This is the second of a two-part article. To read the first, click here: EAST BAY SPEED AND CUSTOM PART-1
So if you're here, reading this story, it's probably because you want to know what the skinny is with this little shop that you've been hearing about. Maybe while watching the world at large pass before your eyes in an endless social media scroll, you've stumbled across a photo or two of a beautifully done car, one that's graceful sophistication and flawless execution forced your brain to tell your thumb to stop swiping. And when you did, you took note of the name of the parties responsible for its construction.
Maybe you've been at a car show and were drawn with curious attraction to a certain flowing custom car, one that looks like it drove itself and all of its timeless elegance, right out of the little pages of the late 1940's or early 1950's. Or maybe it was a hot rod with so much unbridled "fuck you" attitude, mixed with a level of refinement so startling that the confusing combination punched you straight in the mouth the second you saw it. In a good way. And when you shake it all off to focus in on the name on the accompanying show board, you see it again. "It's those same MF'ers."
It could also be that at one of these gatherings, you've found yourself chewing the fat with your cohorts about your "dream car" - and when it is described, bounced around from person to person, each adding their own twists and improvements, the compound of these dream-ride-descriptors is an imaginary rendering of the ultimate early custom car. And inevitably someone says it, "Like the stuff that one shop is doing...."
"That one shop," is East Bay Speed and Custom.
There is no denying that in the last few years, East Bay has quietly planted its flag squarely in the middle of the traditional hot rod and custom car world, and without outrightly saying so, has solidified itself as THE premier shop in this little niche that we are all so passionate about. And for good reason. But to truly understand what makes this shop what it is, you first need to meet its proprietor...
Now, just one look at the way East Bay puts cars together and you would have to assume that the person in charge of this operation would have to have spent a lifetime in the world of early Fords. And you would be correct. One could also deduce from the style in which these things go together that the guy at the helm also has a passion for post-war custom cars. And if we're looking to round off the list of plainly obvious observables, this person also has more than his fair share of talent and a seemingly innate ability to transform something already beautiful, like an early Ford, into an absolute knockout that smacks of unrivaled timelessness. You are correct about all of that. Congrats, you just met Brandon Flaner.
Brandon's fate of owning a preeminent hot rod and custom shop wasn't necessarily pre-determined, but his passion for early cars certainly was.
"Well, I've been into early Ford V8's my entire life, thanks mainly to my grandfather and uncle." He goes on, "My grandfather was part of that first wave of guys responsible for establishing the Early Ford V8 Club of America, and really get it up and going."
Brandon's childhood can really be summed up in one word: Cars. From as far back as can be remembered, he describes being enveloped in the world of not only stock/restored early Ford V8's, but also hot rod and custom cars. The latter of which was mostly frowned upon by the former, but nonetheless made an impactful and lasting impression on Brandon.
"My two biggest influences have always been my grandfather, and his good friend, Dick Falk," Brandon says. (Both of these gents are deserving of an article of their own by the way)
He describes watching these two work on and improve the cars they owned over the course of many years and being inspired by that process. Most notably, a 1940 Ford Coupe his grandfather owned for decades until his passing in 2018, and Dick's constantly evolving 1935 Ford Phaeton. Brandon has said that one of his goals is to be able to put those two cars side by side once again - and he's off to a great start: His grandfather's '40 is still in the family. And when it comes to Dick's Phaeton, it already resides in Brandon's garage, he was able to purchase the car not long ago.
But idyllic upbringings and childhood memories of riding along listening to the sounds of grandpa's rumbling flathead V8 aside, the time eventually came to make some decisions. "I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life," Brandon says. And with influences like the ones mentioned above, I guess it's really no surprise where this road would lead.
"I started off by enrolling in a two-and-a-half-year program at Wyotech in Laramie, Wyoming," he says. "I immersed myself and really tried to do as much and learn as much as I possibly could. This is where I learned the basics of everything from chassis building to metal fabrication and body and paint work."
After graduating from Wyotech and returning home, Brandon quickly picked up a job at a small local fabrication shop where he spent his time improving his metal working skills. And just two years into this, a life-altering thing occured:
"I was approached by Darryl Hollenbeck about going to work for him at Vintage Color Studio in Concord, California." He says, "And that is really where this whole thing started for me."
When Brandon talks about this time in his life, it is with a clear appreciation for the experience and its significance in shaping his path:
"I feel like this is where things really began connecting." He says, "I was able to hone my skillset substantially during this period, with Darryl really pushing me hard to do and be my absolute best."
Brandon goes on to describe his time there with a sincere and obvious sense of reverence: "I feel extremely lucky to have had that opportunity. There were a lot of highlights, but some of my favorites were being involved in the restoration of The Ala Kart, The Sam Barris Merc, and being able to work on The Jack Calori Coupe."
But it wasn't just influential cars that impacted him during this time, Brandon is quick to point out that it was also the people he met along the way that truly shaped him as a person and as a craftsman:
"Guys like Flynn Millard, Paul Blatt, Mike Wenger, Darrell Schneider, Art Himsl, John Aiello and the list goes on..."
