Steve Cook Greations, Goodguys Shop Tour, Goodguys

The Steve Cook Creations team: (from left) Emily Guthrie, Alan Childers, owner Steve Cook, and (front) Mike Cook. “It’s great to be around [the team] because they’re all as passionate about the cars as I am,” Cook said.

Steve Cook knows a good car when he sees it.

Cook, who has been building cars and trucks in America’s heartland for more than 25 years, enjoys crafting and thinking up cool things to do to his customers’ vehicles, but he’s careful not to take things too far. “We never want to change a car beyond recognition,” he said. “We consider what we do as paying homage to the vehicle [because] we take the best existing parts and finesse them. We believe that it’s never a good idea to take away the heart and soul of a car.”

Steve Cook Greations, Goodguys Shop Tour, Goodguys

Cook’s philosophy has paid off for him thus far. The vehicles built at his shop, Steve Cook Creations, have been awarded everything from Pro’s Picks, to several major Goodguys awards and even a Ridler Award. While the shop’s creations are very different vehicles, they all remain true (or “respectful,” as Cook puts it) to the car’s original design. “It’s a fine line,” he said. “We’ll pick and choose what to change, but we always keep true to the car’s fundamentals. We have studied these cars, and what we try to do is build a car as it may have been built when it was new, had it not needed to be mass-produced.”

Cook himself is not your typical hot rod builder. A self-described introvert, he and his small team of three value the art of simplicity and allow their work to speak for itself. “Sometimes it’s ‘simple’ that’s harder to do,” he said. “A lot of times people don’t know when to stop with the build. That’s something we do well. We know when to stop.”

Fancy Beginnings

Cook’s father was a drag racer but, oddly enough, that wasn’t what got Cook into the business. It was actually a girl who got him interested in building cars. “My wife Kim was the one!” he said. “Her family went to all the cruises and early Goodguys shows, so she grew up around it. She’s a car girl, and I was actually into motorcycles when I started dating her. I wasn’t really into drag racing or anything, but I had a car that was fast and sounded even faster so I let people think it was a street racer.”

Steve Cook Greations, Goodguys Shop Tour, Goodguys

This ’46 Ford has a special place in the hearts of Steve Cook and his family. His wife, Kim, bought the car when she was 14, worked on it while she and Steve were dating, and wrecked it when she was 16. After the couple married, they finished the car together. “We’ve been driving that car for 40 years,” Steve said.

Together, the pair started building a ’46 Ford. That car helped Cook get into car building (not to mention a marriage that is still going strong decades later.) “We still own that car today, and we drive it all over,” he said. “It’s very special to us.”

Once immersed in the world of car building, Cook quickly noticed that the folks around him were building simple cars. “At that time in the Midwest, people were more conservative,” he remembered. “They weren’t really doing a lot of the stuff the people on the West Coast were doing at the time. That got me thinking. I started to really take chances and do some of the things that no one else out here was doing.”

Cook’s unconventional creations soon attracted an audience, but it wasn’t the group Cook expected. “I started off by doing hot rods, tail-dragger-type stuff, but then I got into doing antique cars,” he said. “The oilfield guys out here in this area [in Oklahoma] are really into antique cars.”

Cook became involved in the Pebble Beach concourse scene and would go on to take several cars to the prestigious event. (A Duesenberg in 2002 and a coach-built ’37 Ford Darrin in 2006 are among the most noteworthy of Cook’s creations from that time period.) While the Pebble Beach circuit was fun, Cook longed to get back to building the cars he loved – customs, drag racers and hot rods. “Eventually, a lot of those oilfield guys lost interest in the antiques and went back to the hot rods, so I went back with them,” he said, adding that the time he spent building antique cars taught him a lot. “I learned all the fundamentals and basics doing that, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and why,” he said.

“We have one of the greatest jobs in the world: we get to give these guys their bucket-list items.” –Steve Cook

Cooking Up Creations

Cook admits that the cars he’s built in the last 10 years or so have a lot of similarities. “We try to make every single car we build – regardless of how much money they want to spend – somewhat similar in that they have the same straightness, fit and finish, and stance,” he said. “They are all out of the same mold, and we keep them simple.

Steve Cook Greations, Goodguys Shop Tour, Goodguys

This ’67 Chevy pickup features a ’59 Impala front bumper, a recessed grille, a custom hood and a 2-inch chopped top, to name just a few modifications. “We also lowered the rockers, flush-mounted the glass and got the back window to roll down electronically,” Cook said.

“I feel like I owe that to the customer,” he added. “They spend so much money and time on their car, so I try to make every car we build of the same quality, but sometimes you get to the point where spending more money won’t make a difference. You have to know when to say stop. It makes it tough for people sometimes, because they think the more money that goes in, the better the car that comes out and that’s not always true.”

