One man’s passion for restoring vehicles inspires him to open Ocala shop


Derek Tipton is the owner of Detroit City Customs in Ocala. His crew can restore vintage cars back to their original beauty or better. He poses in front of the shop with a couple of restorations Tuesday afternoon.

Doug Engle/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, April 26, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.

Derek Tipton earned his nickname by making collectable car owners’ dreams come true.

“They call me Detroit because I was born there and I love to work on cars,” Tipton, 46, said between meetings with customers recently at his automotive restoration and repair shop, Detroit City Customs.

Tipton’s operation is an extension of his passion for restoring and customizing vehicles, which boiled over about a year ago after he completed his ultra-custom “Goodfellas” chopper in his garage at home.

The stretched-out chopper has brass knuckles for handgrips and painted images of three gangsters from the movie with the same name.

“I finished the bike and wanted to start another hot rod. My wife said, ‘Why don’t you just open a shop?’ ” Tipton said.

So he did.

Just inside the Detroit City Customs shop you see an immaculate dark maroon 1967 Cadillac with a 425-cubic-inch block in a massive engine compartment.

“That car was trashed. The body had about 30 gallons of bondo filler on it when the car arrived. We straightened the metal and the resto took 600 hours,” Tipton said.

He motioned around the shop.

“The 1929 model A Ford over there has been an ongoing project. The car came to us in pieces. There wasn’t a part of it that wasn’t bent or rusted,” Tipton said.

Don Milan operates Auto Doctors of Ocala in the Detroit City Customs shop and provides in-house engine work and mechanical work.

When Jim Van Ostran, 63, of The Villages needed a major engine repair and fender repaired on his pristine 1937 Packard Touring Sedan, he turned to Detroit for help.

“They did an excellent job. I use this car in my real estate business. I had the pistons replaced here and the fender repainted,” Van Ostran said.

“I charge about $20 an hour additional for cars older than me. We may spend a lot of time searching for parts,” Milan said.

Milan stood by as Van Ostran listened to the steady, smooth idle of the straight eight, 320-cubic-inch engine, which is rated at 130 horsepower. The 4,500-pound car has a distinctive “Goddess of Speed” hood ornament.

“I had work done on the Packard when I purchased the car in California. The work was done at a garage that does work for Jay Leno. I believe the quality of work here at this shop in Ocala is better,” Van Ostran said.

The 18,000-square-foot Detroit City Customs mechanical shop and adjacent 7,800-square-foot paint shop can handle complete “frame off” restorations and has about a dozen projects ongoing.

Most cars are taken down to the bare frame rails, and then the partially assembled vehicles are placed on a rotating lift for better accessibility.

“We can take a trashed or barn-fresh car in the front and have it come out like new out the back. We can provide frame, body work, engine work, re-chroming and upholstery work,” Tipton said.

Tipton is currently restoring a customer’s 1967 Mustang with a 289-cubic-inch engine and another client’s 1970 Mustang with a 351 Cleveland engine.

“That’s a 1972 Mustang on the next rack. It was stored for 14 years. The restoration will run about $27,000 and it will be like new,” Tipton said.

“The car on that lift over there is a 1970 Chevrolet Super Sport 396. After a $30,000 restoration, the car should be worth about $60,000,” Tipton said.

Other cars in the shop include a 1966 retractable hardtop Thunderbird used in Ron Jon sun tan lotion commercials and a rare 1970 MoPar Super Bird Roadrunner, which will have a high rear wing when completed.

“The wing is stored upstairs because it’s so valuable,” Tipton said. He said only about 300 of the Superbirds still exist.

“We can check the VIN (vehicle identification number) sometimes for the correct paint color,” Tipton said.

Paint shop technician Kody Compton uses air brushes and paint guns on the projects such as a 1957 Thunderbird being painted factory original Inca Gold and a 1968 Charger getting a black matte finish requested by the owner.

“We can scan parts to establish the exact color,” Compton said.

Projects at the shop can be measured in weeks, months and even longer depending upon the nature of the job, availability of parts and the customer’s schedule.

“I have one customer who said he doesn’t want his wife to find out how much the restoration cost,” Tipton said.

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