Tucked away on a nondescript Orem road with no street sign is the Salt Flats Speed Shop. Amidst a rusty backdrop of warehouses and industry, Chris Davenport creates shiny works of rolling art.
Davenport specializes in building custom hot rods based on cars from the 1930s. At 28 years old, he is half the age of many of his peers in the hot rod industry, but his aptitude for shaping sheet metal and creating functional art has brought him business from all over the country.
"Ever since I was a little kid I was always just enthralled by automobiles, the shape of them and the styling," Davenport said.
He collected Hot Wheels, started building models, then worked in his dad's garage. After high school, Davenport went into an automotive program at Utah Valley University that specialized in hot rodding.
"It became apparent very early on in my workings at the college that I had a knack for the sheet metal," Davenport said. The ability to shape flat pieces of metal into complex parts was not something that everybody took to naturally.
"You have to be able to visualize how the part is made, what different actions you need to perform," he said. "And you can't just say some mathematical equation that, OK, I need to put it in this machine this many times. It's probably more on the artistic side than the mechanical side."
Realizing his skill in this area and the lack of places that could perform this work, Davenport decided to start his own shop, specializing in '30s-era hot rods. Cars from the 1930s and '40s were some of the first to go under the chopping block by those who wanted cars that were both fast and stylish. Many of the first hot rodders were soldiers returning from World War II.
"They were used to working on airplanes, they were used to working on engines and trying to make things go fast," Davenport explained. "And they enjoyed flying; I mean some of these airplanes went over 300 mph or more."
When these soldiers-turned-mechanics found the Bonneville Salt Flats, where they could drive as fast as they wanted and not run into anything, hot rodding exploded. Custom shops sprouted up all over the western United States to create cars that could go fast and look good doing it. This history inspired Davenport to specialize in creating custom 1930s cars.
"To me a well-done '30s car is essentially a rolling piece of artwork," Davenport said. The ability to make something that is uniquely his own is one of the joys of his work.
While projects for his clients take up much of his time, Davenport devotes nights and weekends to working on his own car, a 1932 Ford sedan.
"It's been a fun build because I've been able to really personalize it and make it my own," he said.
Davenport wants to make it look like an original car that a racer would have taken out to the salt flats in the '30s or '40s.
"I want the experience when you drive it to feel like you're no longer in the present time, that you've somehow traveled back in time and are experiencing what they would have experienced."
Davenport hopes to finish his car soon so he can take it to car shows, try to get it in magazines and use it as a rolling advertisement for his shop. When that is done he would like to bring in more projects that will help pay the bills. Running this type of business in a big shop brings with it a lot of overhead costs and can be very stressful. But for Davenport, building custom cars is more than just a job.
"I really couldn't see myself doing anything else," he said, shaking his head. "I enjoy what I do and I'll be doing this essentially for the rest of my life."