In his black tee and camp shirt, black Converse and jeans, with his hair slicked back, Troy Ladd - a film-star name if ever there was one - certainly looks like he belongs to the middle of the last century, possibly somewhere outside a diner. “Do I miss the construction industry?” asks the man who gave up a job as a building projects manager to pursue a boyhood dream. “No! I mean, I had to wear a tie...” His style is much more in keeping with his current line of work: as the founder and creative head of Hollywood Hot Rods, of Burbank, California, and unarguably one of the world’s top custom car builders.
“Over the years I’ve lost a lot of money because for me this isn’t about the money - it’s about doing cool stuff,” Ladd says. “It’s about the art, about going over and above what’s expected by the client. In fact, I’d happily charge less because the client allows us to explore the art. We’re both partners in the project. And that works - I think Hollywood Hot Rods has done more in a shorter period of time than any other company. Our brand is recognised internationally. And that’s pretty cool.”
Indeed, in the last 17 years Ladd has helped the making of hot rods undergo a revolutionary reappraisal, from folk art to design discipline, street scene to the stuff of serious car collectors. And small wonder. Typically half of each car Ladd builds is based around a donor vehicle - often a heap that has been sat rotting in a barn for the best part of half a century - but the other 50 percent is made from scratch, down to the smallest nut and bolt.
The results are a long way from the cut-and-shut variety of more egocentric, home-built hot rods. Take, for example, his Mulholland Speedster. It’s the winner, this year, of both the Grand National Roadster Show’s America’s Most Beautiful Roadster and the Sacramento Autorama World’s Most Beautiful Custom award, both shows something like the Oscars and Emmys of the custom car world. The awards’ titles are spot on for this 1936 Packard, re-worked into something that looks both forward and back. Ladd, it seems, is the bespoke tailor of fenders, light lines and cant rails.