Canceled wedding leads to Los Ranchos hot rod repair shop - Albuquerque Journal

Canceled wedding leads to Los Ranchos hot rod repair shop

Joalda Lopez, owner of Rebel Road Hot Rod Garage in Los Ranchos, inspects the interior of a 1970 Chevrolet Nova for rust. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

In 2020, many couples called off their weddings as gatherings were restricted.

Joalda Lopez and Jason Rockwell were one of those couples; however, they were likely one of the few couples that used their canceled wedding funds to open a hot rod repair shop.

Lopez and Rockwell opened Rebel Road Hot Rod Garage in Los Ranchos in March 2021. Engaged in 2019, they now plan to officially tie the knot in 2023.

“We joke that we sold everything, except the house and the kids,” Lopez said.

“And we almost sold the house,” Rockwell added.

Lopez got into classic cars in her teens. When she had her son at 16, she decided to learn how to repair her older vehicle.

“I kind of had a junky old car and I was like, if something were to happen with me and my son, I needed to be able to make sure that I know how to fix it, right? A flat tire or oil change, whatever,” Lopez said. “… My love for working on older cars kind of started from there.”

 

From left, Jason Rockwell and Joalda Lopez, owners of Rebel Road Hot Rod Garage. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Her fiance has worked on cars since he was a kid. And, in 2020, Rockwell reached the quarterfinals of “Dream Chopper,” an online contest for bike enthusiasts to win a custom-built bike, as well as the opportunity to work with Orange County Choppers Founder Paul Teutul Sr.

Before opening Rebel Road, Lopez was working as a physical therapist assistant. But, when the pandemic hit, Lopez was furloughed. Although Rockwell was an essential worker and kept his job, his income wasn’t enough to support the whole family.

So the pair decided to turn their shared love of repairing classic cars into a business, opening a garage at 8223 Fourth NW.

As a woman in the automotive industry, Lopez said she had to work harder to prove herself to clients.

“So at the beginning was really hard, because people would come in and they would say, ‘I would like to talk to the man in charge.'” Lopez said. “… I immediately started to shut that down. Like no, I’m the boss.”

She had to “force herself into the conversation” – but when customers realized she was knowledgeable about repairing classic cars, they started turning to her for advice.

Lopez took the lead designing, fabricating and welding a 1979 R65 BMW motorcycle for a client in Idaho.

“That was like the first thing that I was able to really fabricate myself,” Lopez said.

Lopez said the owner brought the bike to the garage “in pieces” and the team had to put the bike together in about 30 days before its unveiling at a Miami ceremony.

“I don’t think we went home for two weeks straight,” Rockwell said.

Chris Woicicki sands the fender of a 1957 Chevy at Rebel Road Hot Rod Garage. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Lopez said that having a female owner at Rebel Road helps female automotive students feel more at home in the male-dominated auto industry.

“When they come in and they see a woman, I think they feel a little more comfortable, right,” Lopez said. “It’s a little more exciting, like this is relatable, I can expect to have this kind of position as a woman.”

Delilah McClellan, a female mechanic who started at Rebel Road two months ago, is planning to start teaching welding and auto classes for women.

Rockwell said that a favorite project of his was restoring a 1960 Chevy pickup. The car, which the original owner bought new and passed onto his son, had been damaged by an ax and painted over.

“It was really cool because he brought his brother and his dad down to look at it,” Rockwell said. “His dad was just, like, astonished.”

“Yeah, his dad was a little teary-eyed to see it,” Lopez recalled.

The staff at Rebel Road is young; the oldest employee is 32, the youngest is just 15. Lopez said they represent the next generation of classic car collectors.

“We’re the generation that keeps classic cars alive,” Lopez said. “… So we hope to not have them in barns or garages or out in the field somewhere. We hope to have them around and keep that history and that culture alive, especially here in New Mexico.”

The pair are planning to open a new location in Albuquerque next year, and later on, set up classic-car service stations nationwide – Lopez describes the plan as “Jiffy Lube” for classic cars.

Lopez and Rockwell pride their business on transparency; each repair includes an itemized list of fixes.

Restoring vehicles, Rockwell said, can be sentimental for customers.

“Oh man, the smiles that people have when they leave a parking lot is amazing,” Rockwell said.

Visit www.rebelroadhotrodgarage.com to learn more.

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