Custom designing hot rod car parts

August 1, 2022

Custom designing hot rod car parts


Reka Forgach

"The ability to quickly and accurately model parts and materials in 3D has opened up a whole new world for us.  It saves us many hours of “in-shop” fabrication time by allowing us to explore multiple solutions to different custom car building challenges.  It’s exciting to combine this kind of technology with traditional hands-on craftsmanship."

Kyle Harder has been working in the hot rod business since he graduated from the Hot Rod Institute in Rapid City, SD.  After he finished his coursework, he stayed on to help the institute become accredited and VA certified, and was responsible for recruitment and curriculum development.

As a fresh graduate, he accepted a position at Counts Kustoms, a fast-paced Las Vegas hot rod shop with its own TV show.  He worked as project manager, helping to plan, orchestrate, and finish over 80 full vehicle builds.

After 5 years with the shop and show, he decided to take the leap from management to design. He joined up with his friend Mike Emerson from HRI who had started his own shop, LTS Customs, 7 years prior.  The two set off to grow their businesses together - with Kyle’s newly formed company, Harderbuilt Solutions, modeling all the parts and designs.

Kyle’s last experience with CAD software was in college -- he hadn’t drawn anything using a desktop tool since the early 2000s. Aside from some general training with CAD when he was an architecture major, he had no formal training in 3D design. But fast forward a decade and he was ready to dive in.

After watching a short video about Shapr3D’s Apple Pencil driven user interface, Kyle bought an iPad and taught himself to model. Today, he models the custom hot rod parts that LTS fabricates, sending the designs to the parts manufacturers to perform the processes they can’t do in-house.

Hot rods are typically classic or modern American cars with large engines modified for faster speed and sleek looks
Hot Rods are typically classic or modern American cars with large engines modified for faster speed and sleek looks

Every project starts with a lot of sizing up.  The client approaches with an idea for a custom vehicle and Kyle will create an estimate on what it will take to finish it price-wise. Then he’ll draw up some sketches so they can visualize what they’re thinking as a solution and put together a materials and parts list with costs.

Custom Hot Rod Engine Bay Model
Custom Hot Rod engine bay model

Next, the car will get blasted — the team will take measurements of everything, put them into a design and lay things out. The client will validate the design and the estimate, and if they’re good to go, Kyle will double-check the measurements and send the files to different providers. Water-jetting, fiber-laser, CNC tube cutting and bending all have their separate manufacturers.

Once the parts arrive, it’s time for assembly, welding and finishing.

“The first time we used Shapr3D in the shop, we sent DWG files to 4 material providers to print out different parts. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that even when we ordered parts from so many places, everything fit.”
Detailed Engine Bay Model
Detailed engine bay model

Kyle’s process starts by creating a 3D model of the parts, using pre-manufactured products from various manufacturers to plan out the spacing and layout of the required automotive systems while inserting hardware models of nuts and bolts from McMaster-Carr. He then lays them all out in a 2D DWG file so that they can be cut from a steel sheet, plate, or tube and emails the files to providers for manufacturing.

Model of a Drive Train in Shapr3D
Model of a drive train in Shapr3D

LTS Customs has been focusing on an in-depth hot rod project for the last few years: a 1958 Borgward Goliath. Mike had put significant work into it prior to Kyle arriving in CO.  Modifying the Art Morrison chassis, building a complete floor system and fabricating custom headers from scratch to name a few.  

After laying out the parts and pieces, brakes, steering, radiator and A/C system in Shapr3D, they modified the front core support and frame rails to accommodate the larger radiator and engine. The design process also guided the fabrication of the steering and brake structure underneath the dash. The 58 Goliath’s parts were Kyle’s first designs, and he just kept adding to the workspace, planning and building the parts for fabrication.

Front Support Model
Front support model

Every aspect of the vehicle has been customized — from the chassis to engine to body. Assembling this kind of custom build can take years, from the project brief to final delivery.

Full Chassis Model in Shapr3D
Full Chassis Model in Shapr3D

Eventually Kyle wants to add a 3D scanner to his workflow to speed up the measurement process and make it easier to reverse engineer parts. Scanning would also make it easier for the team to build around other manufacturers’ products and stock vehicles to easily map out existing part details and build new products around them.

Follow LTS Customs and Harderbuilt Solutions' design work here on Instagram at @lts_customs_llcand @harderbuilt_solutions.