February 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

Soup it up

Not your typical ring job: The Ringbrothers are automotive artists

The Ringbrothers' 1964 Ford Fairlane sold for $247,500 at auction. (Larry Edsall / Special To The Detroit News)

Turns out Frank Lloyd Wright isn’t the only architectural artist raised in the tiny town of Spring Green, Wis. The community of 600 west of Madison and within a bend of the Wisconsin River also is the home of Jim and Mike Ring.

While Wright built with brick and mortar, the Ringbrothers — which they spell as one word in all-cap letters — do their work in automotive sheetmetal and paint, turning cars into award-winning customized classics.

One of their latest, a 1964 Ford Fairlane called “Afterburner,” drove off with (among others) Street Machine of the Year honors from the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association. After showing Afterburner at various places around the country on the 2013 hot rod and custom car show circuit, car owner and Wisconsin resident Ken Smith took it to the recent Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., where it sold for $247,500.

A check of Kelley Blue Book will tell you that a 1964 Fairlane 500 two-door sedan in perfect condition is worth $9,850.

The $237,600 difference is where the Ringbrothers come in.

And though most people in Spring Green think the Classic Auto Body shop is just another auto collision-repair body shop (and that is the business in the front of the Rings’ two buildings), the brothers are willing to share some tips about what goes on in the other and smaller rear building with budding do-it-yourself car customizers.

For one thing, said Mike Ring, “We use as much (of the donor car) as we can.”

The reason, he said, is that the Rings respect the expertise of the Detroit automotive engineering community. In fact, he added, “we can rely on that part” as they start stripping and even cutting away what they need to make the changes they want in their finished vehicle.

Even the skilled shade tree mechanic should figure on spending $100,000 in parts to do a complete customization, they said, adding that it’s very important to set a realistic budget right from the start of a project.

“Labor is crazy,” Jim Ring added. “We’ll spend 30 hours on something and not be happy with it and then we start over. You can’t bill that to the customer. We couldn’t do what we do without sponsors (aftermarket companies that provide parts and support because of the Ringbrothers’ reputation).”

Speaking of labor, the Rings charge $60-$65 an hour, half, they note, of what it costs for labor at the new car dealerships in Madison.

Paint for a custom car can be a major expense, they said, adding that they supplement their automotive work by doing custom painting of refrigerators (to match a homeowner’s special kitchen color scheme) and of front doors of houses.

If you cannot afford to do a complete Ringbrothers-style customization, what can you do with your classic car?

“No. 1 is suspension and improving the way a car rides and stops,” said Jim Ring. “Then the powertrain, and then go after beauty.”

But don’t go crazy with horsepower, the brothers advise. “If you can’t afford it (or if you aren’t skilled enough as a driver to deal with 560 horsepower of the Roush-built V-8 under Afterburner’s hood), don’t do it,” said Mike.

And, the Rings emphasized, don’t ignore your car’s interior. Too many people fail to include in their budget enough money to properly customize or even just update the interior of their classic car.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.