Gearhead Income Guide: Part One

How many posts have you seen asking “How do you guys support your car habit?” This is about potential hobby fuel that anyone in any profession can start on the side without the fear of quitting their day job unless it takes off. There is no way that I’m the only gearhead that has lost many nights of sleep thinking about how to make money related to the hobby. Creating products will not be my focus here, but it relates to how I want to open this post. This seems obvious, but I have to say it, $5 of profit per item sold to 10,000 people is $50,000. One smart move can get you a house. The automotive performance & motorcycle industries have millions of followers on FB alone. Hell, $10 of profit per item sold to 30,000 people is $300,000! This sounds great, but the problem with this approach is the uphill battle of fighting Chinese knock-offs and the near inevitability of being forced back to square one.
I’m not a damn guru, I’m just some asshole that decided to put my findings over the years on the internet to hopefully save a few other people the aggravation of finding all of these things to research in separate places. This is a list of more sustainable revenue ideas, for gearheads, that took me years to figure out. There will be more of successes and failures to come, but here is part one. Add this page to your process of elimination, but your experiences may be entirely different. This list is not ordered by potential and obviously it’s all in my personal opinion.

Powdercoating & Hydrographics (Better as a hobby in hindsight.)

Easy to learn. Cheap start-up. Abundant/cheap learning resources. Offering services is a good way to turn a profit, but it’s much less stressful to have a vision of what people want then create it and put a price tag on it. If you source your own parts and you know how they could look awesome, then learn photography and how to write effective ads. (If you want a deep marketing rabbit hole the research NLP.) Wording in classifieds is everything, so find every selling point. It’s way less stressful that way than it is freaking out about potentially having to strip and redo a part, that you don’t own, in order to put out the highest quality work possible. Reputation is everything both locally and on the internet. A lot of the challenges of serviced based hydro-graphics mirror those of powder coating. For both trades, there is an amount of chemical exposure that you will have to endure pertaining to 80% of the work being prep, however there is additional exposure when dipping due to spraying the “activator”. Hydro-dipping is more interesting and rewarding when you “nail” a part perfectly, but it is also more expensive and more challenging for a similar income. These two trades can also be combined with proper technique. Glow-in-the-dark powder coated, zombie dipped, powder cleared parts anyone? Even though the learning curve for hydrodipping is fairly time intensive compared to powder coating I enjoyed mastering the process. If you do decide to go either of these routes and offer clients a custom service, then advertise media-blasting as well because you’ll be doing a lot of it anyway.

Event Vending, Stickers, & Vinyl (Carne life has some potential.)

Maybe I shouldn’t group these together, but I did. A lot of people don’t realize that you can make 5 figures or more at one outdoor event just selling food and drinks. I wanted to put that on your radar, but not elaborate on it, so I’m moving on. Event specific t-shirts are okay, if licensing isn’t a problem, but otherwise T-shirts are a waste of time unless you are a visionary. Threadless.com is a fun experiment if that is your thing. Vinyl cutters however are cheap and even a Cricut is sufficient. Vinyl material is cheap so basic creativity and quick trend recognition is the only limit. Stickers & vinyl generally inspire a lot more enthusiasm that t-shirts and in turn they typically sell in greater quantities. They are easier to create on the fly than t-shirts if you want to get involved in vending at events. You aren’t just limited to car/bike events, there’s also fairs, festivals, concerts, putting business hours and such on shop windows, and obviously big online potential.

3Dmodeling, CNC, Welding, & Fabrication (School helps, but isn’t necessary.)

Maybe I shouldn’t group these subcultures together either, but I did. Manifolds, motor mounts, bell housings, suspension, sub-frames, roll cages, tube frame chassis monsters, etc… The hands-on aspect of this trade takes a lot of dedication, skill, and thick skin, but there is an extremely large return for skilled work. Personally I wouldn’t dream of focusing on this market segment without combining the craftsmanship aspect of it with 3dmodeling and CNC. Autodesk Fusion 360 is cheap or free and the tutorials are so good that it can leave you wondering why anyone would need to go to school for it. Drafting tables and slide rules have been extinct for a long time now and the learning curve for 3d modeling is mostly an outdated myth now as well. If you have fun learning 3d modeling then you’ll also have the advantage of 3d printing. Outsourcing 3d printing & CNC is cheap and easy with a large option list of materials now-a-days. You can also utilize the Tech Shops in many cities. Tech Shops are like 24 hour membership gyms, but with CNC machines, 3d printers, laser engravers, water jet tables, and full blown machine shops that are accessible to members around the clock. Being a part of Tech Shop is a good enough reason to take advantage of easily learned 3D modeling, what a great resource! Once you hone your skills you could also offer freelance work on sites like eLance.com. It’s crazy that you can easily master these skills and create an impressive portfolio these days without the burden of student loans. Take advantage of it!

