Meet the King of Custom Cars

Bodie Stroud has built a hot-rod empire out of a simple idea: It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

The back lot at Bodie Stroud Industries may look like a junkyard, but each junker is potentially worth millions. Surrounded by tall fencing, it’s cluttered with cars that are torn in half, parts broken beyond recognition, and stacks of bumpers. A 352 Ford V-8 engine dangles from a chain hoist, a motor without a home. The junk, the cars, the tools, and even the workers—there are eight of them today, wearing respirators and Mechanix gloves, sanding, shaping, tearing, bending, spraying, and turning wrenches—are covered in dust from the concrete factories that pervade this very industrial, very hellish corridor of the sun-blasted San Fernando Valley.

To look at the plain exterior of BSI and its grim surroundings, you might never guess that Johnny Knoxville was here not long ago to pick up his 1970 Cadillac Coupe de Ville (which Bodie Stroud himself had transformed from a busted-up rust knuckle to a gleaming, state-of-the-art missile of style). Johnny Depp dropped off his beloved 1951 Ford Mercury to be similarly resurrected. “From the outside, I like to keep it looking like a junkyard,” Stroud says. “I think it gives me street cred in this neighborhood.” 

That same bit of perceptual judo, in which an outdated appearance masks a sophisticated interior, is the driving force behind what Stroud does with cars. He takes a classic—say, a 1963 Galaxie 500 and rebuilds it by handcrafting extremely modern, powerful, and shocking insides. It’s like taking the book jacket of a Farewell to Arms first edition and placing it over a next-gen iPad.

Stroud is soft-spoken, with piercing blue eyes and hands the size of master brake cylinders. He is among the most respected and sought-after custom builders in the resto-mod movement. These oil smudged wizards take classic cars—or parts of cars, or trucks, or motorcycles—in various states of disrepair and handcraft them with obsessive (and expensive) detail, retrofitting them until they are more perfect than anyone at Ford or Chevy ever imagined possible.

The main shop floor at BSI is crowded with 15 or 25 cars at any given time. Today there’s a 1965 Ford Galaxie, a ’67 Fairlane, and an X-100 in brandy wine with shimmering chrome details. They are all in the process of being painstakingly rebuilt. At 2013’s SEMA Show, Stroud introduced his BSI X-100, a 1956 Ford pickup truck that was hand-spun into an alarmingly fast, splashy, ultramodern masterpiece. Under the hood is a supercharged, 5.0-liter, 410-horsepower Ford Coyote Aluminator motor, shifting through a Ford 4R70W four-speed automatic.,AAABnwxt8sE~,TdyFq09iMr7kioKT_wX2C8w8xLyk5_f2&bctid=4476026152001

And here’s where Stroud finds particular enjoyment: The BSI X-100 starts at $180,000, and he has sold three of them since lifting the canvas at the Las Vegas Convention Center. 

“There’s something about this pickup that appeals to the right people,” he says, wandering his crowded shop floor. “It’s something like nostalgia, but it’s also all about that perfect, hard-core ride. You know, a modern feel and a vintage look.”

Stroud is 46 years old and has been running BSI for only eight years. Before that, he was a humble diesel mechanic. “I loved working on a diesel engine. Everything makes sense. If it doesn’t, you think about it, and then it does. I miss that.”

He lived the rough life of a diesel mechanic, too. He was twice arrested for beating the shit out of people, once in a bar in Montrose and again in Burbank. “I came close to never pulling out of that,” Stroud admits. “I had a love affair with getting drunk and fighting.” 

But he was destined for automotive greatness. And he made the right connections. Jay Leno, a famously obsessive car collector, has been a friend for 10 years. A garage full of other celebs parade through Stroud’s shop with regularity. Beyond the aforementioned Johnnys, there’s Tim Allen (who bought a 1968 Camaro and a 1950 Cadillac), Dan Reynolds, the frontman for Imagine Dragons (a ’67 Mustang), and Drea de Matteo of The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy (a ’67 Camaro).

“Adam Carolla is obsessed with Lamborghinis,” Stroud says of the comedian and podcast star. He walks out behind the main building into the sunbaked yard and points to the frame of a 1966 Lamborghini 400 GT. There are beat-up cardboard boxes nearby filled with struts, suspension knuckles, housings for lights—all the tiny bits of an Italian exotic. “Carolla picked this up for, like, $100,000. By the time I’m finished with it, it’ll be worth around $850,000 and drive like it was built next year. He has to like those economics, right?”

The money’s nice, of course, but one gets the distinct feeling that Stroud talks up the payday to distract us from a somewhat nobler goal: giving a second chance to a decaying masterpiece, then turning the key and hearing it rumble gloriously to life. 

Photos by Matthew Porter for Maxim