Thanks to social media and ‘reality’ television hot rod shops have never seen more attention, but loud personalities, high gloss marketing, endless budgets, and round the clock filming can only take a shop so far. At the end of the day, the credibility and reputation of a custom car builder is only as good as the quality of vehicles they produce. In the case of Cambridge Ontario’s Hitman Hotrods, their vehicles, and by association their reputation, are second to none.
Owner and founder Scott Forbes believes that the process of building a road worthy custom hot rod isn’t that unlike the process behind creating a bespoke super-car, so with that in mind Hitman takes an extremely detail focused approach to all of their builds. Every component is carefully selected to meet the customer’s needs, then further modified to fit their vehicle specifically, not just another vehicle of the same year.
This methodical approach to custom car building has made Hitman known for its ability to rectify even the most far gone projects and engineer turn key builds from the ground up.
This 1929 Tudor sits on a Hitman 1932 Ford chassis lowered three inches to give it that killer stance.
Scott is proud of the fact that his standards for a complete vehicle are far beyond that of his competitors. Most of the cars that come through the door, deemed complete by other shops, Scott would estimate at actually being 80 to 90% finished with the braking and cooling systems typically being the areas that need the most attention and re-engineering.
At Hitman they focus on that last 10 to 20 percent obsessively, and the excuse that a car behaves a certain way because its “a classic” simply doesn’t fly.
There are no cut corners or half measures at Hitman Hot Rods, just a job done right or not at all.
Hitman's meticulous approach means everything is measured several times before cutting tools come out.
Scott’s education plays a big part in the detail focused approach used at Hitman. Educated as a mechanical draftsman Scott applied what he learned about precision at school to his previous job as a member of a larger team at different hot rod shop .
There, the owners would leave Scott in charge of the shop for days at a time while they went racing.
Every good Hitman needs a calling card.
Keeping the lights on while the owners were away gave Scott invaluable hands on experience, and all it took was one customer to mention that his employers were training their own hitman (by giving Scott so much responsibility) for the entrepreneurial seed to be planted.
How It Started
Scott, who had been around cars his entire life thanks to his father’s side of the family, had never actually considered opening his own shop, but shortly after that conversation Hitman was born.
The Hitman team; Scott Forbes, Mike Watson, Mike Purdy and Jeff Wybrow, not pictured Dave Newberry.
Hitman opened their doors in November of 2005, and by January of 2006 they were several race car builds deep. An Ontario street car association sanctioned driver himself Scott eventually phased the drag racing side of his business out in favor of more street-able customs.
Today there’s only one customer owned drag car left sitting in the shop, a hold over from the shops formative years.
This Vega is the only remaining drag car build at Hitman, it will still be street legal when all is said and done.
From the beginning, Hitman has been a well equipped shop that employs only the most qualified and certified employees, as such there’s nothing outside of final paint and interior they are not capable of. But beyond that Hitman is also currently the only shop in Ontario that provides customers with the ability to custom order a chassis that is both designed and built in Canada.
This customer brought in a fiberglass body and little more and has had Hitman fill in the gaps. They are constructing a frame specifically for the body and using a blend of re pop and original parts to bring it all home.
The chassis side of Hitman Hotrods came together after Scott and team tried to work with other available options (both locally and abroad) but found them to be sub par. The Model A was the first vehicle Hitman designed for, but as word spread of their chassis quality their product line expanded.
Tools of the trade: Hitman has all the parts, pieces, tables, and jigs to make a chassis for anything that rolls in the door.
Hitman now offers Model A, 1932 Ford, 1947-1952 and 1954-1959 Chevrolet/GMC truck frames for purchase. They are also currently working on a C10 chassis, and are equipped to do any number of one-off chassis at customer request.
Their next trust chassis is going to be for the Chevrolet C10.
Hitman’s built to order frames and chassis offer configurations for all level of build, LS motor mounts, a lowered stance, power steering, and independent rear suspension are all available options.
Tools of the trade: Outside of paint and interior there isn't a single thing Hitman isn't equipped to handle.
The Current Builds
As a full service facility few projects are turned away at the door and during our visit a Nomad, Chevelle, Model A, Chevy Vega, third generation Camaro, and a Triumph sat inside the shop, while outside was a 1932 Ford and an R35 Nissan Skyline.
This 1965 Chevelle is a pro touring build through and through, with 6.2L CTS-V power, Wilwood brakes and Forgeline wheels.
The Triumph in particular is a great example just how in depth in house Hitman builds can be. On the hoist with parts spread out beneath it, the car looked like a giant model kit ready to assemble, this particular model kit however isn’t box stock.
A Triumph Stag might be unexpected at any other Hot Rod shop but to Hitman anything is a hot rod and this isn't going to be any ordinary Stag.
Modelers would call this car “kit bashed” as it employs parts from multiple vehicles. The brakes come from the Mazda parts catalog, namely the RX-7, while the power plant comes from the GM wheelhouse: a 2.4L Ecotec four cylinder from a Buick Verano.
Ecotech power comes from Buick Verdano and the brakes are from a Mazda RX-7. Modelers would call this 1:1 model kit bashed.
The owner of this car is a repeat customer who, after attempting to drive the wheels off the other Triumph Hitman built for him, decided he wanted a car that swayed a little bit more toward the show side while still being capable of spirited drives without worry.
The owner plans to both show and drive this car.
The Camaro is an even larger endeavor and is essentially a Corvette now, in everything but name. This project was put on a rotisserie and blasted before the unibody was restructured and reinforced, makin way for the much larger exhaust and LT4 mill.
Corvette z06 LT4 power replaces the 305 TPI that previously sat in this IROC-Z
The motor is a snug fit under hood especially when you take into account that this car will retain all the creature comforts it left the factory with. This includes power steering, power brakes, and a fully functional air conditioning, simply because that is what Hitman does.
While the owner hasn’t explicitly said what his ultimate goals for the car are, Hitman is building him a vehicle capable of doing anything on the street or strip.
The Ground Control suspension under the car provides adjust-ability in every direction, Baer big brakes can be found at all four corners and 9.5 and 10.5 Forgeline wheels are wrapped with 285 and 305 tires, that certainly will provide enough grip for the drag strip or road course.
Ground Control suspension, Baer brakes and Forgeline wheels make up the footwork on this heavily modified F body.
As Scott took us through the various details of the builds in the shop he said “I just want to see more people take custom car building seriously… people should be able to trust that their completed car will go down the road properly”.
This might look like a 1956 pick up but it will basically be an entirely brand new hand built machine when Hitman Hot Rods is done with it.
Looking at the business he’s built, and the cars he’s building with that business, it would be impossible for anyone to think that Scott is doing anything but taking custom car building serious.
If you want a turn key custom capable of blowing the doors off the competition while driving across the country then there’s only one place to go in South Western Ontario and that’s Hitman Hotrods.
We’re already waiting for our return invite to check out these projects when they’re done and watch them burn rubber as they go down the street.