A Tour of Autoworks International
SEMA is considered hell week for us here at powerTV. We work seventeen-hour days with three camera crews to bring live updates. One of those segments that fellow employee Jeff Garrison had to film was a cool car video. Leaving after a long day, Jeff and I stumbled upon a very different 1967 Mustang sitting in the back corner of the outside car show. It was love at first sight.
Both Jeff and I knew we had to cover this car. The Obsidian SG1 is how we came to meet Autoworks International. Though the Obsidian is Autoworks feature vehicle, it is only one project from this So Cal shop. Though they specialize in Mustangs, they build vehicles of all flavors. Autoworks cares more about building cars then selling you parts. Most of the parts they sell are specialized and tailored classic Mustangs. They even make their own body panels, which we will get to later (think Super CoupeR).
As one of the sponsors of powerTV, we’ve come to know the company quite well, and we can tell you – this is a special group. Please come join us for this inside look at Autoworks operations, and if you want to see more of the Obisidian SG-1, check out our:
FULL PHOTO GALLERY HERE.
Matt Couper – Owner – Autoworks International
The History of Autoworks
By 1995 Autoworks founder Matt Couper was living full time in the United States. In 1995 Matt started working on Mustangs since it was his passion. “There were a lot of people that specialized on Chevy based vehicles, but there wasn’t many people that worked on Mustangs”. By 1999 opened a small shop in Spring Valley, CA. Since they were smaller then, a lot more work was outsourced compared to now. “The general concept was to build a customer base. 90% of my original customers still do business with me today”.
By 2003 Autoworks moved into their new location in El Cajon. The shop is larger and requires less outsourcing since they can do more in house now. Tasks like painting are still done by Autoworks but are done in a remote paint booth. The shop quickly grew from a local customer base to international. Autoworks International is strictly vehicle builds while Autoworks Racing consists of their parts sales. “Everything we sell we also use. This allows Autoworks to give remarkable customer feedback and technical assistance on everything we sell, which is hard to find anymore”, Matt said.
Heading to Autoworks
I wanted to check out their shop for myself. I hopped in my car and made the hour and a half drive down to El Cajon. Their shop is nestled back in a industrial park and was hard to spot at first. Upon arrival the New Zealand born owner of Autoworks, Matt Couper, was the first to greet me. Matt lucked out with his last name as it plays so nicely. The general theme of Autoworks is the CoupeR branding. The shop is not flashy with air conditioning, coated floors, and spit polished tools. Autoworks is a full service shop that gets dirty.
It Slow or It’s Low – open to your interpretation. We doubt slow.
Their R&D Car - Super CoupeR
One of my favorite cars in the shop is their shop is their test mule, the Super CoupeR. This ’67 Mustang is the Autoworks testing bed. This Mustang is all business. The flat black paint is overlaid with decals and airbrushing dated back to the rebuild of this car. The original idea was to have all the Obsidian body panels tested prior to fitment. The original molds were designed on the Super CoupeR. Though this car was used for a lot more then body panel testing.
Matt and the crew at air conditioning.
The supercharged five liter averaged a conservative 23 miles per gallon. The Mustang still remains a weekend car with 15,000 miles on the clock and around 150 miles driven on any given weekend.
Mastershift Sales Manager Blaine Vice showed me how their shifting system works
This was the test vehicle for the electronic gear indicator says where you are. The shifter can be programmed to shift traditionally or it will lock out the downshift until the clutch pedal hits the clutch shift. This helps to prevent any mis-shifts with the clutch engaged.
The Paint and Body Booth
Autoworks shop is clean, but very busy. Come in the front garage door and then make a left past the office. This will put you where all cars start their build at Autoworks, the paint and body shop. Body filler dust coated the room like a fresh layer of snow – that’s how much work these guys are doing with the explosion of the Obisdian car.
Though a fresh Dynacorn chassis is always preferred, it is not always the most economical way to go. Even in California where the environment allows older cars to live longer, they will still develop rust.
The freshly stripped ’67 sitting in the booth was mid way through being prepped for paint. The tech working on the Mustang looked like a doctor performing heart surgery. Ever so gently he sanded the rear valance. Lightly rubbing it with his hand, he checked it for smoothness. After the area felt good to the touch he would block sand the area and repeat.
