Morgan Hill car builder shares love of Mustangs with the world

Les Stuart shows the awards Big Daddy's Motor Cars has received. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Les Stuart has no shortage of stories from customers that come through his Morgan Hill shop.

There is the almond farmer in Madera, who wants to drive his dream car before he dies. 

Another man from Kentucky, who purchased a 1969 Mustang Boss 429 when it was new but had to sell it to put himself through college, wants that car back. But he wants one with all the modern technology and safety features.

Stuart is the owner of Big Daddy’s Motor Cars, which specializes in building and modifying Ford Mustangs from the 1964-1970 era.

The company’s motto, “When design meets desire,” is what fuels Stuart and his crew of three.

“I can’t express enough how satisfying and how thrilling it is for me to not only do what I love, but to help some of these guys fulfill their dreams,” he said.

Learning to wrench

Stuart, who was born in Brooklyn after his parents immigrated from Trinidad, first learned to wrench at the age of 14.

A close family friend had a 1959 MGA in need of a restoration, and he planned to give the vehicle to his daughter. After a year of work, Stuart helped the family get the car up and running.

That experience gave him the wrenching bug, and at 15, Stuart’s father gifted him his own MGA to fix.

“He figured it would keep me occupied because I was tearing everything apart and putting things back together,” he said.

It did, but not for long.

“In eight months I got the car running,” Stuart recalled.

The problem was, Stuart couldn’t legally drive, so he sold the vehicle and turned his first profit.

Then he bought his first Mustang. He later purchased a 1969 Mach 1 by saving up enough money from his $3.50 an hour salary.

He was well-known in the local street racing scene, calling himself “untouchable” in his domain that stretched from Saratoga to San Jose and Fremont.

The Mach 1, however, was stolen, which devastated Stuart.

“It really took the wind out of me,” he said.

After serving in the military like his father, Stuart pursued his passion for high tech in college, and was recruited by Hewlett Packard. After a nearly 30-year career across various tech companies, Stuart retired in January 2020 as a vice president of product management at HP. 

All throughout his career, he was always working on a car.

Les Stuart stands with the Pit Viper, a 1967 Ford
Mustang that he rebuilt and modified from the ground up. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

The Pit Viper

After restoring two Triumphs and six MGs (one of which he still owns and shows at car events, including the Taste of Morgan Hill), Stuart turned his attention back to Mustangs, the first American car that he owned and could legally drive.

Looking for his next build, Stuart came across a shell of a 1967 Mustang at the side of a shop in Sacramento. It had been in a fire, but was rust-free and intact. Stuart said he took one look at it and he had a vision.

“The Mustang is a beautiful piece of canvas,” he said. “You can leave it alone and it has got lines, really good lines. You can modify it and bring out those lines.”

After five years of work, the affectionately named “Pit Viper” was complete, a completely customized Mustang with countless performance upgrades and outfitted with modern technological touches, from tire to roof.

The car is a head-turner, from the trips to the gas station to the local car shows and even international meet-ups, earning numerous awards.

It was made to be driven and enjoyed, Stuart said, adding that he doesn’t like “trailer queens” and bucks the trend of most car owners by allowing car show attendees to sit inside.

The immense interest the Pit Viper received at shows was not lost on Stuart’s friend Vic Cozart, who helped him show the car to the public.

“At car shows, I’m dealing with crowds,” Stuart said. “It takes two of us to show the car. He (Cozart) started to get it.”

Big Daddy’s Motor Cars incorporates

One day in 2017 while in a jacuzzi, Stuart and Cozart began kicking around the idea of starting a business centered around building and customizing Mustangs.

They already had the name. 

In 2009 during a housewarming party celebrating Stuart and his family’s move to Morgan Hill, a friend brought a sign for Stuart to hang on the shop located on the property. It read, “Big Daddy’s Motor Cars,” referencing Stuart’s military handle and the cars he was working on.

The business incorporated in 2018, and for the first year, its offerings were limited, Stuart said, only building customers a Pit Viper.

It eventually expanded to include builds of 1964-1970 Mustangs, and Stuart said he underestimated the demand once word of the business began spreading.

In 2019, Stuart was invited to an event in Saudi Arabia, where the government there selected 450 cars from the United States to participate in a show. There with his Pit Viper, Stuart said he got to meet car builders that he idolizes, many of whom have their own TV shows.

“It was an incredible experience,” he said.

The pandemic over the last year has also provided a surprising boost to business, Stuart noted, with many classic car owners having finished with the home improvement projects and the “honey-do” lists.

“Now they are turning their attention to the car sitting in the garage for the last 17 years, or they got the green light from their wives to pursue their dream,” he said.

With his business growing in popularity, Stuart stays humble.

“I’m just a guy that loves building cars, and I’m always looking for the next project,” he said. “Now I’m able to help some other people along the way.”

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