Downtown boasts a plethora of businesses, however, some are totally unique. Ruben’s House of Classics falls under that category without a doubt. The building houses vehicles from the teens to late 70s, and each one is a jewel. He restores anything from Jaguars to Alphas to Fords and Chevys. They are all carefully crafted, restored and made into one of a kind treasures, and Ruben Rodriguez has the heart and the soul of an artist when it comes to classic cars. His shop is on the corner of 5th and Indiana.
Ruben grew up in Dallas and lived there with his wife, Debbie, and his children. Ruben started a classic car shop there, but after a year it closed. In the meantime, Debbie was bound and determined to move their family to Wichita Falls where her parents lived.
“I was born and raised in Dallas and lived there all my life. As far as I was concerned, I had no business being in Wichita Falls. After Debbie tried to get me to move here for 3 years, we finally did. I had a vision, and I knew exactly what I was capable of doing, and of all places, Wichita Falls turned out to be the perfect place. Why I love it here, I don’t know. Wichita Falls has grown on me, and every time I leave, I can’t wait to get back home,” Ruben said with a smile.
The plan was for Ruben to sell 3 classic cars and use the money to go into business. “I sold a 1948 DeSoto which went to Paris France. I sold a 1951 Chevy Fleetline that went to Argentina, and I sold a 1950 Chevy Pickup that went to New York. I started in the smaller building behind this one. I bought that building and was in it for 7 years. We moved to this one for a year before I bought it too in December,” he said. The new building is much bigger and allows Ruben to have a fabrication shop, a mechanics shop, a paint and body shop, a place where they take the cars apart and a place to store some of the cars.
“Right now, 85 percent of our clientele is from all over the country. We’ve got clientele from Oklahoma, New Mexico, Dallas, California and a few from Wichita Falls. The fact that people from California want to have their vehicles done here says a lot. California is the hot spot for restoring classic cars,” he explained.
He also gets great advertisement by showing his own classic car. “I told my wife, if I sell my vehicles and everything works out, I can build another car. I now have a 1948 Chevy Fleetline called Ground Zero. The reason I call it that is because it lays all the way to the ground. It’s for the look. It has air bags, and when I drive it; I drive it at the right height. You can’t drive it when it’s down, because it will tear it up. That car is very, very difficult to put on the ground. I have put a lot of cars on the ground and that one is the hardest one I have ever done.” The car body looks like it is on the pavement, when it is sitting still with the wheels unseen.
“I looked for 2 months trying to find the right color. My wife bought a towel and brought it home, and I knew that was the color. It took me a while to mix it and figure it out and get it on point, and once we did it was the perfect color. It is a greenish gray PPG custom mix. It is very original and one of a kind. Not only that but we added pearls to it and shimmer pearls which made that color totally different,” he said with pride. He said that it can take months to paint a custom car and if he got a scratch, he would have to repaint half of the car to match the paint. It is his pride and joy, and he uses it on his signage. He has won many awards and contests with Ground Zero and been featured on the cover of Hotrod Magazine and Bombs Magazine.
But Ruben doesn’t do it all by himself. He has a top-notch crew of four employees that includes his brother, Homer Rodriquez who does a lot of the paint work and does it well. Additionally, his wife Debbie, does the books, and his father-in-law, David Acosta, travels with him. Ruben takes his Fleetline to many car shows and picks up vehicles that need work and delivers the finished products. His wife Debbie is his “rock and backbone” and has “supported him 100 percent through it all.” Although he admits he “sometimes gives her headaches.”
“It is like a family affair,” he said. And he is going to bring 2 of his sons into the business. Both Chris Guevara and Victor Rodrigues will be joining the team in late summer. What Ruben does is a lost art that is disappearing, and he is eager to pass that knowledge to his sons. “Hopefully everything will work out and one day they will be running the business,” Ruben said.
Ruben is self-taught out of necessity. When he was a teenager, he started working on cars because he couldn’t afford to take them to the shop to get worked on. And in the next couple years is hoping to start teaching his craft to teenagers. “I would like to do something for the kids and help them out. When I was young, I went into a shop and they didn’t want to teach me anything. So, I know how it is, I have struggled; and now I am in a position to do something for somebody else. I have been thinking about that a lot. If I could do that, it would be a plus. It would also be a plus for the kids, and who knows maybe they might open up their own lowrider shop, hotrod shop or classic shop, or even possibly work here. In the past I when into a shop, and they threw me off like I was nothing. I don’t want to be that kind of a person,” he shared.
“One thing about me, is that I won’t change. I am the same guy I have always been. You won’t catch me in an Italian suit,” he said with a chuckle. And his success hasn’t fazed him. He still doesn’t ask any of his employees to do what he doesn’t do. He cleans and takes out trash just like any other employee.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought my shop was going to be this big, important and successful. I still just see that parts need to be found and jobs need to be done. I guess one of these days the fact that I am successful will hit me, but it’s not hitting me now,” he admitted. His shop is full of gorgeous cars. He likes to give tours of the shop but expect him to be wearing his jeans and T-shirt—no suits needed.
– Cindy Kahler Thomas