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Eye Candy: 1931 Hot Rod Ford Model A

Mario Calleja's love of hot rods as a kid was the inspiration that led to a career as a custom-car builder.

  • Calleja Kustoms

Mario Calleja and Kendra Smith: Wheels Readers

Occupation: Custom car shop owners and classic car lovers.

I was bitten by the car bug at a very young age — following in my dad and late uncle’s footsteps.

Growing up listening to their stories from the late 1950s and ’60s when they had been consumed by the drag-racing scene, dominating on the street and at the drag strip, I couldn’t help but envy and long to be part of that world.

This paved the way for my love of old-school hot rods, customs and custom car culture. Like most teenage boys, I just had to have that standout car. I always loved the 1931 Ford Model A, old school hot-rod style, and it was through the encouragement and knowledge of my dad that this car dream became a reality.

Working over a span of nine years, after school, weekends, and whenever we could find the time here and there, we made it happen.

It’s amazing to me that after 23-plus years, I still have that car and drive it everywhere. After all these years, the sound of its well-tuned engine still shocks my senses and makes me feel like I’m a teenager again.

This drive and need to build has never gone away. In fact, after meeting my fiancée, Kendra Smith, and buying our dream home in the country, we took the next step in our journey and opened Calleja Kustoms together, in our hometown of Cookstown, Ont.

Calleja Kustoms

The shop is a true labour of love — one that allows me to use my metal shaping and old-school customizing techniques every day. Without Kendra’s endless support, both physically and mentally, I would have never realized this dream.

It’s also through the encouragement and endless help from our families that we were able to even open the shop doors. And we mean that literally. If you drove through Cookstown two years ago, you would have seen me out with Kendra’s parents and brother, all hours of the day, putting hammer to nail, building the shop from the foundation up. So much heart behind what we do, and we love it all. We are truly blessed!

We have a growing list of amazing clientele and our personal car collection is also growing, which makes me smile every time I open the shop doors.

This year will see the launch of our 1955 Dodge Regent, mildly customized, the ground-up build of my 1926 Ford Model T two-door sedan, which will be an early ’60s-style show rod, and last, but most definitely not least, Kendra’s customized 1956 Ford Customline, a.k.a. “The Crypt Kicker.”

Check your rear-view mirror for us rolling up behind you this spring.

Show us your candy: Got a cool custom or vintage car? Send us high-res pictures (at least 1 MB) of you and your family with your beauty, and your story. We like photos — the more the better — of the interior, trim, wheels, emblems. Email [email protected] and type ‘Eye Candy’ in the subject line.

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Eye Candy: 1963 Ford Fairlaine

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