This is the home of Red Barn Hot Rods, a custom car restoration business situated along the S-curve of Byron Highway just a short hop from Munkelt’s Brentwood home and a million miles from his former life.
“I spent over 20 years in the retail business, and it was good, but this has always been in the back of my mind,” said Munkelt, 42. “And we finally just decided to take the plunge.”
The company’s name derives from the popular belief that classic cars are often discovered abandoned under bales of hay in country barns. “Everyone knows the best cars are always found in the barn,” said Munkelt.
Open just a year and a half, Red Barn Hot Rods is thriving in its 7,500-square-foot building in Byron, after being transplanted from Brentwood. The larger digs give Munkelt and his business partner, wife Pam, more elbowroom to create, restore and breathe new life into the chassis of long-forgotten autos – or in some cases, build new ones from the ground up.
“We do it all,” he said. “Restorations, rebuilds, concourse cars (such as talk-show host Jay Leno owns) and cars that will be driven every day. I prefer to build cars that people drive. I like to bring the owner’s personality and vision to the car. That’s part of what makes this all so much fun.”
And speaking of fun, Munkelt is currently working on a number of cars, including a ’65 Impala, a ’55 T-bird and a ’69 Camaro. Years, makes and models are the language of hot rods, and while terms like Media Blasting, Roll Over and Frame Off might not be familiar to most, the enthusiasm Munkelt exudes is universal.
“Everyone likes to be around hot rods, and I’m no exception,” he said. “I understand the attachment people have to their cars. To me, cars are like paintings; what makes one car great to me might not be the same for someone else, so our goal is to get inside the head of the customer and give them what they want.”
Munkelt comes by his fervor honestly. He learned the trade from his father and stepfather. Drag racing Volkswagen Bugs at 14 (“Yep, 14,” he said with a smile), Munkelt, who was raised in Orinda and later Orange County, grew up going to races and working on cars. He met his wife Pam 22 years ago. She was a self-professed car chick with an affinity for drag racing and classic autos, and it seemed the car gods smiled down upon them.
“I’ve always been into it, the racer-girl thing, going to the races at Carlsbad, the whole bit,” said Pam. “So this (car business) has been a nice, natural thing for us. We are so grateful that the community has been so supportive us. We feel very lucky.”
A complete car restoration takes time and plenty of money. Munkelt estimates he puts in approximately 2,000 to 3,000 man-hours per car, garnering anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000 for a finished product. And while the hobby is expensive, Munkelt doesn’t live the opulent life.
“A lot of these guys, you go to their homes and expect to see these palatial places, but that’s not always the case,” he said. “This (restoring cars) is their passion and it’s what they spend their money on and what they save for. They don’t drink, they don’t smoke; this is their vice. Everyone has a hobby – this is just theirs.”
And Munkelt’s. The hot rod business, even in this tepid economy, is good. Munkelt estimates he’s got approximately 12 cars on the books, and a growing waiting list as well. Plans are even in the works to eventually expand the business, but for now, he and Pam are happy, content and pleased to be a part of the community.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction in what we do,” said Munkelt. “You’re creating stuff from an idea and making it happen … Anyone can make a car go fast, but to make it handle well and stop well is another thing. We take a lot of pride in what we do here, and I believe our work pretty much speaks for itself.”
And for the record, what is the world’s hottest hot rod?
“The AC Cobra, hands-down best car ever made,” said Munkelt. “There’s nothing in the world like it. I built a Cobra and sold it on eBay in two days. That gave us the money to finance our shop, so I guess you could say Cobras are why we’re here.”
Red Barn Hot Rods is located at 14711 Byron Highway. For more information, call 925-634-4848 or visit www.redbarnhotrods.com.