Not just a parts manufacturer, Detroit Speed also has an award-winning project shop, where customers come to Kyle Tucker and his staff to help them build muscle cars, Pro-Touring vehicles and more, all packed with the latest DSE parts and Supercar-esque amenities.
In a way, Detroit Speed has come full-circle. The business was started as a project shop, in part as a way for Kyle Tucker to fund his passion for building car parts. At some point, though, the parts business began to overshadow Tucker’s car-building business and grew to be one of the industry’s most trusted manufacturers of suspension and other body parts. These days, however, Tucker is able to devote himself to both sides his Mooresville, North Carolina-based business: making the parts, and then using them to build cars for his customers in the Detroit Speed Project Shop.
While the DSE Project Shop is known for pumping out powerful muscle cars, Tucker and his team continue to branch out, building hot rods, race cars and everything in between for everyone from local customers (like Dale Earnhardt Jr.!) to a car-lover in Qatar.
With 12 employees dedicated to the car-building side of Detroit Speed, and another 42 handling the parts manufacturing business, Tucker is thrilled to see both sides of the business thriving.
“To see both able to stand on their own, under one brand, is something I’m incredibly proud of,” Tucker said. “We are our own customer. We use our parts on the cars we build, and I think that’s what has built trust with our customers on both ends.”
THE BIRTH OF PRO-TOURING
Tucker didn’t originally plan to build hot rods and parts for a living, although he had been racing and helping his dad build cars since he was a kid. After high school, Tucker headed to engineering school.
“I wanted to race more than anything, but that led me to want to learn more about cars, so I went to engineering school,” he said. “I wanted to understand the dynamic of a chassis setting. I also wanted to race, or at least have a job that afforded me to race.”
While attending engineering school in Missouri, Tucker met a classmate named Mark Stielow who shared Tucker’s passion for Camaros, as well as his desire to try to push the boundaries of the muscle car. Tucker and Stielow would both eventually go to work at General Motors but continued to build cars on the side. The college pals had no idea that the car they were dreaming of building — a cross between a street rod and a race car, made out of a muscle car — would eventually spur a whole movement.
“I love seeing both sides grow, and seeing the stuff we are producing being put to use in these cars and enjoyed.” –Kyle Tucker
“Mark and I had been good friends for long time,” Tucker said. “At night, we’d build cars and drink beer and think of crazy stuff to do to Camaros. We built cars and raced them in the summer. We didn’t really know that we were doing anything important and never guessed that it would turn into the whole Pro-Touring movement.
“Mark was the leader in the Pro-Touring movement,” Tucker added. “He was the one that started it, and he and [Chevy High Performance editor] Jeff Smith gave the movement an official name: Pro-Touring.”
During this time, Tucker assisted Stielow in actually building the street rod/race car/muscle car that they had been dreaming up.
“[It was] detailed but very capable and functional, compared to the other Camaros at the time,” Tucker said of the first Pro-Touring car the pair built. “It was a crazy combo that got very expensive.”
Not only was it expensive to build a car like that, but it was also hard, due to the lack of quality parts available. Using his engineering background, Tucker designed and built the parts that he wasn’t able to buy and continued doing so while he and his wife Stacy were building a yellow ’69 Camaro in 1999.
“I was still working at GM, so we were building that Camaro on the side,” he said. “That was the car we designed a lot of parts for. We couldn’t find the parts we needed for that car so we had to design and build them.”
That yellow ’69 Camaro dubbed “Twister” was the quintessential Pro-Touring car. It handled like a sports car, had big wheels and wide tires, and featured the signature low stance that Detroit Speed cars would become eventually known for. When the Tucker’s took the car on the Hot Rod Power Tour in the summer of 2000, it caught the eyes of many, including Goodguys founder Gary Meadors.
“He told me how cool the car was, and invited me to the Goodguys show in Columbus,” Tucker said. “We took it there and it won Goodguys Street Machine of the Year. That was a big surprise. It really made a statement because the cars that had won that award before were perfect show cars. Every part of Twister was modified or tweaked, but it was built with a race car mentality, rather than a show car mentality. I wanted it to be functional, and be able to go to the track, but it still looked good.”
The win brought a flood of new work in for Tucker.
“People were asking about the car, and about the parts we used,” Tucker said. “More and more people wanted work done and started calling us.”