 

“We want to build them cars they want to drive. It’s fun to look at them, but you can’t really enjoy them unless you’re driving them.” –Steve Cook

 

Cook has several longtime customers he frequently builds cars for, which helps because he knows exactly what kind of car will make that person happy. “We build to fit the customer,” he said. “I want it to be the car of their dreams, and we want it to reflect their personalities. You soak all of that up, and then try to apply it to the build. No matter what car we’re building we always want it to be classy and have a high level of detailing.”

The most well-known car to come out of Steve Cook Creations (to date, anyway) is a ’56 Ford convertible built for the shop’s longtime clients, Bruce and Judy Ricks. The car—dubbed the Suncammer as an homage to the ’56 Ford Fairline Sunliner donor car used to build it, along with its Ford 427 SOHC Cammer engine – not only took home the 2011 Ridler Award, but was also awarded Goodguys’ 2011 Custom Rod of the Year.

Steve Cook Greations, Goodguys Shop Tour, Goodguys

Owned by Bruce and Judy Ricks, the Suncammer ’56 Ford Sunliner won the Goodguys 2011 Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year honor, in addition to the Ridler Award.

Cook counts that car as a great example of what a good collaboration between builder and client can do. “Once we decided, ‘Hey let’s really go for it on this one,’ Rick let me do what I wanted with the colors and textures and finishes,” Cook said. “The engine was totally Rick’s deal.”

The finished result had tons of hand-fabbed parts and well-thought-out modifications and was something the hobby had not yet seen. “We heard a lot of people say it was a game-changer for the industry,” Cook said, modestly adding, “I don’t know if that’s true but it certainly was a game-changer for us.”

Although Cook and the Ricks worked on the car for six years, Cook says he never expected it to make such an impression. “You hope, but you never think something like this can happen,” he said. “I do the best I can, no matter what, sink or swim. I don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t like it, or if a car doesn’t win big awards.”

Cook barely had time to let his accomplishments soak in, though. “You’re so busy doing it, and then you just get wrapped up in the next build,” he said. “Finish lines or finished jobs are just a starting line of another one. [Winning awards] probably means more to the customer than to us. It justifies all the hard work, but the next day, we’re out working on the next car.”

With one Ridler under his belt, it’s not unusual for Cook to be approached by someone else who wants a chance to earn the coveted award. “I try to figure out what the customer’s goals are, and sometimes I have to explain to them what it takes to actually have a Ridler winner,” he said. “Usually, those cars aren’t even driven because they are too much of an investment, and I think that really hits a chord with a lot of customers. They want to drive their cars, and we want to build them cars they want to drive. It’s fun to look at them, but you can’t really enjoy them unless you’re driving them.”

Team Work

Cook maintains a small staff at his 8,000-square-foot shop, with just himself and two other people doing the work in the shop, and his son Mike running the office up front. “It’s great to be around [the team] because they’re all as passionate about the cars as I am,” Cook said. “It makes it really enjoyable to come to work, because we have one of the greatest jobs in the world: we get to give these guys their bucket-list items.”

Steve Cook Greations, Goodguys Shop Tour, Goodguys

The front office at Steve Cook Creations.

Cook also credits his long histories with customers for getting him to where he is. “You really get to know someone when you build them a car,” he said. “When you and a customer just hit it off, and you’re both on the same page, everything just starts coming naturally and that’s such an awesome feeling. That’s what I have with a lot of my customers.”

He’s currently working on a 1963½ Ford Galaxie for the Ricks, as well as a ’69 Camaro for Tim Wheeler and a ’59 Impala for Dave Rush. A ’67 Chevy pickup shortbed truck and a ’55 Gasser-style car round out the shop’s current project list. “We tend to keep it around four or five builds at a time,” Cook said. “We don’t need to do a ton of cars at one time. We like to focus and really perfect the ones we’re working on.”

Cook predicts he may have a few more future award-winners in the current bunch. “We want people to really see the passion, time and energy we have put into these cars,” he said. “The cars are all really different, but we put the same effort into all of them. Of course, there’s always a bit of luck that goes into it, too.”

Cook says his customers share his philosophies on car building, which makes things a lot easier. “They really understand the importance of keeping a car’s best features, but improving them,” Cook said. “I really believe that the guys who came before us and built and designed these cars were more talented and smarter than I am. They didn’t even have all of the tools that we have available today, so why would I not stay true to what they produced? I think as you get older, too, you start to appreciate these cars for how great they really are.”

Steve Cook Greations, Goodguys Shop Tour, Goodguys

Gil Losi’s ’56 Plymouth convertible is one of Cook’s more recent award-winners, earning the Goodguys 2015 Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year award. It features many subtle body mods, gorgeous paint, and an Art Morrison chassis with modern Hemi power.

Photos: Steven Bunker, Mike Harrington and Damon Lee