things to where they function better in order to streamline the classic form of a muscle machine into a modern version. Tucking and trimming bumpers, flush-mounted glass, reworking panel gaps to precision tolerances – it’s all about refining the vehicle without disrupting its original design.
“In the end, the car has to perform as good as it looks,” Tim said. “Form and function overall.” To achieve those goals, Tim has a small but dedicated team of hard-working, talented craftsman. Not only can they each help out through the various aspects of a build, but they’re all enthusiasts with their own project cars or race cars. Most of them are well under 40 years old, including Tim who is just 37. These guys grew up on ’80s and ’90s cars and Tim sees the third- and fourth-generation Camaros and Mustangs coming of age. Just look at the popularity of squarebody trucks and G-bodies as an example. What’s even better is that they’re being built to drive. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?
The past decade has been a whirlwind as GAP has transformed from a father-and-son startup into a genuine force in the hot rod builder market, and there is no slowing down on the horizon. Tim is closing in on new land to build a larger building, with plans to put in a paint booth so the shop can have better control of projects from paper to finish. He cautioned that they need the space to spread out their work areas and planned to continue to focus on quality over quantity, rather than taking on more craftsman and projects. He’d still like to take another run at a Ridler or an AMBR contender, simply to be a part of it all.
“Growing up I admired everything that Foose, Troy Trepanier and even Boyd created and accomplished. Today my peers are some of the best builders, like Jonathan Goolsby and Andy Leach, and what’s better is that we’re all friends,” Tim said. “They have so many unique concepts and ideas that it’s great to see what they’re doing next – and it’s so cool that we get to compete on the same stage with them.”
For the new building, Tim also recently acquired a chassis dyno that will be useful in getting the shop’s high-powered builds tweaked and programmed just right. It should also be handy in helping a lot of regional street rodders get their carburetors and traditional engines dialed in. It’s not all high-end builds and one-off parts, though. The GAP team still likes to help out on smaller jobs, including everything from installing air conditioning to suspension upgrades, mini tubs and more. Everything a hot rod shop should offer and more. We’re looking forward to seeing the team’s latest ’70 Chevelle at SEMA, as well as whatever else Tim and the GAP Racing crew roll out of this little ‘ol Texas shop.
Photos by John Jackson