CLINTON TOWNSHIP — It’s a weekday morning inside Sled Alley Hot Rods in Clinton Township and, as usual, the sparks are flying as owner Matt Gurjack welds a quarter panel onto a 1969 Chevy Camaro.
When Gurjack designs metal parts for a car, there’s a certain amount of artistic flair involved, said Mark Stielow, the Camaro’s owner.
“He won’t just make a bracket; he’ll make a bracket that looks nice,” Stielow said. “Usually I have the overall vision of what I want, but Matt is creative enough (that) I gave him quite a bit of creative license.”
Sled Alley is a custom fabrication hot rod shop located on 15 Mile, east of Groesbeck. They offer a large inventory of auto services.
This fall, it was another one of Stielow’s cars — a customized 1967 Camaro, nicknamed “Mayhem” — that earned a fair bit of recognition on the national auto scene.
In October, the silver Camaro turned heads at the 2012 SEMA specialty auto trade show in Las Vegas.
The following week, on Nov. 3, the Mayhem Camaro took first in the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational, a televised car competition in nearby Pahrump, Nev. Since winning, the Mayhem Camaro has been featured in a number of national auto magazines.
However, in the behind-the-scenes weeks preceding the competition, Stielow and Gurjack worked vigilantly to ready the car.
All told, Stielow estimated that the Mayhem Camaro spent hundreds of hours being custom designed and assembled at Sled Alley.
Stielow, by day a General Motors programming engineer manager, was in charge of the technical side of things; Gurjack was in charge of making everything fit together in a way that looked nice. Together, they customized shrouds and mounts for parts, reworked the roll cage, and widened the panels and fenders to fit a wider wheel.
“He came up with a clever way of doing it. To the eye, you wouldn’t pick up that the car is about an inch-and-a-half wider than an actual Camaro,” Stielow said.
The extra time and effort ultimately paid off, with the Camaro’s track performance giving it the edge against an invite-only field.
Back at Sled Alley, Gurjack is sitting behind his desk, trying to work through a deal to buy parts with the guy on the other end of the cellphone.
Five minutes later, he’s back out in the shop, focused intently on the ’69 Camaro. Other car bodies — a ’41 Cadillac convertible, a ’51 MG among them — lie around the shop like gutted skeletons.
Gurjack’s bunched-up sleeves on his sweatshirt reveal just a hint of his arm ink, including the images of an engine and spark plug. The shop’s friendly welcoming committee, Gurjack’s dog Tink, writhes playfully on the ground.
Walking the line between office work and running the shop is how he spends most of his minimum 11-hour days at Sled Alley.
At any given time, he is juggling the needs of at least 10 different cars, though not every job is a complete car rebuild. He knows there’s a line of other customers waiting to get their hot rods and muscle cars into the garage, and it means that Gurjack sometimes has to wait-list them.
He knows he has to manage his time efficiently — making sure parts are ordered and in — and there’s rarely room for a break. After all, the stream of cars coming through never stops.
Still, he said, the shop’s smaller size allows Gurjack to maintain quality over quantity. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s one of the reasons he established Sled Alley in the first place — he gets to say when a job is done.
Gurjack’s passion for cars arose at an early age, growing up in Roseville. He got his first car at 15 years old, and promptly cut it up.
“I just always like building cars and making something different — making it look different, go faster, sit lower,” he said. “ I’ve worked at a bunch of different shops and wanted to go on my own and start my own thing and do everything how I wanted to do it.”
If you ask Stielow, he’ll tell you that Gurjack has a finesse for making things work on a car, not only functionally but aesthetically, too.
Gurjack said it bothers him more than anybody else if something doesn’t look good. “I could build something, put it on a car, and if it looks like crap, I’ll cut it off and start over just ’cause I want it to look right when it leaves,” he added.
When he established Sled Alley in August 2010, Stielow was among the loyal customers who followed him.
“Quite a few cars we’ve done from the ground up, he’s had a large influence on the overall outcome of the car — from the chassis, to the body, to the interior, to the paint. I mean, everything,” said Steve Jay, who has worked for Sled Alley since it opened.
“(Customers) know his track record with what he’s done with other cars in the past.”
For more information about Sled Alley, visit www.sledalley.com or call (586) 630-0171. They’re also on Facebook.
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