Talent On Tap – Mike and Connor Hall Rev Up Rust Valley Restorers

I was a product of the ‘60’s and grew up around muscle cars. Back then we just called them fast but these days they deserve that special designation. They were made with big engines and loud exhaust with loads of space inside. To give you an idea of the trunk size, my older brother could fit my buddy and me inside as we strolled into the drive-in theatre. The ‘80’s were the best but I think the best muscle cars came from the ‘60’s. The gas mileage didn’t seem much of a consideration when building them and noise reduction seemed to be focused on the interior. They might not be environmentally correct but I still react like a young boy whenever I’m close to one, it’s in my DNA. 

 

If you are a muscle car fanatic then there are a few US TV shows to scratch that itch but now there is also a restoration show we can all be proud to say is Canadian made. Rust Valley Restorers is a show every old car enthusiast needs, wants and appreciates because it doesn’t involve a recap of the season, it’s not sports and the entire family can watch it together. Ok, so maybe the entire family won’t be PVR’ing every episode but if you love art, appreciate old school mechanics, breathing new life into old and crusty then you will sincerely appreciate this show.  Every show needs a storyline and Rust Valley Restorers recognizes that. Every vehicle that gets restored has a special attachment to every owner and every owner reveals the story behind that bond. 

 

The show is produced by Mayhem Entertainment and the owner of the shop is Mike Hall. His son Connor Hall and Mike’s best friend Avery Shoaf (mechanical wizard) work in the shop while Connor mostly tends to the business side of the shop and preventing his dad from purchasing more relics to add to the already 400 plus collection. I’ve worked on my own vehicles in the past, which consisted of replacing brakes, the starter, alternator and a few other manageable parts but this crew takes it to an entirely other level. The satisfaction of fixing/replacing a broken part on your own vehicle and having it running smoothly again is pure elation and a personal victory. 

 

I had both the honour and huge privilege to speak with Mike Hall and his son Connor about their show, now racing into their second season that can be seen on the History channel and Netflix. They have incredible enthusiasm; they’re so easy going and share a close bond. Mike has truly built an empire through 40 yrs. of collecting and now we get to see the true value of his vision and passion through each restoration.            

 

HNM “I was sent photos of 3 immaculate muscle cars. The purple GTO, the Mustang and the convertible Camaro. They are all incredible looking restorations. How many days per week do you work on cars?” 

Mike “We’re trying to wrap up season 2 so we’ve been filming 6-7 days a week. In the restoration business, nothing ever goes on schedule. We were supposed to be finished a while ago but we’re still hair-straight back. They’re filming episode 4 and we’re still finishing up the last couple of episodes. The pressure’s on.”

 

HNM “Having invited the cameras, do you find it difficult at times to focus on the restorations more than the cameras?”

Mike “It’s never easy doing anything when you’ve got a camera shoved in your face. It slows down production a little.”

 

HNM “You’ve compiled so many cars over the years. I realize this didn’t happen overnight, so can you tell me when you restored your first car?”

Mike “Basically, I started collecting 40 years ago. I would dabble off and on. When the show came along I was actually trying to sell all my cars… I still don’t know what happened. I went from selling all my cars to opening a restoration shop. They say life is what happens when you’re making a plan.”

 

HNM “How did you manage to acquire such a collection of cars? Was it an accumulation over the years?”

Mike “I started when I was 20 and now I’m 62. When you add 3, 4, 5, 10 a year, pretty soon you have 400.”

 

HNM “When you see a car you want to restore, what would you be looking for, in terms of the shape it’s in?”

Connor “He doesn’t have any rhyme or reason. It can be something rotten that has one part he likes, it could be a complete car that he remembers when he was a kid or it can be something that nobody’s ever seen before and he has to have it because it’s rare.”  

 

HNM “I’ve been told that Connor is more involved in the business end of the shop. Is he the voice of reason when it comes to buying?”

Mike “He tries to be (chuckle).”

Connor “It doesn’t help, he doesn’t really listen very good but you try to minimize the damage that he can cause. If you can stop him from buying one, then you’ve made a dent because you’re not going to stop him from buying all of them.”

