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  • Notch: It's All About Stance and Style

    My name is Ignacio Gonzales. People call me Notch. I build hot rods and I've got a thing for tiki bars. I build tiki bars on the side. I’m always moving around. I’m always twitching.

    Born and raised in San Jose. I went to high school and that’s it. As a kid, growing up, I was fascinated with cartoons and movies. Star Wars especially. All my friends were building hot rod models, custom car models. I did that, then wanted to advance from that. So I got complex models – battleships and tanks that had 1,000 pieces. I got way into the details and making things look realistic.

    Then I got into Halloween props. I wanted to make a zombie hand coming out of the mud. I’d make a hanger shaped as a hand. And I got flour dough, mixed it together and made it look gory. I put paint on it. That’s how it all started. Being creative.

    Whenever I see something with my eyes, I take it apart and reverse engineer it. I’d watch a movie over and over again looking at the props they make and I thought, I want to do stuff like that. Star Wars. That’s where it started. I was blown away.

    I wanted to grow up and build those things someday. I got a challenge from one of my friends, she worked for a prop company and she wanted me to make a spaceship. So I said I’d make an 8-foot long spaceship of Darth Vader’s Executioner and I made it without any blueprints or anything. I just looked at the pictures and made it in my garage. I just jump head first in. I don’t look back.

    I started working on cars. First I went to work on my own personal car. I got into Volkswagens, heavy on, during school and after school. I tore them apart, put them together, got them running. Along with my friends, we went cruising. It turned into a hot
    rod fascination after one car show. I gave away all my Volkswagen stuff, sold it all. I just wanted hot rods.

    Nobody else in my family is creative. They all went to college and studied. I wanted to work with my hands. I’m the youngest out of 7. First one born in the United States.

    My family are all from Mexico. Legally. They all came over legally.

    My dad worked for construction, so I was around wood a lot and hammers and nails. There was a lot of land, so I was free to play wherever I wanted. I was always outdoors doing stuff. There were fields everywhere. We had dirt bikes and motorcycles. We made huts and had rock wars. We rode our bikes, made ramps and jumped. It’s all developed now. There’s no open spaces. It’s all houses.

    I started working at a body shop, I’d say '90 or ’91. It was one of my first jobs. I worked for Apple when I was a kid, assembling
    stuff. I wish I could’ve kept that job. It was a good paycheck.

    But then I started at a body shop just doing clean up. I scraped gum off the shop floor and pulled cars in and out. Anything they wanted me to do. Sweeping all day. I picked up real quick on body work, paint and prep. I learned everything about restoring a car there.

    I went to a hot rod show and I was blown away by American hot rods. So, I’m going to work my hardest to own one. In the beginning, I worked at a body shop, learned the trade of metal work and repairing cars. Just doing paint, body work, suspension.

    Then I got my first job at a hot rod shop. It started at Rods and Louvers. Then Moonlight Hot Rods. It was awesome. Making parts from nothing. We had to make each piece. So we’d chop the car and lower it, make body lines and do custom metal shaping inserts on the sides.

    I loved it. Someone brought me an old car and said, "Let’s do some flames." It was just natural for me.

    My first flame job was in a book. It was just a small, little picture but it was my work. I was like, I could keep going. Anybody who wanted graphics would come to me. It was easy. "Did you go to school?" No, I would just look at pictures.

    When I was working for a body shop, doing the same thing every day working on brand new cars, I wasn’t really happy. It felt like I was wasting my time. They were brand new 2008 or 2009. It was like I was wasting my artistic talent. When I work on these old cars, I know they’re being cherished. They have a family value. People take care of them as long as they’re around.
    So, I feel like when I worked on these old cars, my time’s not being wasted.

    So, I’m going to open a hot rod shop. Word of mouth got around. People would bring me work. I’m just going to do it. I took a big pay cut. Owning your own business for the first 5 years is tough.

    We’re at my shop. It’s Top Notch Kustoms. Notch, you know, my name Notch. I didn’t even have a shop at the time and they would just call me Top Notch Kustoms. It’s enough room for four cars and other little projects.

    It’ll be a little over four years I’ve been here. Started with nothing. All I had was a box of tools, a welder and a plasma cutter. Now I have a lot of tools.

    My personal hot rod. It’s a major piece of work. A1935 Ford Pickup that’s chopped, channeled and sectioned. It’s got a Model A frame that’s boxed and it’s got over 170 lighting holes drilled throughout the frame. It’s heavily z’d in the rear and front. It’s got a quick-change rear end. It’s got a Merc-flathead with Kong heads. It’s got a drop-32 front axle with rotorflow shocks. All bare metal.

    It’s super low and loud. It’s got to have flow and historical value. It’s all about the stance and style.

    I used to always draw as a kid. I remember in 3rd grade, one of my teachers, Mrs. Baldastery said I was going to be a great artist one day. She wrote that in my autograph book. I still have it today. I always look at that. I’m like, she must’ve seen
    something. I think I still have it in my toolbox.

    From an interview with Ignacio Gonzales for The Making Of... series on KQED. Interview by Charla Bear. Story edited by The Kitchen Sisters.

    Illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton.
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