Amsoil (Warning: The potential of a sales career is addictive!)

If you’ve ever Googled the best motor oil then you know what Amsoil is. There’s no lack of backstory to read about! We all know that synthetics are better in this day and age, we get it! What you may not know is that to be a dealer, it’s only $25 a year, then you get all of their products at cost. It is multi-level marketing, but you can play it any way that you want. You can just use the “membership” to get products at cost, you can sign up every motorcycle shop in town as a retail account, or you can approach fleets and large manufacturers wearing a suit and pull up to 15% commission on all of their lubricant sales from one ballsy move. You don’t have to spend any money on inventory and to an extent it can become automatically generated income once it’s set up. You are also authorized to sell products to farms from the largest liquid organic fertilizer company in the country, Aggrand. They do protect their dealers for 6 months after a contract has been set up, but there is NO set territory! You can make business trips to target certain areas if you want. Perfect your own script, go to fun, and make it a business trip by hammering on that area while you’re there anyway. So, professional sales experience, a product related to your passions that you can be proud of, potentially passive/automated income, no set sales territory, no set schedule, no quotas…do you have any previous sales experience? It doesn’t matter! You’re hired! Feel free to make a buck for me by using my dealer code if you wish! I am Amsoil Dealer ZO# 5258984.

The Subculture of Flipping (Another deal will always come along.)

Parts, cars, & part-outs. This takes patience, money to get started, and you have to know your particular market. With that said, it’s really not that hard. Even when I was younger and didn’t know much, I still did fairly well with this. My favorite example is how I got my Evo. I was sitting in class, bored out of my mind, at Penn State, when I decided to write down every part/vehicle that I owned and the high and low end prices that I could sell them for. What struck me was that even if I sold everything for cheap then it would go quickly and it would come out to more than enough money to get an Evo. Sure it would suck if I had to sell things (that I didn’t even want to sell) for cheap, but I didn’t have to start out cheap. I made an enormous for sale post during tax return time, I started my prices high and dropped them every week. For a month I ended up going to the post office at least once a day. I threw some parts together as package deals to make them easier to sell. I gave people freebies with orders sometimes because it was extremely important that I had a 5 star reputation. Even though I had been collecting parts for a long time, I was broke when I was doing all of this. I forced myself to not touch any of the money I collected or else I would be giving up everything for no reason. I parted out a full 95 TSi AWD build that I was in love with, I sold a CRX HF, and somehow in the middle of this I traded a broken E30 325i for a broken MR2 Turbo that ended up being the only thing I held on to. I sold our DD, a 3 wheeler, video games, electronics, and anything else I could. I spent a month living on every classified site that I could when I wasn’t packing, shipping, or maintaining more than a dozen for sale threads. In one month, I pulled in $11,000 as an unemployed student. I didn’t sleep much that month. I created an email template to proposition people selling Evo’s. I emailed several dozen people seeing if they would drop their price at all. I got a deal set up to drive one state away to get a one owner, 100k, Evo VIII for $11k. I didn’t have the full amount yet, but I set up the deal. Anything I had left to sell went for dirt cheap, my wife and I had to borrow my Uncle’s car to drive to Ohio because I sold everything else, and to make it worse, we needed a car to drive from Pennsylvania to Florida for our 1 year delayed honeymoon that was coming up quick! This whole idea was crazy, but in the end I didn’t borrow a single dime from anyone, and we were able to write just married on the back window and drive to Florida with streamers ripping through the wind hanging on the back of our fully paid for Evo wing! I’ve raided junkyards for piles of heads, valve covers, etc.. and I’ve bought and flipped a lot of things, but getting the Evo was the most gratifying thing of that type that I’ve done. Don’t get so attached to cars and parts that you can’t bring yourself to sell them. It’s not worth your time to sell junk, use your keen eye to flip the stuff that you would want to keep. Be known for selling cool stuff, not for unloading crap that no one wants. Sell the stuff that you don’t want to sell because another deal will always come along. I’m sure Richard Rawlings wouldn’t mind keeping everything, but he’s smarter than that. Don’t let the game play you and don’t be afraid of doing part outs.

Blogging (Some people are bound to be thinking the same crazy shit! Build a tribe!)

