By Jeff Alexander
Photos courtesy of Wrecked Metals
Kustom kulture is not the first thing that springs to mind when discussing the northwest, but Wrecked Metals has slowly created its own community dedicated to ‘rods and choppers. Shop owner and builder Matt Whitlock’s pursuit of snowboarding had taken him all over the country, his passion lying anywhere and everywhere outside his Boise hometown. Returning in 2000, he was dismayed to learn that no local skate scene existed. With nothing to ‘scratch that itch’, Whitlock turned his attention to cars, and slowly began growing his interest in hot rods and classics.
“It was tough knowing there were no skate parks, no nothing to continue my passion. I was interested in cars but knew next to nothing about them at the time. I was leafing through the Thrifty Nickel, our local classified paper, and came across a 1948 Hudson! It kind of looked like a ’50s Merc, which is what I really liked and when I went to check it out, it was in bad shape. It had a horrible Buick 350 motor and needed a lot of everything. So, of course, I bought it despite knowing nothing about wrenching,” laughed Whitlock.
Whitlock dragged his heap home and met up with a local friend, Tony, an old school wrencher who was willing to mentor him. He reflected on the adventure he endured just getting the Hudson home.
“I don’t know what I was thinking! I drove that thing in 23-degree weather. I crawled through the deck lid because, for whatever reason, everything else was welded shut! I met up with my friend Tony and he was willing to help. I sure needed it because the car didn’t even have a windshield! I don’t know how I managed driving it, but I did,” laughed Whitlock.
Whitlock and his friend worked tirelessly for two years to rescue the Hudson and return it to its former glory. Eventually, he showed it off at Viva Las Vegas, where he fell in love with kustoms but his restless creativity returned and he was off to seek another project to keep turning wrenches.
“I was really proud to show off the Hudson, even though it wasn’t much compared to what I saw, but I didn’t care. I can get pretty restless and I was already looking for the next thing to keep me busy. I had ridden dirt bikes but never had a street bike so I came across a ’70s Triumph TT500. It was actually in ok shape and I never should have messed with it, but I didn’t care because, like I said before, needed to scratch that itch,” stated Whitlock.
Wrecked Metals was founded in a small, unassuming shop behind Whitlock’s home. Based simply on word-of-mouth from happy customers, Whitlock grew his knowledge and his skills, slowly transitioning to a ‘more official, permanent shop.’ He reflected on long, backyard hours and how passion transformed into business.
“I was wrenching behind my house in my small shop for like 10 years! Word-of-mouth was strong and I mostly did hot rod and chopper work. My friend Sean is an insanely talented fabricator and together, we decided, after years of wrenching in a small shop to go for it and begin what is today Wrecked Metals. I was never meant to be like a business guy, hell, I feel I am still learning!”
He added, “There is so much more to it than just the demanding skills needed to build. We have the talent together to keep customers happy and push ourselves, but now? Costs for most anything are getting out of hand and it’s not uncommon to have a completed car go for $100,000.”
Whitlock primarily focused on hot rods and classics but he shared it wasn’t until he took a skating trip to San Diego did he finally discover the captivating powers of kustom choppers. He befriended pro skate legend and former Santa Cruz ambassador Jason Jessee, who unveiled a chopped Panhead during a party at his place. Whitlock was taken aback and he cites that trip as a watershed moment for him.
“It was an awesome machine! Jason would do all these burnouts with it and then and there, I decided I had to have one! Hell, they were pricey then but I didn’t care. When I got back home I sold everything I had; guitars, cars, anything that I felt I could part with to fund getting the bike. I eventually got a ’59 Panhead. It was in good condition, had a strong motor. I still have that bike today. It’s the very one I worked on for Born Free 14,” Whitlock proudly stated.
Simply titled ’59’, Whitlock and his Wrecked Metals cohorts Sean Rodgers and Ryan Stallcup dedicated endless hours to revitalizing and customizing the Panhead, end-to-end. Whitlock earned Born Free 14 accolades, taking home the prestigious Harley Davidson Design Team Award, but Whitlock was quick to state nothing came easy.
“My favorite bike platform is the Panhead because I feel it’s such an American-looking motor. It’s so recognizable. I was approached by the Born Free founders asking if I was interested in building something for the show. The timing was actually good, so I thought, but we know how these things can go,” laughed Whitlock.
As he slowly began planning, Whitlock learned that some local friends were also entering Born Free’s build competition. Always drawn to the camaraderie of moto culture, Whitlock was happy that Idaho, of all places, would be sending more than one builder to the renowned Born Free chopper show.
“It was fun to talk about everyone’s approach and hear their creative plans. Things eventually got hectic as the deadline approached. Budgets can easily change and once again, I found myself liquidating some stuff to get more cash to keep going. My wife was starting to notice some things disappearing, which was just what I had to do when I originally purchased the Panhead! Only difference was, when you’re married and have kids the impact can be a little different,” laughed Whitlock.
Whitlock eventually sped to the finish line, confident his ’59 was a good balance of classic and kustom. Unabashedly stating his sole goal was to win and earn a trip to Japan to unveil his ride at the famed Mooneyes event, Whitlock carefully stated that such challenges can keep you humble, no matter if the outcome is positive.
“It really is a special thing to push yourself and see what can come of it. I had never thought about building for Born Free and hadn’t attended the event in a long time, but I went for it. I knew I would be proud of the outcome because I had put my best foot forward and I really do have so many to thank for their help and support. There was an extra sense of pride as well because this is my personal bike, it’s not just intended to be a show bike. I am excited to attend Mooneyes Japan because they have amazingly talented builders out there! They really elevate the craft,” said Whitlock.
Today, Whitlock feels he can successfully ‘scratch that itch.’ With a custom skate park in his backyard and Wrecked Metals’ well-earned reputation for consistently crafting kustom ‘rods and choppers, Idaho may very well become a burgeoning kustom kulture community.
“Skating and snowboarding are still my passions but they somehow brought me to choppers. I love creating something that people are excited to drive or ride, not just for the show factor. Every now and then I get some calls from a guy we did a ’47 knuckle chopper for. He tells me he gets excited just starting it up at his house. It’s not a show bike but it makes him so happy to have it and that is one of the many reasons I am into this; creating something for people that are just as passionate as I am and continue appreciating what they have,” concluded Whitlock.