Fire trucks should be red, correct? Going along with that thinking, they should also have an engine that’ll get the whole thing to the fire F-A-S-T, correct? Continuing that thought, IF you own a rod shop, but the fire truck owner wants that fire truck restored, would you build a 1944 Mack fire truck, overhaul the stock engine, put in period correct upholstery, and paint it red?
Not if you’re Tommy Stark, owner of Precision Design Automotive Fabrication Rod Shop in Denver, ColoRODo. You’d take the owner aside and explain to him what it would take to build an award winner by thinking waaa-aaay outside the box. That’s exactly what Tommy and fire truck owner, Roger Brown, did. They didn’t just think outside the normal box, they redesigned the box, fabricated a new way to fold it, and hauled it to Las Vegas. Tommy and his crew built a winner, in more ways than one, and debuted Roger’s fire truck at the 2011 SEMA.
The ONLY red (paint) on the truck–the Viper V10 valve covers.
First thing they did was pull the massive body off the frame to modify it. For power, they didn’t even consider the usual LS Chevy, they chose the rare: a 2005 Viper V10 coupled to a 48RE transmission running into a 2008 Dodge rearend, narrowed in-house. Up in the cockpit, they assembled a bunch of Classic Instruments gauges and had the seat upholstered by Pjays. Paint was next. The owner still insisted on R-E-D…but a red fire truck is soo-ooo passé. Tommy insisted on Dupont single stage Black.
“Everyone paints fire trucks red! I wanted something to make it POP,” Tommy answered. “I mean just visualize it in your mind: deep dark BLACK, like a mirror, with lots of gold leaf and a red stripe between the leaf! No one has done black on a fire truck!”
“I’d had the illustration done in black right from the beginning,” Tommy added, “Roger had seen it but I knew he was going to need some convincing.”
“One afternoon I called him to discuss other parts of the project. I’d been brow-beating him about black and he finally said and I quote, “F#%k it, paint it black! Everyone, including my wife and Aaron (one son is a firemen in Lawrence, Kansas) is going to be pissed until they see it finished.”
“I was stunned,” Tommy added, “He’d conceded. I bought paint right away so he couldn’t change his mind. After it won several awards everyone apologized for not being able to see what I could see. The most common comment is: Love the black, everyone would use red.”
Not many shops would take on a 1944 Mack fire truck either, but the fire truck has an AccuAir controlled custom air bag suspension, 4 bar front and rear, American Force 24-inch wheels, 15-inch brakes, real gold leaf by Speedway Graphix of Denver, ColoRODo, and all the chrome work which was handled by Jon Wright’s Custom Chrome in Grafton, Ohio. The truck features custom-built ladders and custom woodwork in the bed. It also won a “Mothers Choice” award at SEMA (and would win many more over the next few years).
Invitation by AccuAir
“I gotta tell you how fast the truck came together,” Tommy said. “We’d gotten confirmation from AccuAir around Mid-June to come to SEMA, they’d sponsored us. At that point we had five months to get the truck engineered, engine and transmission in, and metal worked. Hardly any time for paint, upholstery, or assembly! I talked with my team, all committed to the long hours and the deadline. I asked the painter and the interior guys for some extra time and they were on board as well.
October 1st we had parts coming back from paint, chrome from Jon Wright’s shop, and started putting it together. Mind you SEMA is the last week of October. We got the truck together, running, driving, and loaded for SEMA in 24 Days.”
A few shots of Tommy's shop. Note the upside-down 33 getting a full belly pan made. There's not much the shop can't do.
Tommy got his “automotive spark” from his Dad, Glenn, a drag racer, builder, driver, and tuner. Glen was kind of an “outlaw” type of teenager with fast cars. In 1956 he bought a 1948 Ford four-door sedan and went through a couple of full race flatheads street racing. After breaking multiple transmissions and rearends, he decided a Chrysler Hemi would be faster.
Glen went through several “stock” Hemi blocks and by 1959 he’d installed a 331 cubic-inch, with 354 heads and a 6×2 intake, Vertex mag, solid cam, and backed by a 1937 Cad/LaSalle trans running into a ‘56 Chevy pickup rearend housing 5:89 gears. Needless to say he raced a lot of “Chevrolets” and never got beat.
Glen’s ‘48 was a record holder in C/Gas @ 13.07/105mph in 1962. He still owns the car to this date. Tommy re-finished the car the way it was when Glen parked it in the 60’s. Glen also helped race Top Fuel cars with Heth and Thompson, Junior Kaiser of the Kaiser Brothers, and John Abbott, to name a few.
Thanks to his Dad, Tommy’s “spark” is his shop. He built a daily driver–a slammed ’55 Chevy station wagon to haul wife, Aleda, and two kids in. Speaking of ’55 Chevys, Tommy and his crew recently finished up a ’55 210 two door sedan. The owner wanted an all aluminum, fully polished, blown and injected Chrysler Hemi but the car already had a big-block and was finished/painted with leather upholstery. The problem was the owner didn’t want to have to redo what was already done. He called Tommy. The ‘55 took about 10 months to complete and Tommy and crew ended up redoing 80% of the car anyway. It debuted in 2013.
An all aluminum Hemi went into the '55. The car had already been finished once when the owner decided he needed a Hemi.
Precision Designs, A Life-Long Dream
Tommy’s company, Precision Designs got its start in 2008 and just celebrated a five year anniversary and yes, Tommy prefers that instead of ‘Tom.’ The “Precision” part of the name is the machinist in Tommy building cars with calipers and micrometers. The “Designs” part is what he likes to do–build things that are a little different. Tommy readily admits his shop was a childhood dream.
“When I had more side-work at home than I could handle it was time to get out on my own,” Tommy explained, “My wife encouraged me. The first car I did was a ‘68 Camaro–some quarter panel work. We ended up building the complete car. It was just about ready for paint when the customer went overseas, then the car got stored.
The '68 Camaro was the first build Tommy did, he's got it back to finish it.
We currently have that car back and are finishing it. I have to give credit to my crew: Matt Wagner (child hood best friend for literally 30 years), Steve Wagner, Craig Tybring, and Brian Nelson. We stay very busy.”
While some shops have been in business far longer than Precision Designs has, Tommy has his guys dialed in and together they turn out show winners consistently. In 2014 they finished a ’42 Ford convertible which won a Pro’s Pick in Des Moines Goodguys’ show and several awards since.
Tommy's smiling face always greets his customers.
Tommy and his crew are currently working on a 1932 Ford 3 window, a 1956 Buick Century, another ‘55 Chevy, a ’57 Chevy 210 hard top, and a ’33 Speedstar roadster. Should you be interested in Tommy’s shop building you a vehicle (notice I didn’t say car!), give him a call at (720) 982-4092 or e-mail him: PrecisionDesigns@live.com.