So, you figured it’s time to build the ultimate engine for your hot rod. So what do you do? You look around at other rides, other motors, and sure – a 392 hemi would be great, nailheads are cool too, but if you’re serious, no I mean REALLY serious you’re probably on the road to building a flathead. If you’re like most “regular” guys or myself for that matter, flatheads are not what you grew up with. It was small-block Chevys, Ford, and Mopars.
Once you decide to head down the path of the glorious flathead, what’s next? Trash thousands of dollars destroying precious 8ba blocks in hopes you can keep one of these historic motors together? No, you go to the right person for the job – in this case, that person is Mike Herman from H&H Flatheads. Now, Mike hasn’t necessarily always been the “right” person to seek guru flathead help from, but like so many other great personalities that I’ve met in the industry, Mike’s life has been a path of fate rather than luck.
Starting with a strong background in business, he turned his focus from the family rituals of building four-banger fours into a business venture that made him not only successful, but a curator of sorts as well. We’ve been lucky enough to sit with Mike and talk about his life, his shop, and more importantly – the pride and craftsmanship that was passed down with the Navarro name, and that is where it all starts…Barney Navarro.
Barney was and will always be a hero to the lovers of Ford flathead engines due to his endless pursuit of horsepower well before the simple act of bolting on a supercharger to an LS motor out of a wrecked Silverado yielded 700 at the crank. Building a flathead is and will always be an art – an art that one man was willing to perfect. Mike Herman was “told” to take the $1,500 dollars burning a hole in his pocket back in 2003 and start on an adventure that would rival anything on the silver screen.
Ed Iskadarian, Nick Arias Jr. and Mike Herman enjoying the sights and sounds of the Grand National Roadster Show.
We connected with Mike out at the 2013 Grand National Roadster Show and after peeling him from the clutches of not only Ed Iskadarian (Isky Cams), but also Nick Arius (Nick Arius Jr. Racing Components) to talk a little shop and what he brought out to the “Grand Daddy of them all” for us all to see.
Rod Authority: So what’s it like being here at the GNRS and seeing the excitement and interest in the H&H booth?
Mike Herman: “It certainly proves that the rarity of a particular speed part can some times sway the love of one car over the other at the AMBR.”
RA: So what is your personal choice and most intriguing speed part at this year’s GNRS?
MH: “The V8-60 Aurdun Heads, it’s the talk of the show. I would if I could, but I don’t have a $100k laying around. You can’t get much more rare than that – I believe it is one set of only 8 in the world.”
RA: Beyond the GNRS there is a story I want to capture and tell the world, one of a young man named Mike Herman who took an amazing path that has carried him down the path of automotive determination to now being a perfect example of the American dream. You started off with $1,500 bucks in your pocket and you made your dream come true – share a bit of that with the Rod Authority readers:
MH: “Yeah, I was really lucky, my father already had all the machinery and the knowledge and when I got out of college it was real hard finding a job. I was working for my brother doing the four bangers and my dad said to me, “why don’t you do the flatheads” – I said, “Dad I don’t know, I just don’t know” and he said –“ we are doing it.” And now 15 years later and yes, only starting with $1,500 in my pockets, it’s pretty cool to now see my motors all over at a show like the GNRS. When this all started for me – I was living at home, no house payment and no cell phone payment, no nothing, so everything went back into the business and it’s grown 10 fold since then.”
RA: You didn’t start off looking to build flatheads for the world’s greatest builders – so what’s your background in college?
MH: “I got my degree in business management and business marketing was my double major and in this era of automotive business, it’s truly been a blessing.”
RA: Sure, I’ve seen a lot of great builders fail due to their inability to run a business when all they wanted to do was construct great cars.
MH: “Yeah, The first time I sold a big time motor, I had 10 grand in the account and I thought to myself I should go buy a Babe Ruth baseball card…thank god I didn’t. It might have gone up in value, but now I know I made the right choice.”
RA: How did your relationship with Barney Navarro start?
MH: “I was selling parts out of a little 10 page catalog and every time someone would buy parts I would run down to his shop. No matter how much I bought, I never got a break in price. My dad told me that every time I would go there to just ask questions and each time it would end being a hour and a half conversation and we would just sit and talk and I got to tell you he is a genius and probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever known in the auto business and I’ve definitely met some smart people.
H&H builds the meanest Flatheads on the planet, but they also deal in vintage builds from nailheads to Hemis.
So, I would just go down there and he would tell me everything I wanted to know. Most of the time we would talk philosophy, but a couple of years went by and he told me he wanted me to buy the company. We had been doing good work and Barney knew we were a family owned business and it all just fell into place – I was going to buy a house, had all my down payment money saved and I went home to tell my wife, I’m buying Navarro racing.”
RA: How did that go over with your wife?
It certainly proves that the rarity of a particular speed part can some times sway the love of one car over the other at the AMBR. – Mike Herman
MH: “Well my wife is a CFA and she knew the future of this purchase would be a safe and successful bet. Above that, she also knew that when a hot rod pioneer gives you his child with his blessing, there was no other choice but to dive in 100%.”
RA: In all those talks and time spent with Barney – was there one conversation that stood out more than the others?
MH: “There are so many times when Barney would share his inner thoughts with me and I spent time with him all the way through his time in a care facility. One thing that most people might not know is that Barney had a very dry sense of humor and he – ABOVE ALL, told me to work hard and be honest and that was his motto. I do my best to live by that both in my personal life and with my businesses. He did not lie to people and he believed that your hard work will get you where you need to be and that has been my saving grace more times than I could count.”
RA: Out of all the stories and memoribilia you have shown me while hanging out at the shop one of the coolest things was the 3×5 cards that Barney kept for business records – I got to ask, were you ever on a 3×5 card?
MH: “3×5 card? Oh no, by that time the typewriter was long gone and I think I was his only customer at that point. The phones weren’t ringing, but I it was neat seeing all of the old ways that business was done.”
RA: When you look at that type of business practice and the way Barney ran his business – does it make you think about how lucky you are to have been given the opportunity to carry on such a great chapter of performance history?
MH: “The bottom line is this – it’s BOTH what he did, and how he did it. What he did was amazing and he was a genius and I’m proud to carry on the name in honor of building some of the greatest hot rodding engines on the planet. And I’ll continue to do it how he did it, with integrity and hard work.”
As we concluded our chat, once again Mike was mobbed by fans of his work and what he does to fill the engine bays of some of the nicest hot rods on the planet. So we let him off the hook to slip away and do what we think he was born to do – be the perfect example of what we all love, a true hot rodder.