A lot of young guys were bitten by the car bug at an early age. For many it’s a hobby, a pastime. But for others, it turns into an obsession. And when you grow up in a family that builds street rods and muscle cars for a living, it’s bound to get into your blood. That’s how it started for Dave Borneman, who cut his teeth on custom cars as a teen working alongside his father. He got his first car, a 1954 Chevy Sedan Delivery, at the age of 12. Before he earned his driver’s license, he’d already owned nine cars. There was no turning back from there.
For years Dave worked as a technician in more traditional repair shops, but he really enjoyed working on custom projects. In 2009, he went to work with father Bill, who had his own business, Blast From the Past Street Rods outside of Pottstown, PA. But when his father retired and closed down the business, Dave felt obligated to step up.
“He had some good guys working for him that I didn’t want to let down,” Dave tells us. “So I gathered up as much of that team as I could afford to keep and opened a shop of my own.” That was in 2015. He initially set up the new business, Borneman’s Restoration and Customs, in Pottstown. But in 2020, Dave and his wife Paula moved the operation about 30 minutes away to the humble hamlet of Virginville, located between Reading and Allentown.
The new shop is a break from the past, a clean slate that allowed Dave to reset the business and start from scratch. “When we finally got the building, Covid had erupted and we couldn’t really get permits and inspections to open up there,” he recalls. “The shop was still running in Pottstown, so we just came in here and cleaned and removed old materials during evenings and weekends. It gave us a chance to really set the shop up right.” By May of 2020, they were able to open (cautiously) for customers in the new facility.
The building itself was a former embroidery shop and silkscreen printing operation. Occupying roughly 26,000 square feet, it turned out to be ideal for use as a restoration shop. The space is divided into three main areas: fabrication, body and paint, and mechanical. There are also smaller spaces like the engine room and the storage space currently occupied by two customer vehicles in inflatable storage pods.
A quick walk of the facilities reveals a mix of mostly 1950s through 1970s American machinery in process. V8s are the default power plant. Beyond that, it’s a mix of cars and pickups, street rods and muscle cars, customs and concours contenders. And while the projects are as varied as they sound, there’s a common thread that runs throughout each one. Attention to detail.
“We’ve got some great fabricators here,” Dave says proudly as he shows off a ’47 Lincoln being built. He walks us through the current detail they’re working out, a rear-mounted air conditioning system that will bring cold air invisibly through the roof to the front. “We didn’t want the usual under-mount unit taking up space beneath this gorgeous dashboard.”
Everywhere we turned we saw this kind of attention. Chrome trim and polished hardware carefully wrapped in tape while being worked on. Parts on shelves or carts rather than on the ground. A general tidiness to every corner of each workshop.
Fabrication is a big part of the business, allowing the team to make some great one-off creations. Dave showed off a Rotex punch press he recently acquired, along with an 8-foot sheet metal brake. “We also have an older Eastwood English wheel from probably the 1990s,” he adds, pointing to the large red machine in the center of the shop. “That’s from back before everything was painted blue, I guess.”
Other unique machinery in the shop includes a louver press. The crew still fields a lot of requests for custom panel work including louvers, and this tool produces reliable, repeatable louvers like no hand tool can.
Out in the mechanical shop, the work is a mix of restoration projects being reassembled along with a number of regular clients having their vehicles serviced. A Jeep Grand Wagoneer is on one lift getting maintenance while a 1959 Mercedes sedan sits nearby awaiting its turn. Meanwhile, a Ford Sunliner convertible with a police-package V8 is being meticulously reassembled.
As we walk through the body shop, Dave rattles off the specs on every vehicle we pass. He knows how it came in, what it’s getting, and what the customer wants out of the project when it’s done. He is intimately involved with the planning of each project, listening to the owners’ hopes and dreams, offering subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) alternatives or suggestions. It’s clear he loves what he’s doing.
The shop and its 14 employees seem happy as well. Business remains solid, Dave insists, with a more than 2-year-long wait list to start new projects. For someone who loves what he does, he couldn’t ask for more.