HNM “Now Conner, do you also work on the cars or is it all business for you?”

Connor “Yes, I also work on the cars. I’m not a mechanic by trade but I’ve been pulling wrenches my entire life, I’ve got buddies with shops that I’ve worked for and of course growing up with my dad collecting cars and working in the shop in the winter.”

 

HNM “How rewarding is it to rebuild such a beautiful vehicle?”

Mike “When you take something that’s been sitting in a field or off the road for 20-30 years and you bring it back to life it’s a pretty cool thing. I’m not artistic, I’m not musical but I guess its my creative outlet. You take something that everyone else thinks is a piece of junk and you put enough blood, sweat and tears…and money into it and it turns into something everybody wants. It’s a cool thing to be able to bring it back from the dead.”

 

HNM “How do you determine which car you work on next? Does a client approach you or does the show dictate that?”

Mike “It’s a little of both. Working with the show, it has some input but we can’t do 10 of the same car. Basically we’ll advertise; we’ll look at the stories and the cars. It’ll have to be something we want to work on and have a good story behind it. No story, no show in a sense. It’s a balancing act between running a restoration shop and a TV show.”

Connor “You have to keep the producers happy and give them what they want and at the same time we want to stay happy building some of the cars we want to build.”

 

HNM “When you’re building your own cars and restoring them, is it for car shows or personal enjoyment?”

Mike “I’m not really a car show guy, basically my idea behind collecting the cars is, I was going to retire and I was going to play with my cars. I get as much of a thrill out of buying them than I do fixing them up. It’s like somebody that goes out and instead of killing things they take pictures. Instead of me taking pictures I collect cars because I’ve got the room to store them, fix ‘em up and sell ‘em. That gives you the funds to fix up the next one.”

Connor “Your average build is anywhere from 40 – $70,000.00 If you wanted to restore all 400 of the cars, you’d need a lot of money.”

Mike “At 50,000 a piece, you’re looking at 20 million. Basically you sell a few and fix one or fix one and use that money to fix up another two. The fun is bringing them back and flipping/trading them, whatever people want. I don’t always take cash for doing stuff, I like trades. Connor always tells me to take cash, not trades but that’s how it is.”  

 

HNM “On the show, it looks like you get a vehicle finished in a few episodes. How long does it really take?”

Mike “Just the paint job is a couple hundred hours. When you start restoring stuff, depending on how bad off they are we’ve spent up to a thousand hours but that’s the magic of TV. I own 30 t-shirts that look the same and 20 of the same pants. When we start 4 or 5 cars at once, they’ll put each car in it’s own episode and over 2 episodes. What we film on the first day may end up on the last day of the show. It all depends on how the storyline runs, how hard it is to get parts; there’s so many variables.”

Connor “Your average build is between 1-3 months.” 

Mike “You’ve got 44 minutes of TV on an episode. If you’re doing two cars on an episode, you’ve got 22 minutes to show your intro, your gut scenes and all the other stuff; you end up with 700 hrs. compressed into 14 minutes. We have a very talented crew, we’re in our second season, on Netflix and I don’t know how it happened. I look in the mirror and I’m the same ole guy I used to be but everyone looks at you different… cause you’re on television.”

 

HNM “I think you’ve excited a lot of old car fans. They have a car restoration show in the US so it’s nice to see one in Canada now. Do you have a lot of fans of the show?”

Mike “There’s a lot of social media out there. I don’t use it I’m too old for that stuff. My kids are into it, everybody else is into it and I think it’s a little out of control. I dropped my Facebook, I dropped everything; I don’t have time for that.”

Connor “Put it this way, we went from 4000 followers with our Rust Pro’s Instagram page and we’re at 83,000 now.”

Mike “Whatever that means, like I said I’m not a social media guy. To me it doesn’t mean anything (laughter).”

HNM “Is that number due to Connor working his marketing magic?”

Connor “I run the Instagram page and try to do as much as I can on it but I’m also not here all the time. It looks like I’m here 5 days a week but I’m not. We have another company, a rock stabilization company that I work at and run too. I pretty much make it so my dad can stay here, play with his cars and not have to work anymore and I go to work to make sure he can keep doing that.”

