Charles Crews loves his hometown of St. Louis, MO. Born and raised in this historic, vibrant city with Midwest values, he built a life here for himself and his family.
Like many other car enthusiasts, Charles grew up around cars. His dad was a sheet metal fabricator and worked on cars in the family garage. When Charles was bored, he would hang out and help his dad fabricate stuff.
“When I was around twelve, there was a guy in our neighborhood who was working on different kind of cars than my dad was, he was more into pro-street and hot rods,” he remembers. “I would ride by on my bike and think oh man this stuff is so cool! So, one day I got the courage to knock on his door and offer to clean his garage, but every time I asked, he would always shoo me away. Finally, I wore him down and started cutting his grass, but I’d only go mow on days that his garage door was open and he was out there working so I could stop in,” he laughed. “He finally gave in to the pesky neighborhood kid, and eventually I started helping him build cars.”
First step into the industry
During high school is when he received more formal training. He took tech school classes the second half of the day in the auto body program. “I was young and felt like I already knew a lot but realized I didn’t know as much as I thought,” Charles said. “Taking these classes helped so much, I quickly learned better, more efficient ways to do things.” The auto body program really got the ball rolling for him to consider working on vehicles as a profession.
Throughout high school he worked at a shop, painting trailers. He also worked on projects for other people or fixing his buddy’s cars in his parent’s garage. One of his earlier projects was a ‘67 Ford Fairlane that belonged to his friend’s dad – he must have done a nice job and made a good impression, because the man is now his father-in-law.
“With all the cars I painted during high school, my parent’s garage floor looked like a bad 90s art project with all the crazy colors.”
Charles could have made different career choices, but his passion for working on cars was too strong, this was now a lifestyle for him. He only wanted to work on cars even if he wasn’t exactly sure where he was going with it - the automotive world was where he belonged. “If you believe in what you’re doing and you love it, anything is possible. You just have to go after it,” Charles commented. “I love painting cars; I enjoy the transformation of going through the steps from primer to shiny, new, and nice. Or maybe it’s the artistic side of painting that satisfies my creativity.”
Charles worked in collision for sixteen years while continuing to do some custom work. “My wife has put up with a lot of stuff along this journey, new business ventures or long hours in the garage, she’s seen it all,” he said. “Custom work takes a lot of time to create something, it’s not for everyone.” He says for him it pulls him in, he gets so involved, the need to see a project through can become an addiction.
Just Go For It
That’s what he recommends to anyone coming into the industry, go for it! It’s so rewarding to try to come up with better ways to do things, to up your game and push through.
Charles decided to take his own advice, go out on his own and open his own shop. For him, things happen for a reason, every person you meet has a role in your life, big or small. While working on custom work Charles met a guy who was flipping high-end cars and selling them. “I thought, I can fix some cars up and take them to Barrett Jackson or Mecum Auctions too, so I started to put my own twist on certain cars and sell them,” he said. “It was fun, I did it full-time and was so involved that I didn’t do any other custom work. I just took my cars to auctions or sold to people. And that’s when I met Noah.”
You don’t know where life will take you
At the time, Noah didn’t have a body shop at Classic Car Studios, so he subcontracted that work out. Charles just happened to do some of the contract work on a Camaro and a few other jobs for Noah along the way. Always staying in contact and talking cars, they hit it off well and became friends.
Then Classic Car Studios expanded into this big operation, they had their own body shop, interior, everything, all under one roof. “We talked extensively about working for Classic Car Studios, it was a good fit for both of us,” Charles stated. “This was a dream come true for me, and for this shop to be in St. Louis - it was always what I was looking for.”
Being the General Manager at Classic Car Studios means he doesn’t get to work on stuff every day, but he gets to be around it. He loves interacting with customers and all the different aspects of the job, sometimes he even goes in the paint booth and pulls the trigger. “As I’ve evolved, I really like the business side in addition to the creative side, and I get to be very hands on so that checks all the boxes for me,” he said.