He continues, "I feel extremely fortunate. These guys were not only my inspiration, but they also had such willingness and patience to teach a young guy like me some of their tricks of the trade. I owe a LOT of what I do to these guys!"
After spending ten years with Darryl Hollenbeck at Vintage Color Studio, Brandon decided it was time to break out on his own. He describes it like this, with an eye roll and air quotes:
"As silly as it sounds, this was a decision based around wanting to "do more than body and paint" and needing to "express my style" through complete builds of my own." Silly or not, East Bay Speed and Custom was born in 2013.
It started out humbly enough: A small shop, approximately 1000 square feet in Concord, California. This tiny space may have represented a new chapter and an exciting time, but almost as quickly as the ribbon-cutting ceremony was completed, it was already proving to be too small for Brandon's fast-growing business. A short time later, a new space (also in Concord) was nailed down, this one more than two and a half times the size of the first.
"That second shop in Concord is where I really got into the zone. I was there for approximately 6 years and during that time, was lucky enough to build some very neat cars for some extremely great people."
The endless stream of absolutely bitchin cars that came through the East Bay shop doors was staggering, but when pressed for his "favorite" from that time period, Brandon chose two. The first of which was The Bryan Rusk Coupe. If you're somehow unfamiliar with this car, it is a beautifully chopped 1936 Ford 3 Window Coupe that speaks volumes about what East Bay represents.
Photo by @stephen_brooks_photo
"Bryan was so great to work with," Brandon says. "He and I went back and forth on that car so much, making different changes and improvements as we went along. One of the great things about that car was that Bryan didn't want that "pow" effect that most people are after, just to be flashy. Instead, we simply focused on what was right for the car and what both of us wanted. In the end, we got just that. EXCEPT, it *should* have had a column shift!" (Brandon insisted I include that, sorry Mr. Rusk! HA) On that note, the two became great friends through the process of building this gorgeous car, which Brandon describes as being the best part of the experience.
Another prized memory that came idling out of the East Bay facility during this time period was the resurrection of "Mickey's Mouse," an absolute legend that took the area scene by storm way back in the early 1960's when it was completed by Mickey Himsl, featuring paint and striping by his brother, none other than Art Himsl. The truck was sold shortly after completion and was not seen again until 2009 when Mickey unbelievably found it at a swap meet and bought it back. It eventually made its way to East Bay Speed and Custom to be completely redone as it had originally been built so many decades before-but better.
"The guys I was able to work on that project with were truly some of my heroes," Brandon says. He goes on to explain that he and his crew worked on that pickup around the clock for 5 months straight and that there was absolutely no detail missed. "Every single thing on that truck was detailed to full show quality, right down to rubbing out the paint on the damn steering box!"
The best part was, although East Bay (re)built the truck, they had Art Himsl custom mix the color and spray it, exactly the way he had more than fifty years earlier, before applying the same pinstriping. This is the type of story hot rodders dream about. And what an experience it must have been to be a part of.
And since then, things have just gotten better for Brandon and East Bay. Along the way, he picked up some fantastic additions to his team. One of which, an inspiringly talented younger guy named Jason Roth.
"I first met Jason at the RPM Nationals," Brandon says. "He would race his T Coupe and I kept noticing that every time I'd see it, it was a little different than the time before, he just kept changing and improving it. I was impressed by the work he was doing, especially for someone his age."
He goes on to describe what sealed the deal: "I ran into him again and told him that if he ever wanted to come down and interview, that I would love it. Like a week later he just shows up at the shop one day with a box of donuts. He'd driven his hot rod there despite the fact that he lived an hour and a half away. I knew he'd be a perfect fit and he was. I feel truly blessed to have him a part of this shop!"
On the same subject, Brandon is the first to pipe up and express how thankful he is to be in this industry and in the position he and the shop are in. He put it like this, "The last nine years have been the ultimate in sacrifice and reward. I feel humbled beyond words to get to work with so many amazing people-not just the craftsmen that I consider to be masters of their trade like Mickey Himsl, Bob Munroe and Darrell Schneider, (to name just a few) but also with my clients, who more often than not, end up becoming great friends along the way. I'm very fortunate."
So, what's next for East Bay Speed and Custom? I guess we'll have to just wait and see. But if what's already come out of this place is any indication, I'm guessing it's going to be good!
*SIDE BAR* - I just want to add that throughout the process of compiling this story, as I would call, text or email back and forth with Brandon to get the information I needed, I couldn't help but notice that his responses to my questions had a very specific theme: When asked about his influences, the people that got him here, people that have helped or inspired him, other influential builders and talented craftsmen - the answers were MASSIVELY huge. Long paragraphs with in-depth information about why this person or that was so iconic or talented. Long explanations about other people's accomplishments. When it came to East Bay Speed and Custom, Brandon himself, his cars, whatever: Simple replies to specific questions. Practically one-liners. He is a truly humble person in a world where there are far too few of those!
Photo by @stephen_brooks_photo