Mike “(Laughing) I’m lucky I’ve got him, as he keeps telling me. I think it works out for the both of us.”

 

HNM “Have you had any repeat clients ask for another restoration?”

Mike “We’ve got people that want us to do repeats but that’s where the show chimes in and will say they want more diversity instead of building car after car for a couple people. It’s also about the story, so everyone’s got a different car they want restored and a different story. It’s 50 percent car and 50 percent story. If it were just a restoration show, one episode would take 3 months and it’d be pretty boring. Nobody wants to watch a block sand for 2 weeks.”

 

HNM ”When you’ve finished a restoration and it leaves your shop, does your stomach sink a little?”

Mike “Yes and no. It’s always good to get one done but when you’ve put that much time, effort and money into it, it’s sad to see them go but I’m at a point in my life where, I can’t restore them all, I can’t keep them all, they gotta go. It’s like raising your kids; sooner or later they gotta leave (laughter).”              

        

 

HNM “Are you still buying vehicles or are you using the vehicles you already have?”

Mike “I’m trying to slow down. “

Connor “He buys more everyday. Put it this way, he had a lot in Kamloops a long time ago that filled up with cars, so he moved and bought more land… and then he bought more land and filled that up. He had some space beside the shop and he filled that up and now he’s renting another space beside the shop, he has that filled up as well. There’s three lots filled up; he has a problem.”

Mike “I have a problem, I confess. I’m addicted to rust (chuckle).”

 

HNM “How do you go about finding potential restorations?”

Mike “People usually contact me. My kids told me to go on social media to sell some cars and in the first week I spent $50,000.00 on cars so I don’t go on social media anymore.”

 

HNM “Are you pretty good with negotiations?”

Mike “I’m terrible at it. I’ll tell you the problem. Have you ever renovated a house? You want to install new cabinets, so you rip out the old ones and discover the wall’s rotted. You rip out the wall and you find lead pipe and the wirings screwed. It’s the same thing when someone brings in their car; you give it your best guess but I should know that whatever your best guess is you should triple it because you never know. People will ask for an estimate but in their minds they hear quote. Then when you go from 300-700 hrs. they really don’t want to pay you. If you don’t finish the car, there’s no show, you’ve destroyed their dreams and it becomes every other body shop, where you end up with 30 unfinished projects that people can’t afford. That’s where the show dynamic makes it really hard, cause we gotta finish the cars. Even if the client has the best intentions, when they come in and you tell them $30,000.00 and it turns into $60,000.00 is it really their fault? A lot of people don’t have an extra $30,000.00 so a lot of times I take a beating. I can’t give their dreams back in pieces and say thanks. That’s why I’m a terrible businessman when it comes to building cars.” 

HNM “How old is too old for a restoration?’

Connor “We’ve done stuff in the ‘30’s but he owns stuff in the ‘20’s.”

Mike “I’m not sure if we’ll ever get to it but we’ve done stuff in the 1930’s, the ‘40’s and the ‘50’s. A lot of times it depends on whether you can get parts for it; if you can’t then you have to fabricate it. A lot of times people just want an old body on a new chassis and new suspension. Then, it’s no problem getting parts as long as you have the basic body. Basically, we’re looking for easier builds because it’s all time and we’re filming and we should’ve been finished 6 weeks ago. Once you open it up you take your best guess and have to finish.”

Connor “At the end of the day 90 percent of the time its cheaper to buy brand a new fender or new hood than it is to pay someone to build one or even patch one that’s really rotted. Fab time takes a long time for curling fenders and rolling fenders, building running-boards, it all takes a lot of time. It’s hard to justify paying someone 2000.00 to build a fender when you can buy one for 500.00. There are always those clients that will pay the extra because they want all original. No aftermarket and original chrome, original fenders, it all depends on what the client wants because it’s their car, their dream and their build… and it’s their money.”             

 

Canadian made and just around the corner from Vancouver in Tappen, BC near Shushwap is where all the magic happens. This show is a must see and is surely to be a Canadian favourite for muscle car lovers and car enthusiasts.   

 

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