I spent ten minutes out there shooting pictures and for the entire time he did not move from the same small area on the back of the Mustang. The bodylines on this specimen were to remain relatively stock appearing. One of the subtle changes included the expanded wheel wells. They were raised and widened to easily house an eighteen-inch wheel further up in the body to give it a slammed appearance. This “mild” Mustang’s heart will feature a single turbo 396 small block, though it will be some time before this Mustang will see an engine.
The Main Shop Facility
Back inside the main shop there was two other Mustangs being worked on. The Mach 1 sat on the lift with the wheels off, receiving a Wilwood brake upgrade. This project is the lighter side of Autoworks. They don’t just do car builds, they also do bolt and go parts. The front brakes were recently finished as the rear axles were being prepped for install. By the time I had left they had the brake installation wrapped up.
Behind the Mach 1 stood a ’66 Mustang. The lines of this Mustang remained relatively standard, other than the obvious 20” wheels. Though still on the stock frame, the under side of this Mustang had almost every bolt on imaginable. some custom made side pipes that still required some finishing.
The Final Detail at Wes Studios
Down to the other end of the building and you will run into the air brushing side of Autoworks. This is where the most tedious work is done. My artistic abilities start and stop with digital media. I struggle to draw a stickman straight. Airbrushing is definitely an intricate art and I can appreciate anyone that can do it. Believe it or not there was not a Mustang in the booth, rather then an off road Jeep named “The Chili” – and no the restaurant does not sponsor him. The detail work on the Jeep was amazing.
Hundreds of hours go into creating the design and details. The correct shading is half the battles to making these designs look real. The design on the Jeep logo looked like a beach setting. There was also freshly completedObsidian kick panels that looked like stamped steel though airbrushed with perfect shadowing.
The Pride and Joy - Obsidian SG1
So we kept the best part for last. The literal definition of Obsidian is a volcanic glass similar in composition to granite, usually dark but transparent in thin pieces. An additional entry I would like to add would be: one bad ass Mustang. The entire car is hand made with over two years in the making. While maintaining near a 50/50 weight bias, the total weight of the vehicle is a large 4100 pounds. The entire chassis of the Obsidian is tube frame. The tubing is hidden perfectly behind body and interior panels. Unless you knew this car was tube frame, there is no way of telling. The bottom of the car is smooth. It has a full belly pan that helps hide the tube frame as well as make the Mustang more aerodynamic.
The general concept of Obsidian was to keep the same general lines as a 67 Mustang. The front end has been changed to an S197 Mustang. The hood is also a unique piece. “There has been a lot of controversy on the hood, I don’t care. Everything is different but everything works” Matt commented.
Under that hood is another work of art. The first thing you notice the unique Hogan intake manifold with dual top mount intercoolers. The intercoolers help cool the air being forced into the engine by the twin Rotrexsuperchargers. The engine is a 396 stroker small block pumping out 850 horsepower at 14 PSI. Matt claims the motor is capable of handling 30 PSI and producing well over 1000 horsepower. The motor is tied together to the rear wheels by a Tremec TKO-600 transmission. Amazingly enough the clutch is still a single disc. Though it does chatter a little due to the un sprung hub, but it does not slip.
I got to be one of the few that got to ride in the Obsidian. When you sit down and close the door in the Obsidian, it closes solid, as well as the trunk lid. This Mustang does not suffer from the typical old car door sag. Matt and I made a tour of El Cajon as he explained the car further to me. “It is not a race car, it is a street car” Matt remarked, and I believe him.
The Mustang again has all the amenities of power steering, power windows and air conditioning. But besides all of that, the car rides remarkably well. It will cruise at 1200 RPM in fifth gear without hesitation. But as soon as you click the Mastershift paddle shifter twice and stab the gas, it responds with fury. The centrifugal superchargers make instant power and thrusts the car with no lag. The video blog does more justice for this Mustang.
I asked Matt what his favorite part of the Obsidian was, and he responded. “Hmm, I’ve never been asked that one before, thats hard. Probably the rawness of the car. Most people eliminate seeing the workmanship of a project by grinding down welds. On the Obsidian, you can see it’s all there, built by hand”
The trip down south to the “Heat Bowl” of El Cajon was worth the drive. I have been to a fair amount of car shops but Autoworks is unique in it’s own right. The ability to produce the high level fabrication out of the available space is out standing. “The idea is to build great cars and have a little fun a long the way”, Couper remarked. I may even venture back down when it comes time for me to build my own project vehicle.