Encouraged by the success of Twister, and the increase in interest in his parts, Tucker took a leave from his job at GM to focus on building cars and parts.
“It was scary and exciting,” Tucker said. “I had been at GM a long time, and it was really a dream job for a car guy. But I was starting to spend more time behind a desk than anything else, and I didn’t want to do that for the next 25 years.”
Kyle and Stacy opened Detroit Speed & Engineering soon after, working out of the two-car garage at their home in Michigan.
“I built cars to be able to get cash to build parts,” Tucker said. “I wanted to have a business designing and manufacturing these parts, so I worked on cars to be able to make billable hours. I’d save up, make some parts, then get more hours. I was building a couple of Pro-Touring cars out of stock Camaros and building parts throughout the day. We had a lot of ideas, and we were trying to make a name for ourselves and keep the phone ringing.
Things weren’t always easy for the young company.
“I didn’t have an office, so I’d run out to my truck and take an order and act like we were a much bigger business than we were,” Tucker remembered. “But we knew that we could make it if we just kept trying.”
Eventually, both businesses grew, forcing the Tucker’s to move to a commercial space in Detroit before ultimately relocating to the company’s current headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina. Shortly after the move, the Detroit Speed parts business became bigger than the car-building side.
ANOTHER BUILDING BOOM
Things changed a bit in 2007, when Tucker’s neighbor, Dale Earnhardt Jr., walked into Detroit Speed and asked to buy Tucker’s personal 1970 Camaro.
“Dale had a shop down the street from us, and he’d drive by our parking lot and see our cars,” Tucker said. “One day he saw my Camaro in the parking lot and asked me if he could buy it. I said it wasn’t for sale, and I think that surprised him. I mean, I knew who he was and all, but I just didn’t want to sell that car. So I offered to build one for him.”
Tucker and his team built Earnhardt his own second-gen Camaro in just over 100 days.
“He just wanted it really bad, and when we finished the car, we took it to the Goodguys Nationals in Columbus and it got a lot of attention,” Tucker said. “It was a Top 5 Street Machine of the Year finalist, and it landed on the cover of Hot Rod.
That build really helped put our car building business on the map. We had been building cars all along but that build really made people notice our [Project Shop].”
Soon after, Detroit Speed built cars for more notable people, including Rick Hendrick and Kyle Bush, which further fueled the car-building side of the business.
Due to his Pro-Touring roots, Tucker was usually sought out to build muscle cars for people, but in recent years, the Detroit Speed Project Shop has branched out and taken on all sorts of makes and models.
“We’ll build just about anything,” Tucker said. “We’ll build any car, truck, front driver, anything the customer wants. This side of the business is so customer-driven. They still want the Detroit Speed flavor built into the car but it’s really about what they want as far as color and style.
“But we still do a lot of Camaros,” Tucker said. “That’s how we got started, and people still tell us they want a Detroit Speed Camaro.”
One recently completed project — a 1941 Willys built for customers Mike and Janie Braswell — was a departure from the muscle cars DSE is known for building.
“That Willys is my favorite right now,” Tucker said. “It’s an all-steel car and you don’t see a lot of Willys like that. It has all of our suspension parts under it. It’s black inside and out, and it turns more heads than any car I’ve ever driven!”
While the makes and models differ, most of the cars coming out of DSE feature a few key common features.
“They call it the DSE stance,” Tucker said of one of those features. “People know it’s one of our cars because of how the car sits, and the larger tires and wheels on it. It’s that look we go for but what we put into the cars tech-wise is what really sets our stuff apart. Our customers want everything that can be found in a Supercar to be in these muscle cars, and that’s what we do for them.”
The shop usually has about eight projects going at a time, most of which are full builds. All work is done in-house, except for upholstery work.
Parts manufacturing still makes up about 85 percent of Detroit Speed’s business but the Project Shop continues to grow.
“I’m really proud of the business we have,” Tucker said. “I love seeing both sides grow and seeing the stuff we are producing being put to use in these cars and enjoyed. I’m proud to be able to build something and see it grow and change with [the industry]. And I’m proud of the employees we have. Every one of them was hand-picked and I have an extremely talented group on both sides [of Detroit Speed.]
“The business consumes so much of my life, but I really wouldn’t want to be doing anything else other than this.”
Detroit Speed, Inc.
185 McKenzie Rd.
Mooresville, North Carolina 28115
Phone: (704) 662-3272
Owner: Kyle Tucker