Information is the hardest thing to knock-off therefore it is potentially the best use of your time. I’m not saying that you should disregard product creation, as I have always been a big fan, but focusing on content will never send you back to the drawing board because all of your hard work went obsolete overnight. Just be up front about what you’re doing, and only share affiliate links that you actually use and that are relevant to what you’re talking about. I’m not saying to bank everything on just being a blogger, but it compliments every other business venture and it can create automated income just by putting useful affiliate links in place. you don’t have to babysit your website constantly if you set it up right and it can make you money while you sleep. Blog everyday or a few times a year if you want, it doesn’t matter, it’s still working 24/7 to build an audience and make money. As long as you’re putting out the best content you can, instead of acting like some sleazy sales person, then there are bound to be people out there that have been pondering the same shit as you that will appreciate what you have to say. Once you’re interested in blogging and occasionally talking about why you think other people should do it, then an affiliate like Bluehost pays pretty well and is easy to sign up for, they are the first one I signed up with. I plan to add more affiliates, as I discover relevant programs, and combine them all on one page of useful links. (I wish Eastwood still had a decent program! I hope that Autodesk’s affiliate program works out well, because I’ve used AutoCAD since I was a kid and I’m going to endorse Fusion 360 regardless.) I’m not sure what companies will make the cut just yet, but they’re not going on that page unless they are gearhead related, damn useful to website building, or directly a part of my content. If I ever write about something because I think it’s a good money maker, then I’ll be open about that motive, show you how I use it, and show you how it can be useful to you. So that’s the plan man. This is my place to post race track/car show pics, talk about engineering, tech, where our culture is headed, what we can do to support it heading in the right direction, do some interviews, and discuss how we can all help each other make money to support our hobby! Cars & bikes don’t have to be for people who love work and hate money. Take advantage of knowing this market so well and turn it into cash! Take it easy on me as I hone my writing skills and I promise I’ll share whatever tools I find to be the most useful!

Above all make sure that, whatever you decide to do, it isn’t taken so seriously that you don’t enjoy your hobbies anymore because you combined them with serious shit! Keep it feckin’ fun!


Bill Bailey

P.S. In true #UnrefinedProject form, the thoughts that I have presented here are rearranged, not refined, just put out there raw at some point. I have much research to do, this is one of many evolving projects, and it is subject to changes. Good projects are never done. They are only abandoned.


Centenarians and Motordrome Grit

Ten children. Ten. I can’t imagine having eight more than I have now. Centenarian Dorothy Young grew up in such a household. My great-grandmother was born in 1910 and passed away in 2014. Only 17 out of every 100,000 people live past 100 years old and it’s likely the same number of people who genuinely consider how drastically the world can change in one lifespan. The traffic light, crossword puzzles, radio tuners, and toasters weren’t invented until after 1910. The Band-aid, self-winding watch, frozen food, television, the bread slicer, bubble gum, scotch tape, chocolate chips, canned beer, ballpoint pens, and antibiotics weren’t invented until after 1920. She was 50 years old when seat belts became mandatory, yet she lived to the era of the iPhone, Xbox One, Raspberry Pi, Google Glass, and self-driving cars! She was a teenager during the age of motordrome racing. Board tracks, like the local to her Altoona Speedway, attracted the best racers in the world and took as much grit as being a pilot back then. Board track motorcyclists ran flat out without even having brakes! A generation younger than her remembers looking up the street and seeing almost no personal transportation as everyone took electric trolleys at that time. She lived to an age where 100mph is easily attainable, factory cars can run 10 second quarter miles, $1000 can get you an 11 second motorcycle, and she did it all with all natural organic cake, bacon, burgers, and beer!

It is easy to feel like it’s all been done and that regular people can’t make a difference just by tinkering away in their own workshop at something they have a passion for. A quick history lesson easily shows that there is no reason to believe that any field has yet to see its pinnacle. The drastic amount of change that can occur in one lifetime seems to be removed from reality and set in black and white, but a serious consideration of the advances that can be made in one person’s life is a blunt reality check. Some of the best inventions, books, art, performances, and businesses have come from people with little or no formal training. The spirit of things, no matter how great their scale, can always be found in grassroots sub-culture. Mass production cannot take away from the fact that regular people’s creations are at the core of our species. The main advantage humans have always had over other species is our inclination to build things. Fires, levers, wheels, and other simple tools have inspired us with their ability to rapidly progress us since we were cavemen. People have always been and always will be tinkerers, but these days it doesn’t have to be hidden, confined locally, or only shared with a select group of friends.

