Dave Kindig builds amazing cars in Utah — and his TV show ‘Bitchin’ Rides’ has become an international hit

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dave Kindig, owner of Kindig-It Design and the star of the TV series "Bitchin' Rides," standing with a ’57 Chevrolet Corvette and a Ferrari 458 Italia at his shop in Salt Lake City, Wednesday December 27, 2017.

Dave Kindig has become an international television star just doing what he does at his auto shop just off State Street every day — building “Bitchin’ Rides.”

It’s the title of his Velocity Channel show, and — once you get a look at the cars — you’ll understand just how appropriate that title is.

I sell stuff that’s really expensive that nobody really needs,” Kindig said with a smile. “And they’re lining up pretty good.”

Lining up with open checkbooks. Kindig doesn’t talk specifics, but his projects run into six figures. And not necessarily low six figures.

“We’re not for everybody,” he said. “But if they have billions of dollars and they want me to build them a half-million-dollar car, that’s totally cool.”

The wait to get a car into the shop is almost four years. That’s in no small part because Kindig, his crew and his shop are the stars of the Velocity Channel’s most-watched show — although he wasn’t hurting for work before it premiered in 2014.

“Before the TV show, we had about a year backlog,” Kindig said. “But, certainly, the success of the show has increased it quite a bit.”

Kindig and his team put their own special spin on classic cars, roadsters and hot rods and more. The vehicles are not restored to their original condition, they’re improved and modernized, but along classic lines.

(Photo courtesy Velocity Channel) The finished 2006 Dodge Charger on “Bitchin' Rides.”

I like stuff that has the feel of the classics, but with the fit and finish of a modern car,” Kindig said. “I want my cars to be in style 30 or 40 years from now. I don’t do anything trendy.”

The cars all have one thing in common. When the team is done, they’re bitchin’. They’re transformed into the coolest cars on the road, and the coolest cars on TV.

On TV<br>The Season 4 finale of “Bitchin’ Rides” airs Tuesday, Jan. 9, at 7 and 10 p.m. on the Velocity channel. (Channels 663 and 1243 on Comcast; Channel 281 on DirecTV; and Channels 246 and 9421 on Dish.) Repeats air at various times throughout the week, and Season 5 is slated to begin airing in the fall.

Kindig is a local success story. He was a “welfare kid” from “the wrong side of the tracks” — Rose Park — who started drawing cars when he was 5.

Actually, my first design work that I was really passionate about was insects. But then I figured out you couldn’t make those, so I went to my second love, which was cars,” he said with a laugh.

He’s a self-taught artist, but — other than an auto mechanics class he took at West High “because it was easier to sluff” — Kindig doesn’t have much formal training. He learned by watching others and working on his own cars.

It started getting out that I was building stuff in my garage,” Kindig said. “So pretty soon people were lining up for me to do work for them.”

It was a part-time hobby while he worked full time, rising from sandblasting exhaust systems to running the Western division of his employer’s company. His first “big break” came when a visitor saw his drawings on the office wall and asked Kindig if he’d ever thought of drawing for magazines.

I said, ‘Well, I’d love to, but I’ve never had the opportunity,‘” he said. “About two weeks later, he commissioned me to do a ’69 Camaro … and it got featured in Super Chevy and Chevy High Performance.”

That led to more work doing drawings and redesigning real cars.

“And I quickly realized that I could stay home, draw cars, do a graphics job — one a month — and I’d make five or 10 times as much as I was making working 60 hours-plus a week on salary,” Kindig said.

In June 1999, he quit his job, cashed in his 401k “for a whopping $4,800” and started Kindig It Design. There were bumps along the way, but the business that started out subletting a 4,500-square-foot workspace near 40th South and State Street now occupies the entire 27,000-square-foot building — and Kindig owns it.

As his reputation grew, he was invited to appear on a variety of Velocity Channel shows as a guest, and he proved to be a natural.

“I was always a ham growing up. I was involved in theater groups — mostly just chasing hot chicks in high school,” Kindig joked.

He caught the attention of Velocity execs, who put him in touch with Fischer Productions in Park City — and “Bitchin’ Rides” became a reality.

“We started filming, and the rest is history,” Kindig said.

“Bitchin’ Rides” is a genuine reality show. It’s not one of those contrived shows that rebuild a car in a matter of days. Each car takes 9-12 months, on average, to complete; there are 16-22 projects under way at any one time.

Velocity Channel’s not paying me to build the cars, the customer is,” he said. “They’re just here to capture what we do.”

Visiting Kindig It Design<br>The Kindig It Design showroom at 164 Hill Ave. is open to the public Monday-Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Two or three cars are on display, and the apparel store is open for business. The shop is closed to the public, except for tours on most Fridays. Tour tickets are $5 (although they’re good for a $5 discount on merchandise purchases of $20 or more), and reservations are required. For more information, go to kindigit.com or email tours @kindigit.com.

The show is edited so that the story of one or two vehicles is told in the space of one episode (occasionally two). Cameras are on site three to five days a week throughout the year, acting like “a fly on the wall,” Kindig said. “There are no scripts. There’s no pretend stuff here. We just have fun doing what we’re doing.”

Kindig estimates he spends 45-60 minutes a week being interviewed on camera. And his 32 employees have warmed up as they’ve learned to ignore the cameras.

The interplay has to be real, because they’d have to be among TV’s most talented actors if they’re faking their chemistry.

I’ve had the same crew for a very long time, so it’s kind of fun to see how we’ve grown together for so long,” Kindig said. “And have fun with what we’re doing.”

TV stardom has paid off in unexpected ways. The company is doing a booming business in T-shirt sales. And Kindig has a product line that includes rear spoilers, fender flares, door handles, paint and more.

Bitchin’ Rides” airs in more than 40 other countries — making Kindig a familiar face around the globe. Traveling to an auto show in Norway, he was recognized repeatedly in Amsterdam and Oslo.

It’s a little hard to hide, I guess, with the goatee. I used to always jokingly say, ‘We’re huge in France.’ Now, we actually are,” he said with a laugh.

At this point, Kindig is successful enough that he could locate anyplace he wants. Some have suggested he move to California, but he has no plans to leave Utah.

Why would I do that? I’d just be another shop in California,” he said. “Why would I move to where everybody and their dog is?

This is where I was born and raised. This is where my family is. And my wife’s family. I’m staying here.”