The fine city of Charlotte, N.C. is steeped in decades of motorsports heritage and lore. Along with its well-known NASCAR roots and history, this is a town rich with car culture. When making your way around the city, it's not unusual to see more than a fair share of amazing hot rods and muscle cars cruising the streets and highways, glistening in the Carolina sunshine.
There's a passion for cars in Charlotte that's pervasive. In fact, it wouldn't be too bold to say that few locales can rival the Queen City's appetite for motorized pursuits. One such place where we were lucky enough to witness that passion on full display was Man Made Legends in Mooresville, N.C. Owned and operated by industry veteran, John Sad, Man Made Legends is a speed shop dedicated to the art of building period correct racecars and hot rods.
We had the distinct privilege of meeting John late last year at an NHRA event in Charlotte, and after talking for a while; he kindly invited us over to his shop. Tucked away in a neat, old building just outside historic Davidson, N.C., what lay before us when we entered was like a portal back in time… Our mouths agape, like kids in a candy store, John proceeded to show us around the shop. There were vintage Camaro racecars in various states of assembly, and classic motorsports memorabilia galore. This shop was an absolute playground for classic Chevrolet enthusiasts.
After spending a good deal of time with John and learning his story, we decided it was much too cool to keep to ourselves. So, we've decided to share it with you, and we think you'll feel the same way. If you're ever in the Charlotte area, we highly suggest penciling in a stop at Man Made Legends. Check out our interview with John, below, and be sure to scroll down to check out all the amazing images!
Hi John, thanks for joining us on The BLOCK. Tell us a little bit about Man Made Legends?
My name is John Sad, owner of Man Made Legends in Mooresville, N.C. We are a shop that carries the torch for recreating period-correct race racecars. In other words, we produce, restore and race period cars from eras gone by. And that includes Trans Am, Factory, and NASCAR vehicles.
You said something interesting, that you "restore and race," and there's a lot of vintage history. Do you race everything?
Yep. If it's vintage and it's got a motor, we'll make it go fast...
You could sell some of these cars for lots of money. Why do you still race them all?
The racing part of it is the heritage of the car. These cars were built for racing. They're not trailer queens. We try to maintain that lineage. So if someone wants to come buy one of these cars and go race it, they can do that. The history of the sport is based on performance, not necessarily how it looked. And that's our main area of focus: Man Made Legends aims to channel the storied history of these awesome cars for a whole new generation. And that history lives on when these cars are returned to the racetrack, doing what they were created to do.
So, we're sitting in front of a 1969 Camaro that's a personal project vehicle for the shop, and it's inspired by Roger Penske's '69 championship-winning Camaro. What made you want to build this car?
Well, we love Camaros. And, c'mon, there's not a car enthusiast out there that doesn't love the '69 Chevy Camaro! Obviously, Penske is a big part of our neighborhood, here in the Charlotte area; and this is a car that he'll display in his showroom. Additionally, we're mixing the heritage of NASCAR into the Trans Am series from back in the day. But, at the end of the day, with this build, truly, it's for the love of the car. And this car exemplifies our passion as a shop.
So let's talk about that. This car is not actually a track car or a street car, there's a lot going on here. There's an actual NASCAR chassis, inside of a factory-spec Camaro body. How does that come together, and what are the challenges?
Biggest challenge is making the chassis fit that car, a little wider, a little bit more greenhouse. So we had to bring the greenhouse down, narrow the chassis, but we still had to keep the mechanical functions in tact. So a lot of engineering went into it. And it was an experiment. We went out and bought a Camaro from a wrecking yard, and the only thing that was good on the car was the top. And the reason we did that was we didn’t want to invest a lot of money in a car we couldn't use. We took a gamble, but we made it work. The car was a rustbucket when we got it. But now we've fit it to this chassis, so we know it'll work. This was very much like a prototype.
So, if someone wanted to build a car like this. You could theoretically make one?
Well, this was an actual racecar. We fitted the Camaro body on it, this car, chassis and motor, actually raced in the NASCAR ASA series. So we disassembled that car, and fitted the Camaro directly on top of it. We wanted the modern technology: rack and pinion steering, Chevrolet Performance LS1 crate engine with all the factory updates, etc… So we've got a great mix of modern and old school going on in this build.
We like that – the bowtie heritage of yesteryear with the technology of today's Chevrolet Performance powertrain.
Now just to clarify, this is a motor you couldn't buy over the counter, you would have to have owned a race team to get this specific motor. But you could buy a similar LS1.
On that note, what do you think it is about the Chevrolet Performance LS platform that makes it such a solid choice to work with?
Well, I'd have to say versatility and the fact that there's an LS for everyone. Chevrolet changed the game tremendously in that most hot rod or street rod builds today are employing an LS motor. From the LS1 all the way to the LS7, they're just dependable, lightweight, high-performance motors that are affordable. And it's almost like back in the day, when hot rodding began, and Chevy was revolutionary with a 265 overhead valve motor. That became the hot rodding engine of choice. Flash forward, and the LS1 has just turned out to be a phenomenal hot rod setup. From racing applications to the guy who wants to restore an old classic muscle car and turn it into a solid, powerful daily driver, the LS platform remains an excellent choice.
What are your thoughts on some of the newer Chevrolet Performance offerings, such as the E-ROD platform?
Well, being in the industry, we've certainly seen and heard a lot about the engine. However, since many of our builds are vintage, period-correct type projects, to this point we haven’t gotten to use an E-ROD motor. But, we've definitely got our eyes peeled for the right project. I mean to have an engine with that kind of power be so incredibly efficient and emissions-compliant is pretty amazing.
What would you say Man Made Legends specializes in?
Well, racing is our primary focus; but the economy has forced us to do some other things, restorations of classics, etc. But our core is racing. That's where my passion is. But we also build hot rods, and we're equally passionate about that. And it's a very diverse market for us, as well.
So if a customer wants to build a track car, and get into vintage racing. This is where they want to come.
We supply the chassis, we have our own vintage-racing group, and we're the sanctioning body. We're the lead guys. If you came to me and said, "John, I want an old NASCAR," and I showed you a Camaro you liked, we could supply you with everything you need, car, license, track, etc.
Man Made Legends started because you had a history with Hornaday. How did that relationship come about?
Well, I started off in California, at a Ford garage, and they were the first Shelby dealer. And, at that time, I was part of Ford Racing program. And at that time, through our will call, we were able to service all the people involved with Ford Racing. I had connections, John Force with Holman and Moody, here in Charlotte, etc… And we supplied all the racing stuff for what they called the Grand National series in California. And Ron Hornaday, who was the service manager, he raced in the Grand National series. So, he would come out on Friday nights and say, "Who wants to go racing?" And I became a regular doing that, it was more of a volunteer thing, but we helped support his racing efforts.
So, how did Man Made Legends evolve from that?
Well, for a time I left the industry and was working with HGTV, I went up north and restored old houses. But when I came to Charlotte, I reconnected with my passion for cars.
What year was that?
That was 2006. We've come a long way since then. It hasn't been without its bumps in the road, but nothing we can't handle. We've got a lot of exciting things on deck, and we're looking forward to what the future holds…
The BLOCK would like to thank John Sad for joining us. You can look for us to cover some of Man Made Legends insanely cool Chevrolet build projects in the upcoming weeks and months...