He's known for his ability to make anything out of nothing. His fabrication and welding skills are remarkable. He's an artist who works in a wide range of mediums and she is someone who isn't afraid to do whatever it takes to restore a car and make it look spectacular.
EJ and Amy Fitzgerald, the co-owners of Cool Hand Customs in Middleton, WI, recently celebrated their company's 10th anniversary. It hasn't been an easy ride, but by working hard and leveraging their stellar reputation, this couple is now firing on all cylinders and garnering rave reviews from their sponsors and satisfied clients.
A mega-talented duo, the couple fell into car restoration after working in construction remodeling homes for many years. When the economy imploded in 2008, Amy and EJ---with a 3-year old at home---decided to take out a loan and start Cool Hand Customs.
"We borrowed $13,000 and started the business in our 400-square-foot garage at home," Amy said. "We decided we might as well take a leap of faith and chase our passions. Back then, we primarily restored and painted motorcycles and did very well because EJ is a talented airbrush artist. He sees the world in 4-D just like our daughter, Jade, does. But I don't, so we play different roles within the company and complement each other very well. I have always been a huge car buff and he is a motorcycle guy, so we started by working on motorcycles and then went on to building cars, and it just kind of worked out."
Six months after opening its doors, Cool Hand Customs went to its first SEMA Show with a large extended cab Dualie they painted for a client. Things have gotten better for the company ever since.
"We realized right then that this is where we wanted and deserved to be, so we really stepped up our game and took it to the next level," Amy said. "The American flag that EJ painted on this vehicle is so realistic, it's remarkable. It got a lot of attention. When we got home, we moved into a 4,000-square-foot facility and now we're actually growing too big for that space and need to move again."
Cool Hand Customs was chosen as one of 25 golden ticket winners when its truck was chosen at last year's SEMA Show while on display in the E3 Spark Plugs Booth and then invited to participate in the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Challenge Invitational. Their orange 1941 Dodge pickup was featured at the Las Vegas Speedway as part of the festivities.
"It was a lot of fun and we were so excited when we got the opportunity to participate in the OUSCI and really show that the SEMA vehicle could perform on the street and in road courses,” Amy said. “Now we can't wait to participate in more auto cross and road rally events. It was a real honor to be considered as one of the best 25 street-worthy show cars at SEMA and it really provided us with a lot of momentum from this event."
Ten years after their first involvement in SEMA, Amy is playing an integral role within the organization and proud of it. She currently sits on the ARMO/Automotive Restoration Market Organization Council and on the ETTN/Emerging Trends and Technology Network Cross Council Sub Committee and is also part of the SEMA Scholarship Committee to review applications to award SEMA scholarships.
"When I was sitting at that first banquet, it really hit me: ‘Wow, we have arrived,’" Amy said. "Now I sit on two SEMA councils and am on one committee and want to be as involved as I possibly can because I love this industry so much. If I can give back in any way, I want to do it."
Amy also participated in a few all-women builds, including a 1969 AMX and recently a 1957 pickup with Bogi's Garage. Bogi’s Garage is a shop owned and operated by Bogi Lateiner, host of Velocity’s “All Girls Garage.”
"Ninety women working on these types of projects is so inspiring and really empowering," she said. "The teamwork and talent that goes into these vehicle builds is something I want to do as much as I possibly can."
As her husband's "second hands" Amy loves what they create and never tires of the frenetic pace and hard work involved.
"We really work well together and the work is exciting every day," she said. "I lead on wiring, interior design and installation, and EJ leads when it comes to the airbrushing, welding and metal fabrication work. Together we fabricate, install and build the mechanicals, body work, paint, assembly, etc., and produce ‘drivers’ that our customers are proud to display and drive across country if they want. We are a two-person shop with no employees, so it is just us each day working together. Sure, we do butt heads now and then, but we both live and breathe this work and enjoy it tremendously. It's not all roses and fun, especially when deadlines are approaching, and some days we work 16 hours straight. We're really blessed because we're equally driven to succeed at this business and take pride in our work."
With a workload of roughly five cars annually and other smaller jobs like occasional motorcycle builds and painting, miscellaneous painting projects and repairs on customs and classics along the way, Cool Hand Customs is currently working on its third SEMA vehicle. Amy has seen more and more women get involved in the show and is excited to see the evolution firsthand.
"When we went to our first SEMA 10 years ago, there were literally no lines for the ladies' bathroom, but it's no longer the case,” she said. “More women are participating, and not just on the marketing side of the industry. They want to be hands-on and we love to network, rely on each other and support each other. Participating in these all-female builds is a great way to achieve that. We're so fortunate to be doing what we do and it's become a huge part of our lives, so we would not trade this for anything else!"