Custom builders cart a new course at Daytona Bike Week
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ballough Road shop owner Tony Carrino popped the trunk of a sleek reproduction of a 1937 Mercedes-Benz, flipped on the stereo and blasted Pearl Jam from two woofers in the back.
At just 13 feet long, the Benz lookalike turns heads, especially in The Villages, Carrino said of the diminutive hotrod.
“That used to be a golf cart,” Carrino said, shutting one of two suicide doors. “And there’s only one in the world like it.”
Carrino is part of a team of custom bike builders at Midwest Motorcycle, doing occasional fabrication work for ground-up, custom rides. But since custom motorcycles fell off drastically in the recession, the bike builders who play a starring role at Daytona Bike Week have diversified. Enter the custom golf-cart scene.
Carrino opened Classic Carts at 500 Ballough Rd. to create these one-of-a-kind custom rides, using his bike-wrenching experience to create a more widespread draw, and he’s not the only one.
“You wouldn’t think golf carts (could be so lucrative),” said Ron Harris, of Chop Doc’s Choppers, who pulls in what he says is significant income from the steadily growing golf cart industry. “I’m really starting to see it. I’m like, ‘Wow, there’s some money to be made here.’ ”
Electric golf carts are a nearly $1 billion industry and the market for them was forecast to grow globally by 6.4 percent between 2016 and 2026, Future Market Insights reports. Analysts say that’s because people use them not just for golf courses, but also for personal use in suburban neighborhoods or large properties and industrial or business transport, according to London-based research firm Future Market Insights. “Further, due to heavy demand for eco-friendly products and surging prices of fuel, electric golf carts witness the highest market share of the global golf market,” according to Research and Markets.
Locally, some shop owners say the trend is made possible by the aging biker population. They see potential growth in golf carts on the horizon here in communities like Latitude Margaritaville, Coastal Woods, Mosaic and Venetian Bay.
“A lot of my friends are getting up in age and they’re asking about golf carts,” Carrino said. “They still ride, but they want something they can zip around the neighborhood in. ... I make then street-ready.”
He also makes them unique, turning a simple cart into an artistic, personal statement.
Prices: $7,000 to $45,000
Pictures on Carrino’s wall displays former carts that have been transformed into tiny versions of Ford Model Ts, Ford F-150s and Jeeps, minus the emblems, of course, since Carrino doesn’t want challenges over copyright laws. He does most of the work himself, calling in a friend when he gets swamped and outsourcing some of the undercoating for the beach rides. Prices vary according to the work put into them, but Carrino pointed to a 1921 open-wheel Roadster lookalike and said it costs about $7,000.
Custom shop owner Harris is working on some metal flaked and pin-striped, candy-coated carts.
“I do all the paint work on them,” Harris said, noting he’s been doing the carts for about four years. “A Michigan company sends me 20-30 carts at a time.”
Harris said his carts range in price from $7,000 to $45,000. “I can crank them out in a week.”
Ed “Heavy” Kastrul, owner of Midwest Motorcycle, taps Carrino for his own custom bike work, but said the business isn’t getting as many radical custom orders — the designs that start as a concept and are then parlayed into a steel and chrome existence — largely because of the high costs to build those types of rides.
Instead, Kastrul and others say, it is easier and cheaper to redesign an existing bike.
“The chopper market has really collapsed as far as value,” Kastrul said. “They used to make bikes that were factory-built custom bikes, like Iron Horse or Big Dog.”
But Kastrul said just like the muscle cars, the factory choppers and Harley-Davidson market has dropped, bringing down prices. “There’s no longer a value to us or the consumer to start from scratch to build a bike,” he said.
Brigit Duncan, owner of Brigit’s Custom Works, said back in the days of motorcycle-building reality television shows like American Chopper, her shop would put out around 40 full builds a year.
Now, Duncan and her staff of three create about two a year, supplementing her bike sales, government service contracts and rebuilds, rather than the other way around.
“If I had to live off that, we’d be dead,” Duncan said of the complete-custom builds.
Kastrul said he still gets the concept-to-completion build requests, too, but they typically come from the ultra-rich or, like one he’s working on now, from large companies looking to advertise a product.
“I just got a custom bike build for a liquor company that sells whiskey,” Kastrul said. “It is going to be a write off on taxes. It’s going to be part of their advertising budget, so they’re not as concerned with price.”
His average customer has more of an eye on the bottom line, he said, pointing to a man in a leather vest walking past him into his shop.
“That’s 99 percent of the people who walk in here,” Kastrul said. “It’s a pretty focused marketplace of white, male, over 50.”
Soaring around Fly-In
Mike Kelly, the head golf pro at the Spruce Creek Country Club inside the Spruce Creek Fly-In, said roughly 90 percent of year-round homeowners use the carts to get around the gated community.
“They’ve always been used here,” Kelly said. “It’s all age groups.”
But he did say he’s seen a serious uptick in the high-end custom cart numbers, ranging from the understated classic transport to big, bold four-wheel drives and even those that really fit the community. They’re shaped like airplanes.
“It gets quite custom,” Kelly said.
On a Latitude Margaritaville Facebook page, someone posted a photo of golf carts and the ensuing discussion produced mention of a Hemi-charged cart while another speculated about the usefulness of a golf cart with a margarita maker attached to the back.
At The Villages, a 55-plus community of 115,000 stretching between Lake, Marion and Sumter counties about 77 miles west of Daytona Beach, there are enough golf carts to put on an annual parade. Its popularity and another cart-builder there got Carrino’s attention.
“I looked at the money he was making and looked at what I was making,” he said, adding he knew then he wanted to build carts, but he didn’t want to do the same type of bedazzled carts he saw others doing.
He’s found fulfillment.
Showing off his newest build — a beach vehicle made for a vendor who sells ice cream — he points to the former golf cart that boasts solar panels on the roof, cabinets and lots of walk-through space. It looks like a mini, sand-friendly bus.
“It’s four-wheel drive, so you can go on the beach. You’re not going to get stuck,” Carrino said, beaming over his latest contract to do three more.
So, he’s loving his new passion and the freedom to turn into, well, whatever.
Said Carrino: “You can only do so much with a bike.”
Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com