The satisfaction of craftsmanship easily trumps the quickly fading rush of anything that can be bought. People realize that they have been jaded by mass consumption, and are finally looking back to craftsmanship with nostalgia, but there will always be a place for Walmart in today’s society. The appreciation of hand made items, however, is not only here to stay, it is growing. People are wired to appreciate impressive craftsmanship, hell there’s a reason that most people were mechanically inclined in the early-mid 20th century. There was a pride in keeping items alive before “engineered to fail” was so prevalent. We have many roles in life and we may work in cubicles, various forms of the service industry, or even at a railroad facility as my great-grandmother did during World War II. When we head to our personal workshops we do what we really want to though and sub-cultures will always be cooler than mainstream. Traditional employment is an intelligent choice, but our passions and inclination to be merchants and craftsmen ourselves are not to be ignored. Zen isn’t thinking about Zen while peeling potatoes, it’s just peeling the damn potatoes. This doesn’t necessarily apply to shutting your brain off to get through each day of traditional employment though because that very well may lead to resentment. Personal tinkering forces you to focus on what you’re doing without over-thinking the past or the future. There is nobility in time that’s not spent in front of a screen or production line. Getting your hands on electric motors, petrol engines, woodworking, physical circuitry, welding, or just installing parts from a catalog engages you in a way that a social media can’t and there are very real benefits to embracing old school mentality.

There are an infinite number of things that can be deconstructed more quickly thanks to the Internet, but it’s also easy to get sucked into it with no escape. As cliché as it is that wealth is more than money, rich people still have the same underlying problems that they had when they were broke. All successful people love telling you about what they went through to get where they are. Time spent in the spirit of being a modern day innovator will always be time spent wisely. The imaginary divisions between social classes, professions, and hobbies are getting blurrier by the day. We are all in this together. Cheers to American garage innovation!


Bill Bailey

P.S. In true #UnrefinedProject form, the thoughts that I have presented here are rearranged, not refined, just put out there raw at some point. I have much research to do, this is one of many evolving projects, and it is subject to changes. Good projects are never done. They are only abandoned.


The Future of Gearheads as Innovative Craftsmen and Merchants

Recently I was listening to a really interesting podcast, that I was rather enjoying, until the founder of ePinions made a comment that hurt deep in my chest. This is not an exact quote, but it was something to the extent of: Teaching our children to drive is a waste of time. Time is valuable and that time is better spent elsewhere because they just wont need to know how to drive. There is no way that gearheads can go the way of blacksmiths. The work we do can not be reduced to a mere novelty in today’s society. America is the definition of personal empowerment and innovation. America has already lost millions of skilled craftsmen since the advent of the 40 hour work week. People who work with their hands deserve a vast amount more respect than they currently receive. There is no better self-teaching tool for mechanical innovation than the intoxicating passion that comes with being a gearhead. There is a paradigm shift in progress as a result of e-commerce, lean principles, outsourcing, and many other factors. This shift is leading to an economy comprised of many independent contractors.The cold hard truth is that for decades trade school students have been viewed as people on an inferior life/job track as opposed to university students. This is not only far from reality, but quite often the burden of student loans typical of a traditional college program leads to a lesser quality of life. Still, in a lot of cases even trade school graduates don’t give themselves the credit they deserve. As an engineering graduate myself, I assure you that this self-destructive minds set is not justified. What America needs is electro-mechanical engineering technicians that understand hands-on practical application and that is where these two highly related fields mesh. Racing improves our dying breed.

Blue and white collar jobs of the last century are turning grey due to the pursuit of efficiency. People who stand on both sides of the fence are becoming a rare commodity. The diagnostics skills of each trade are reliant on knowledge of the other. The long term outcome of our 40 hour work weeks is the looming mass unemployment. It will be overwhelmingly negative at first, but may actually be for the better in the long run. Don’t panic. Since the decline of craftsmanship in America people have bit the bullet, but have not done so without an awareness to the toll on their feelings of fulfillment. There is a feeling of pride in working in a small shop that just isn’t present when you are assigned an employee number. “The Great Recession” has made these feeling more apparent. People that end up frustrated with the job market often develop entrepreneurial tendencies. However, old school craftsmen also didn’t have the benefits of the internet when they were initially phased out. The only problem now is that the 40 hour work week has been around long enough to have been accepted as normal by most people. Freelancing and blogging are the closest modern equivalents to independent shops and they also have the modern advantage of widespread reach.
There are a great number of people that have been questioning Walmart-esque consumption and have been pondering reasonably sustainable minimalism. With minimalism there is an inherent pride in the possessions that are worthy of our personal space. Even amoungst folks that are well-off there is an even greater appreciation for craftsmanship now-a-days. Applying a reasonableness test is the current norm: If I spend my disposable income on X, is it worth taking away from Y, Z, and my family? It’s not that younger generations “don’t get” the satisfaction of expensive projects. It’s not that they don’t care about project cars. Green awareness is a part of it, but if that was the sole reason then why aren’t EV converted torque monsters prevalent yet? Battery tech has a ways to go, but building EV monsters would certainly promote a passionate rebellion for the type of widespread thinking that’s necessary to advance battery tech and it’s infrastructure. The conclusion to shun expensive projects is a commendable/responsible decision based on predominant incomes that don’t come close to rivaling previous generations. Just like the 40 hour work week leading to outsourcing over the years, the indirect cost of gearhead decline is decreased widespread mechanical aptitude!

