Here at RacingJunk, we love the shop tours — the chance to really poke around the places that transform our rides from dream into reality. Of course, we can’t be every where at once, so sometimes those tours are more in-depth conversations about places we’ve heard are doing great work in their fields. One such place is Gillin Auto Interiors based in Middletown, NY, which specializes in custom interiors and convertible tops among other specialties. Co-owner, designer and head of marketing Gilbert Monge welcomed us and gave us a virtual tour of Gillin.
RacingJunk: How did Gillin Auto Interiors get its start?
Gil: Back in July 2006, I was leaving a corporate job. I had some safety net from a buyout and I wanted to start a business, so I opened up the first version of Gillin in a small garage across the street from our house. The idea was that it’d be me and one other person working on one car at a time.
RacingJunk: How did you get into upholstery? Why this aspect of vehicle restoration or design?
Gil: I knew I liked cars. I certainly liked owning cars. My partner Linda (now my fiancé ) and I were kicking ideas around. We were seeing a ton of mechanic and body shops, but upholstery was being done by a bunch of one man shops. It’s hard to do both parts — the upholstery and growing a business. It made me ask, “What if I started the shop? What if I got someone to do the work, and then was the person who marketed it?” Next thing I knew, we were in business and it started to boom quickly.
RacingJunk: You knew you wanted to run an upholstery business, but you weren’t an upholsterer. How did you find the right folks to do the work?
Gil: I went to a lot of car shows and I identified upholstery work that I liked. Plus, I knew I also wanted to hire the person who had done my cars. Linda met someone else who’s work she liked. We got someone from Wyotech. We just kept working until we assembled our great team, which now includes:
Chris Gillespie (Upholsterer – Specializes in Stitch work)
Guido Pedraza (Upholsterer – Specializes in Interior Restoration)
Ken Arnold (Fabricator/Craftsman – Specializes in Woodwork)
Kurt Reiche (Upholsterer – Can pretty much do any job in the trade)
Josh Parilla – (Upholsterer – Specializes in convertibles and Interior Kits)
We’d also like to remember our beloved Gene Tasso, who recently passed away. He was a true craftsman with over 40 years experience and was a key part of our growth.
RacingJunk: What were some of the challenges you encountered along the way?
Gil: We got too big too quickly. Then I realized owning a shop across the street from my was a bad idea if I ever wanted to not be at work. We needed to expand and go somewhere else, and finally found a bigger shop in Middletown. It was a lot of square footage, and we needed more than two people. About five years ago, we moved into our current 5000 square foot facility. We now have six people on staff.
RacingJunk: What’s Gillin’s specialty?
Gil: We’re unique because we have several upholsterers — Guido does beautiful interior restoration work, like a ’35 Bentley going to a Concours show. Chris and Kurt can do SEMA and Custom builds. We have such a broad spectrum of talents that we can do anything. Lately it seems like we’re doing a bunch of Camaros. Which is fine by me, it’s my favorite car.
RacingJunk: Which leads us to another question. What are some of your favorite projects?
Gil: We did a T-Bird, a Baby Bird, for John McLoughlin who was part of the Port authority and was the last person pulled out of the World Trade Center. A local restoration shop was doing a car for him, and we did the upholstery for free. We did a ’77 Ford F-250 for Under Armor which went to SEMA. Various charity Builds. We did a ’37 Ford Pickup that set the bar. We did a ton of custom work on it and it put us on the map for fabrication.
RacingJunk: What’s the process for having Gillin design your interior/top?
Gil: All first meetings start the same way. We sit down and have a conversation where we explain that it’s a process and we’ll be involved for a few months so we need to be able to work together. I ask them to look through some magazines, figure out what they like and don’t like. The best collaborations are ones where we get to do what we do. Then it’s about time management, budget — making the time and money work for us.
Once we’re in there, clients start to want to add more and more. We try to get involved early in the process to make sure they have a realistic sense of what they want, and what they envision for the whole build. We’re really lucky that we have great relationships with great builders.
RacingJunk: Do you have any dream projects?
Gil: Right now we have some personal projects — a ’69 Camaro, a ’70 Buick Riviera. We’re going to do every piece of it the way we can, working with our builders.