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Bear Fiberglass/JW Rod Garage interview


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Hey guys!

Because of a couple service calls that got pushed until tomorrow I was able to visit Darryl , the owner of JW Rod Garage and Bear Fiberglass. It was an interesting trip to say the least.

Ill start by talking about Darryl first. When I first shook his hand I could tell right away he was a class act. In fact he reminded me of my Dad, just an old fashioned guy with old fashioned values. The hot rod industry has really changed over the years and it was refreshing to meet a guy that attended the school of hard nocks. Darryl has been fixing cars, building hot rods and manufacturing parts and components for 40 years and after getting the grand tour of his shop it became obvious he knows a few things about the industry.

For the small size of the building its amazing how many parts are manufactured by his business. As it turns out he has more than 400 dealers with both wholesale and retail accounts. In fact many of the parts that you buy and see advertised by the big boys have a good chance of being manufactured by JW Rod Garage and Bear Fiberglass. He owns the tooling, dies, and investment castings for what seemed like thousands of part numbers. Beyond T Bucket parts he manufactures his own rails, spindles, suspension, and just about everything else for all the popular rods being built today.

He walked me around the plant and I was able to see his welders and fabricators putting together some pretty sweet projects all on the main floor level. On the upper level in the mezzanine all the fiberglass molds are kept and stored and geez does he have the molds!!!

Ill get into the T Buckets in a second but let me just say, he has molds for cars that most people would never think existed. Corvettes from the 60s, Dodge trucks, and even small parts like the old style gasser and drag scoops. Of course his big seller is the famous 32- 3 window and all the other Ford models.

T Buckets are not his specialty and he doesnt really advertise them either, but he does make them and they are just as I thoughtvery good quality.

The best part was he had a Speedway body at his shop so I could look at both bodies side by side and compare the difference. As far as measurements its the same as a standard Speedway body and thats where the similarities stop.

You all know I dont have any experience with T Buckets so I dont want to pretend I do, but I do understand quality and the difference in quality between the two is night and day. From what I understand the speedway bodies are chopped glass and the ones made by Bear Fiberglass are laid by hand. I met the head fiberglass employee and was able to see the molds and how he did his work. Thats all he does is fiberglass and when I was there he was actually polishing the 23 T Bucket mold.

Its worth stopping here and talking a bit about that. As you all know Darryl was unable to have me visit the first time and he did say he was busy but it still struck me as odd. When he showed me his T Bucket body he pulled me aside and said he wanted to explain something to me. He explained that the only thing that matters in his business is quality and because he has a lot of respect for the guys building street rods like us he wanted to make sure first, he had a good chunk of time to spend with me, and second he wanted to review the molds and make a 23 body to inspect and look for errors.

When I got there he was happy to hear about our forum and had the body and the mold sitting there for me to do an honest evaluation. I thought it was pretty nice how much respect he showed towards the forum members by wanting to spend time and showing what was available to us. And when I showed up his employee was working hard to polish and inspect the mold.

The body itself is 5 layers of 1 1/5 oz. cloth matt thats on top of a really nice coat of black gel coat. You can see the parting lines but they are easily sanded and polished out for a seemless joint. Look at the photo of the 32 Ford, thats gel coat thats been polished and looks like it was painted gloss black. Anyhow, Darryl and I went back and fourth between the Speedway body and the Bear body comparing all the differences. One thing that bothered me about the Speedway body was how flimsy the body is. I know from reading the forum that you guys have to reinforce the glass but I couldnt believe just how thin and flexible they are.

On the bear body all I can say is Im glad to of had the opportunity to compare the difference because the Bear body is very strong, even with out reinforcement. I would imaging we would still have to reinforce it but not much because it really appeared tough. I was able to lift the two bodies up and the Bear was much heavier. The 23 body produce by Bear is treated and manufactured the same way as the $10,000 32 Ford body. Darryl made a point to show me the top leading edge rim of the glass on the Speedway body and talked about how chopping the glass from a gun creates thin and thick spots and on his hand laid glass bodies the fiberglass is uniform thickness and the resin level is kept at a minimum. He went on to say the ultimate strength of fiberglass is best when resin is kept at minimal levels and by hand laying the glass they can best control the quality.

As for the outside Ill first start by saying that I have been doing a lot of reading on the forums and from what I have read its normal to have to rework, fill, and level all the bumps and imperfections. Again, I looked at the Speedway body and it became obvious why thats required. On the Bear body it wasnt perfect but it was easily twice as nice and rework is kept at an absolute minimum.

About the only thing left is the floor. The Speedway body he had in the shop had a floor in it and the Bear body does not have a floor. I wasnt to keen on that but after seeing how thin the glass is on the Speedway it didnt bother me one bit.

He offers a 14 and 20 pick-up bed and also a dash and a tunnel.

Ill follow this article up with a bunch of photos but first I need to get them into photobucket.

