Strictly an original, the legendary Bo Huff has been customizing cars and throwing vintage car show shindigs (always with the appropriate accompanying live music: rockabilly) for 16 years now. This winner of one of the nation’s longest running and most prestigious car shows, Grand National Roadster Show, operates out of East Carbon, Utah—close to where his automotive tinkering began in the ’50s. His annual events in East Carbon, and the more sporadic shows put on in southern Calif., have always been successful and, in recent years, have grown more popular. If you haven’t heard of him until now, that just means you’re not spending nearly enough time in the right kind of garages where pin-striping, hot rods and rockabilly can all be found.
To call a Bo Huff custom a “car” would be like calling Van Gogh’s Starry Night some swirls of paint. His finished products are rolling works of art. They seem to be the reason that the term “hot rod” was created. Selling his cars at a premium price, Bo Huff has worked with clients and sold cars all over the world, shipping them as far as Japan. His early career would lead him to move to southern Calif., and then to Ark., but his interest in cars was sparked as a teen living in East Carbon in the ’50s.
“[East Carbon] was a coal-mining camp, and I used to see guys go by on their tail-draggers,” says Bo Huff. “They were lowering them to the ground with leg pipes and spot lights, and I thought it was cool. Then I found some of those small hot rod magazines that were around in the ’50s, and that was it for me.”
Eventually, Bo Huff went to school in Denver at a general training institute and met Stan Robles, who had worked for George Barris, the famous customizer behind the ’60s Batmobile and the Munsters’ cars. “I loved watching Stan paint cars, and he was who really showed me what was possible,” says Bo Huff.
Although he’s tried his hand at many different facets of automotive work—collision repair, paint, engine work—Bo Huff’s true automotive passion is for the cars that came out of the ’50s, that gave birth to the hot rods that have kept him going. He has made it to a point in his career where he can survive solely by building ’50s hot rods, customizing his career to revolve around projects for which he truly has passion.
“They all look the same to me, there’s no design,” says Bo Huff of newer models. “For me, [a car] better have wide white walls and steel wheels, and when I lower a car, it has to sit proper.”
Bo Huff and other customizers retain a certain gift: They can see originality in something as commonplace as a car, and have clear visions of its potential before they have even laid a hand on it.
“When I see an older car, my mind will immediately go, ‘I wonder what it would look like if I did this or if I changed that,’” says Bo Huff. “I’ve put fins on a car and stood back and looked at it, and an inch one way or the other will be perfect or completely wrong.”
A quick tour around Bo Huff’s shop reveals the eight or nine projects he keeps going at all times—including a ’36 Ford that he’s slowly giving new life and a ’39 Mercury that he’s been working on for 20-plus years that he feels might be the car he’s remembered for when he gets it just right.
Bo Huff has passed his fervor for car customizing on to his son, known as Junior Huff. While working with his father, Junior has begun to make a name for himself, gaining notoriety in various magazines for his paint work and pin-striping. According to Bo Huff, Junior has also been doing “a hell of a job” on recent customizing and body work.
“It’s kind of an ego trip to have him because he’s a really good pin-striper, and he could be working anywhere,” says Bo Huff. “I think that [we] make a good team. I can tell him what I’m thinking about doing, and he just gets it.”
Before becoming a family man, Bo Huff’s teenage wanderlust lead him to skip school to check out Salt Lake, which he recalls being a major hotspot for both of his main teenage interests: girls and cars.