Vineyard owners Cars know the deal. “The project” is never done and driving an old vehicle means mechanical breakdowns, rust contamination, old wiring shorting, and a constant hit to the bank account. For some, that’s part of the appeal: a never-ending labor of love that adds to the joy of a weekend spent replacing a starter or renewing brake lights.
For others, however, the interest in an old vehicle – whether for sentimental, aesthetic or historical reasons – has been tempered by its constant maintenance. For that latter group, there’s Kindred Motorworks, a new restomod startup based in Northern California that takes desirable old vehicles and mods them with new powertrains, safety features and other modern touches.
Restomod business is not really new. But Rob Howard, CEO and founder of Kindred, which made its official debut at Monterey Auto Week, says its technology-focused approach sets the startup completely apart from the competition.
Their method provides a fascinating look at how today’s technology can benefit the public’s desire for vintage items that work better than they did when they were new.
It’s a strategy that helped Kindred Motorworks raise more than $20 million in its first two funding rounds. In the year It raised $5 million by the end of 2020 and another $15.6 million in 2021. Attracting several investors, Hagerty is known for its vintage vehicles and is one of the country’s largest insurance providers for those vehicles. , and the combination of Robert Downey, Jr.’s footprint. Other backers include CPMG, Goldcrest and Fifth Down Capital.
Those funds will support the company as it moves into full production by 2024.
The tear and design
Kindred stands out from the hundreds (and thousands) of shops that restore old vehicles with a standardized process that begins with hand-picking old cars, trucks, or SUVs and tearing down and showing off every inch. The company takes this design and uses it for every part of the construction process, from parts supply and procurement to final assembly.
The goal is to take a tedious, long, and expensive process and make it efficient, repeatable, and scalable.
“I knew we could apply technology and scale and make it more efficient,” Howard told TechCrunch.
On the elevator in Kindred’s shop is a Chevy 3100 frame familiar to vintage vehicle enthusiasts that was in production from the late 1940s to the late 1950s. Howard said that this truck has already been stripped and rebuilt many times and he goes through the process over and over again.
According to Howard, this results in a very detailed step-by-step process, or blueprint, that can be used to rebuild the 3100s sold to customers with powertrains.
The system includes how-to videos for each step, which seems like a lot of weight, but the vehicles are always built the same.
It also allows workers without deep technical knowledge to jump into the construction process and learn the job. When a person closes, they are assigned a task in a station that is stored based on their experience. Most restoration shops are staffed with people who have master mechanic level knowledge about the vehicle and the car in general.
In the Kindred model, the main mechanic is still there, but they no longer need to manage the entire build. All of this is monitored in real-time by Kindred’s built-in monitoring system.
The end product is a modern vintage vehicle equipped with electric power or a gas engine with safety features that include disc brakes, three-point seat belts, headrests, improved steering and LED headlights. Air bags are not included. The vehicles will be equipped with a Bluetooth data exchange system with an integrated rear view camera.
The EV versions will be equipped with batteries that can travel up to 200 miles per charge, or possibly longer, according to the website.
Tech nerds who are car nerds
This is not a group that has seen the price of vehicles go up in the last few years and decided to switch to cars. Howard himself has been restoring cars for 20 years. His latest project took four years to complete and he discovered all the things that didn’t work right away.
That’s a typical rehab experience. Since each vehicle is essentially a one-off project, it’s hard to determine what will and won’t work as you build it to completion. The team believes that their experience will allow them to streamline the process and bring better vehicles.
Howard, a serial entrepreneur, worked with Kindred’s core team of people on his previous companies. These key employees worked at third-party logistics provider Incenda, which was sold to TransForce in 2013, and Grand Junction, a SaaS same-day delivery company that was sold to Target in 2017. After working for the retail giant for three years, they decided to switch to a passion project.
Other members of the company compete in the regional 24 Hours of Le Mans race, a tongue-in-cheek race to the world famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. Instead of teams spending millions, the participants have to buy and fix a $500 car. The result is less of a race and more of a show about exotic car culture.
Image Credits: Roberto Baldwin Kindred has three vehicles available for pre-order, all of which can be reserved with a $1,000 deposit.
The company restores and sells Volkswagen Microbuses starting at $199,000. There’s also a vintage Ford Bronco available with V8 or electric power and starting at $169,000, and a late 1960s Camaro with V8 or electric power. The Camaro starts at $149,00 for the LS and $199,000 for the LTA.
To keep the system together, there are options that can be added to the vehicles, but there will be no custom builds.
There are many shops that do that, and Howard says that some vehicles can be customized by their new owners after they leave the shop.
These are not cheap vehicles. In fact, most restored vintage vehicles are incredibly expensive, even if they are built by teams or individuals. While Kindred has streamlined the process, they are still building these vehicles by hand.
But the company is offering something most local shops don’t: a warranty.
Life after construction
The company offers a one-year warranty on all vehicles. Service center partners plan to work on vehicles as needed.
“We know these cars and we’ve got all the parts, we know exactly how they go together. So we’re in a better position than anyone else to service these cars,” Howard said.
Kindred, which has 30 employees and is located in Marin County, is in growth mode. Howard said the company is moving to a larger facility on the Bay Area and expects to have 300 employees by the end of 2024. Many will be entry-level technicians.
There is no shortage of people who sell businesses for a lot of money and then start a passion project.
The Kindred team has done exactly that, but decades of supply chain and retail know-how are driving it to change the way people buy used vehicles.
For anyone who’s ever been to a car show and seen a sea of vintage cars and hundreds of spectators, you know that Kindred has a chance to succeed.