Whatever it takes to get it done, and that included being a part of the TV show Speed Is the New Black, which aired for two years starting in 2017. “Not only was I doing my job as general manager, looking over projects, working with customers but I also had to work on cars just to help get things done because of the tight shooting schedule. Cars had to be revealed at a certain time-frame for the network,” he recalled. “There were some nights and weekends where I had to go in the booth and help our painter because he already put in 80 hours that week, or I might help Scott caulk a Model A back in the mill shop because we were short on people. It needed to get done.” According to Charles he had so much fun and the rush of adrenaline to get it all done was intense, it was like nothing they’d ever experienced before. “I don’t know how guys can do it for so many years. We did it for a couple years and it was a good time. But we all worked hard and put in a lot of hours.”
Classic Car Studios still has a good core of the original crew even after being pushed to the max during the show, they feel blessed to have such a great group of talented people under one roof. “Our guys and girls have good strong Midwest family values and wanted to be home with their families,” he said. “We all did, family is everything, so it was tough to pull off the show and keep people happy.”
“There are a lot more positive things to say about Speed is The New Black compared to negative, the connections we made with vendors was great, especially those paint gun suppliers who threw key chains at me during a trade show,” he laughed. “But seriously, one of the biggest benefits we saw doing the show was to inspire others to either get involved in this industry or if already involved then to keep going at it.”
Another thing that Charles enjoyed was visiting with people. “It was fun to have people joke about something that happened on the show or come up and say they love watching the show and that we inspired them to work on their car in their home garage. I enjoyed the interaction,” he said. “I would tell fans - at the end of the day we’re car guys who happened to be on a TV show, go ahead and talk cars with us.”
Classic Car Studios produces high-quality work that pushes the limits adding their own unique style to every vehicle. Car enthusiasts can have faith in the passion, pride, and integrity this team offers.
Passing along knowledge
Charles started using his first SATA gun in tech school, and after that it was his goal to save up enough money and buy his own spray gun. “My first purchase was a SATAjet B - I sprayed a lot with that gun, they were cool! Going from siphon to gravity-fed, it marked a moment in time in painting cars in the US. I knew the quality of finish I could get out of that gun, so I wanted to learn everything I could to make it the best gun. After that I always made sure I had enough money to buy a new gun when it came out, it was a sickness for a while,” he said. “I bought the NR2000 which was iridescent chrome, and I didn’t even paint with it. I thought this is so cool I’m going to put it on the shelf, I’ll buy another one to paint with. I just love these guns.”
Charles is passing his love of cars and SATA spray guns on to his kids, his 17-year-old son, Connor is all about learning how to work on trucks. “In 2021 Connor built a ‘98 Chevy Silverado truck and when it came time to paint it red, he pulls out my PHASER and says let’s use this, Dad!” Charles joked, “it’s a very special gun to me, but when Connor loaded the color up, I’m like I guess we’re doing this.” SATA’s marketing for the SATAjet PHASER is - for those special moments - and Connor spraying a lot of his own truck definitely was a special moment. “He loves that gun - it was a lot of fun working with him on this truck. I’m so proud of him it was a good moment, but man, the kid is spoiled starting out spraying with a PHASER,” he laughed. “I’m happy for him, the truck was featured in OBS Builders Guide by Street Truck magazine, and he competed in the 2022 SEMA Young guns competition receiving a Top 10 Award. He’s all about that truck.”
“I want Connor to pursue what will make him happy, of course I’d like to see him going forward in the auto industry, maybe help run the shop some day or have his own shop,” he said. “I want him to continue to love cars, that could mean a lot of different things, he could be an engineer, a body man, or a painter, I don’t really care as long as he sticks with what he loves.”
Charles youngest son, 13-year-old Logan got bit by the bug too. “Logan has a ‘77 2WD Blazer sitting out back ready for him to start working on. Logan will be a riot when we start this project, we’ll see what kind of tricks and pranks he pulls, I don’t know how this build is going to go,” Charles laughed.
“I don’t want my kids chasing the money, I want them to be happy and chase their dreams.”