I want to make a quick note as I finish up. Im not trying to bash Speedway one bit, but the fact is Bear Fiberglass sells the bodies for $499 and like everything in life we all have to weigh the options and choose wisely. Its my opinion that the Bear fiberglass is far superior to the Speedway in every sense of the term. Darryl is the owner of a large company that manufactures and ships parts world wide but when he shook my hand and invited me and the T Bucket forum in his shop he was every bit just an old school rodder, who has personally built many T buckets himself. He is a roll the sleeves up and get r done kind of fella. I liked that and I will be buying my body from him!

Its nice to know we have yet another option for our buckets and if I left out anything Ill try to answer the best I can. If you call Bear Fiberglass/ JW Rod garage tell them your from the T Bucketeers forum, there all a bunch of great people who are more than happy to help you out!!!!

It's always good to hear that quality products are still being made. Sounds like you had a nice tour. Were you able to get any pics?
Hi Fred!

Yes, working on it right now.:cry: I have to download them, crop them, and put them in photobucket, than post it. I have some really interesting photos, I think everyone will enjoy it.

Mike, it sounds like it was a very informative tour. It's great to know that people still take pride in quality.

Hey Eric! How is your project going?

Yes, like I said in the post it's refreshing to see a massive company owned by guy is just a common joe like us. This guy is a no frills guys and loves to talk hot rods. I do business with hundreds of businesses and it's a rare thing these days. I don't know Ron Pope but from what you all say about him he is in the same class of folks.

He would of spent all day with me but it's an hour and a half drive and had to be back to pick the kids up from school. He also told me that "Forget the email stuff, ugh! just call me direct" I thought that was a good quality also.

As busy as he is he is like us and is always working on multiple hot rods at home, all built from scratch. You would of liked to have seen this place, it was hot rod heaven every which way I looked people were working on hot rods in every corner.:cry:

I'm working on the photos right now and you'll be able to see the shop.

Just a side note for anybody wondering what a brookville roadster steel body is like. He had a 32 in the shop that he was building a custom set of rails and suspension for as a favor for a customer and he showed me the metal stampings and doors etc. WOW, they look good in the photos but the steel bodies are terrible in how they fit. The doors had a 1/4 of run out in the seam. They are not even close to what Henry Ford produced, and for what you have to pay to get a steel body I was in shock at how bad the fit and finish was. Just my thought.

Nice write up Mike, that was a great review. I can't wait to see the pictures you took, I hope you invited them to take a look at our forum.
Ben....they do and I have a photo (JUST FOR YOU) LOL

Telman.....I did invite them, in fact together we went on the computer and I showed them the forum. I also had to play salesman for Mike and said we have a great group of real honest folks and would love to have them advertise here.:cry:

In there defense the T Buckets is a very small portion of the business, but having said that Darryl was really interested in promoting that segment. We had a great conversation about how he is seeing T Buckets coming back back into favor again.


Photos coming up shortly
Photos part 1





Sweet! I wonder why he doesn't advertise either body on their website? They may not be big sellers, but I imagine you would sell more if you advertised them than not advertising them at all...:cry:
Bodies look pretty nice--they have similar parting lines to the "MAS" ones that I bought earlier this summer. Having the bodies hand laid is a plus. The 'MAS' ones are chopper gun and while decent, have a few thin areas. I like the way that Poliform does it--They use both hand laid and chopper gun for strength--but you pay for it.

Any pics of dashes, beds, etc?
Here are two photos. The first is what I think is a 27. This was just sitting up in the storage area where all the different molds are kept. They don't spesialize in these but if someone calls it's just a matter of laying one up.

The second photo is a 32 3 window. I posted this because you can see how shinny the gel coat is and thats before it's buffed. The photo isn't even clear because it's dusy and the picture was taken from a distance and then zoomed in.



The 23 T Bucket body I posted wasn't real shinny but while i was there they were busy polishing the molds and gearing up to sell more Buckets.
The last set of photos are just for fun.

Here is a shop photo of a couple projects. In addition to manufacturing parts they also build complete chassis. See the brookville body.


Below is a 40 Ford jig. I guess thats one die they don't have so they laser cut the parts and weld them up. This is one of maybe a dozen or so chassis being built. On the shelf they also have all the pieces for a bucket frame.


Bins in every direction of parts they manufacture. I think these are SS and get polished.


More bins!


Well that's it. The entire shop is working ten hour shifts to keep up, you wouldn't even think there is a recession going on when you step foot in that place.

For those looking into bodies for there buckets I hope this was of some help to you. It's nice to know we have another body company for us to pick from.

I can't tell from the photos, but that body doesn't look like it's channeled. It looks like it's sitting flat on the floor.
I think that if you look closely, GT63, you will see that there is no floor in the '23 body. When you install a floor, you raise it up into the body the amount that you wish to channel the body over the frame.

They do have a catalog but there in the middle of changing it I guess. Their also in the middle of changing the website. You won't find much because I think the bulk of the business is to the wholesale accounts but don't quote me.

I did grab a catalog when I was visiting but most of what's listed is for the 32 and up crowd.

Darryl said the new catalog and website will have all the T bucket parts in it and i'm not sure when that will be ready. I would just give them a call.


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