Profession: Restoration expert and owner of Rick’s Restorations
Hometown: Newport Beach, Calif.
The truck: 1951 Ford F100
American Restoration debuted in October, 2010, as a spin-off of the TV series Pawn Stars; it is broadcast outside of North America under the name Kings of Restoration
American Restoration airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on History Channel
He jump-started his career as a restoration expert on the mega-hit TV series Pawn Stars. Now, Rick Dale is the star of his own show, American Restoration – one of History Channel’s top five shows.
The master craftsman transforms one man’s trash into another man’s treasure. He has worked on everything from beat-up classic cars to rusted-out 1950s Coca-Cola machines. With nearly 30 years in the business and his own shop called Rick’s Restorations in Las Vegas, he’s a skilled restorer.
He’s also a car enthusiast – at one point, he owned 13 vehicles. He’s downsized to five: a 2006 Hummer, a 1958 Ford Skyliner, a 1964 Ford Fairlane, a custom Harley and his daily driver, a 1951 Ford F100 truck – the one he drives frequently on his show.
When did your passion for cars start?
When I was a little kid, my dad taught me how to work on bikes. My first one was in 1970 for a soap box derby. So I built this soap box derby out of fibreglass and wood and I raced it. I did pretty good.
As a kid I was always driving – illegally actually. That led into motorcycles and the next thing you know I’m 16 and I’ve got my first car – a 1967 Jeep my dad gave me. It was old and beat up and I immediately restored it. At 16, to have a car that all of your friends can ride around in and get in trouble in, that was it.
What kind of trouble did you get in?
I played football with all my friends. And there’s this rivalry with the opposing team. Our school was on top of a mountain and it had a big V on the side of the hill. We were in this assembly and, all of a sudden, we heard that the opposing team were up there dismembering it. They were making it into a zero.
Everyone goes outside and I’ve got six guys in my Jeep. I’ve got a souped-up motor in it and we’re all flying around the corner and up the hill. I go from dirt to asphalt and, all of a sudden, immediately, we’re on two wheels!
We end up in this big fight. The memories my friends have of this Jeep are incredible. They nicknamed me Jeep when I was playing football.
What does a ’51 Ford truck say about you?
Simplicity. It’s all black. There’s not much chrome on it.
There’s no frills on the inside. It’s got a heater and air conditioning and off it goes. It’s very simple. It’s basic.
That’s a stark contrast from your Hummer.
Oh yeah! I think I’m going to get rid of that thing.
It’s beautiful. It’s lifted. Its supercharged. It had everything on it. I traded my car for it so I didn’t have to pay much money for it.
I’m a little embarrassed driving a Hummer now. I’ve had Jeeps my whole life – I’ve restored Jeeps.
I got this Hummer because it was way up in the air and it looked like a big Tonka toy.
The ’51 Ford truck is who I am more. I’ve been working on it for 13 years! It’s not perfect. I’m always trying to make it perfect every day. But I enjoy driving that. It’s a nice drive-around hot rod – there’s nothing too showy.
What restorations have you done on it?
When the Ford came into me it was a stock truck. Now, it’s half Chevy and Ford.
In order to get as low as I wanted. to give it the look I wanted, it had to be a Chevy frame.
So everything underneath is a Chevy – it’s got a Chevelle front end and the truck back end, but with a Chevy 12-volt in it. I’ve put in a Corvette engine, an LS1, in it.
The outside looks like a Ford. It has been customized. The body lines are all gone. The little pockets in the bed are all gone. I’ve lined the bed with aluminum diamond plate.
The truck has a really cool look about it, especially on TV. It’s got chips and nicks, but on TV it looks pretty hot.
Are classic cars a money-maker?
I love cars, but I just don’t think they’re a money-maker – not in my experience.
I’m a little bit of a bitter guy on the cars. Whenever I take and restore a car for myself, I always have so much money into it, I never get it out.
Is there a car you wish you never sold?
When I got out of high school I bought a 1941 Willys coupe, all-steel. It had a 427 in it and it wasn’t totally finished. I was into hot rods and I took the motor out and I put it into a truck I had and then I ended up painting the car and getting it all ready. I was going to put another motor in there and the next thing you know, I traded it for a motor for another truck and I kick myself every single day.
Who taught you the ropes about restorations?
My dad taught me a lot; I didn’t know it. As I matured, I realized he taught me all of this stuff.
We didn’t have money where he could buy things. He made me build them – he showed me how to build them.
He was very handy himself. I learned everything from him that I put forth today. I can work on pretty much anything – I don’t care what it is.
Is there a restoration that’s close to your heart?
There’s one that’s coming out. It’s called an Escorter.
In 1964, the World’s Fair was in New York. They would have dignitaries that rode around in these gas-powered cars. The designer that built the 1953 Corvette was the same guy who designed this Escorter. They only built 150 of them. There are only three left in the world – none that work.
It came in and it was so rusted and so wasted – it was terrible. We rebuilt it from the ground up; we built the frame and tried to use all of the original parts. To make the parts work again was hard. But I gave it back to the customer and this customer has a one-of-a-kind working Escorter in the world.
It must have been hard letting go of it?
Oh yeah. Right now, he’s trying to find a place to put it museum-wise and I do not want to let it go!
They’re all hard to let go. They’re like children. Anything I build is a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears. To say, ‘There it goes’ – it’s hard.
This interview has been edited and condensed.