Lifestyle » Vol. 1

New England Rod and Custom

Cruising Down Memory Lane
By Lauren Koblara

The cars of our youths ~ with their shiny chrome, whitewall tires, spacious back seats ~ will forever be in our hearts as symbols of freedom, pride, and an unforgettable time in our lives. Every so often, we catch a glimpse of one around town and the memories of the cruising the main drag, the first time our dad handed us the keys to the Chevy, that special Saturday night date come flooding back. If occasional sighting of these iconic hot rods of the 50s and 60s aren’t enough for you, though, just take a quick ride to New England Rod and Custom in Fitchburg and you’ll find yourself transported back through time.

New England Rod and Custom (NERC) is a 100,000 square foot facility and home to a number of custom auto and motorcycle shops. Owner Richard Gonzales Jr. is in the process of converting an old Fitchburg textile mill into what he calls “…the hot rod version of Jordan’s Furniture.” The family-friendly environment of NERC makes it a great place to take the kids and grandkids to show them a snapshot of what life was like “back then.” And if you are lucky enough to own a hot rod or vintage car, there is no better place to stock up, browse, and let the car enthusiast in you run rampant. NERC also has storage space onsite for over 150 cars.

In addition to the shops, there’s a large 1950s-inspired function room decked out with a pool table, sound system, stage and seating. The white painted walls are decorated with photographs of various celebrities posing with NERC custom cars and autographs; one of the largest displays is devoted to George Barris, “King of the Kustomizers” and designer of the famous 1966 Batmobile. The function room is also part showroom, housing a gorgeous 1969 Chevelle Yenko Clone, a sweet 1955 Chevy Pro Street, and a jaw dropping 1937-1939 Coast to Coast Ford Coupe/Roadster. Gonzales’s pet project is replicating his father’s 1955 Custom Studebaker Speedster, and he looks forward to helping fellow vintage car lovers restore their dream cars, too.

The plans for New England Rod and Custom are impressive to say the least, For starters, Gonzales and his team are mounting a cross-sectioned vintage car above the main entrance, a visual welcome that will set the mood for NERC visitors. Also under construction is “Memory Lane,” the central hall turned museum, that leads to all the shops. Eventually, Richard hopes to dedicate part of the large showroom to a “Hot Rod Café,“ creating an area for guests to sit, order a snack, and take in all the nostalgia.

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