The maker movement is bullshit. I love that it promotes craftsmanship, but I had to open with that for impact. People who fabricate rockcrawlers are makers. The majority of China’s population knows way more about electronics than most Americans. The learning curve for computer aided drafting is so much less of a barrier compared to previous generations that 3D printing Star Wars toys is just “cute” compared to a typical machinists skill set. I personally work on advancing my own 3D modeling skills, I love what people do with Arduinos, I support “The Maker Movement,” but there is some impractical output from it compared to metal fabricators and electrical technicians. I fully support 3d printed appendages and all of the other emerging 3d printing tech going on so don’t think that I’m unaware, it’s just that with all stories there are two sides and that’s the other side. The real breakthroughs with this tech are going to come from those with a diverse knowledge base. I’m a father so the best example that I can come up with the way Donatello is portrayed in the new Ninja Turtles cartoons. He’s a scientist, an electronics expert, an inventor, and a gearhead! Donatello i a bad ass nerd in every sense. Engineers and grease monkeys need to seek that kind of label if any at all. I can’t wait to see the term for it in 2030. As for the millions of people that are already a part of gearhead culture, there is a stark contrast to the acceptance of “green” tech now versus just 5 years ago. NEDRA has been around for a while now, but Tesla Motors obviously deserves some credit here. The upside of embracing new tech is that a certain amount of respect is earned from people who are unaware of the benefits of gearhead culture altogether. Through our time-conditioned awareness suddenly we are less ignorant to onlookers. You can see where I’m headed in general now, but this is where it gets interesting. Both groups know that a gold watch after 30 years of service to a company is becoming vastly less common in America. All sides have less job opportunities than they did in the past. Gearhead culture is a way to flex electro-mechanical education/innovation as a war on jobs unites people as wars always do.

There aren’t many sub-cultures as big as the automotive performance & powersports sectors. With powersports in particular enthusiasm is almost a given. Garage innovation has been one of the mot special things about America since it’s inception. Speaking of inception, the first stages of projects are the most exciting and constantly evolving them is an addiction. There is an openly hidden addict economy here if just a fraction of ebay customers seek parts and electrical innovation with pride from open source performance communities. The way this would need to work would be by growing the culture through open source ideas. We need to open source innovative business ideas even with personal financial goals in mind. Empower everyone to build and sell parts with their own unique twist and affiliate with other shops to sell their parts as well. Individuals who blog and offer ideas with no unique parts for sale should be held in high regard as well because they are the greatest source of ideas that in the past have been hoarded to quite likely never see daylight. It takes bravery to throw your ideas out there on the internet. Without encouragement many may not only fail to share their ideas, but they may leave the community as they get older and have families. Leaving with age is also a more recent phenomenon that can dissipate with a stronger loyalty to the community. If you are an appreciated community contributor then a degree of loyalty is a given. Someone should do something and the “oh fuck” realization here in all of life is that it is you! If not then we really are the last of a dying breed. You should also encourage others to do so. That’s easier said than done when a lot of us have hillbilly inclinations, but if we don’t then we’re fucked. Elon Musk is onto something in his decision to open source his intellectual property with an end goal of growing EV infrastructure. I love EV tech and how quickly it’s advancing, but we can’t allow ourselves to be burnt and left for dead like trolley systems!

People don’t willingly leave behind knuckle blood when working on trolleys like people do when they are building motorcycles or cars. (Google how electric trolleys disappeared.) If the only way to keep our culture alive is to rapidly accelerate it’s growth then we need to encourage all ideas, even the mind numbigly stupid ones. We need to encourage every age, experience level, and niche to live and breathe this mantra. Who cares about inevitable Chinese knock-offs when innovative ideas, uniqueness, and fabrication skills are more valued? The best market that I can compare it to is craft beer. Budweiser owns almost every beer brand that isn’t “craft” beer, yet they can’t make an impact on this growing market! Encourage independent shops, crazy ideas, and have a loud voice for the merits of our culture whenever possible! If our culture grows to where a massively greater number of people are a part of it then there is more disposable income for the economy as a whole! Built not bought has often been criticized for alienating new members to our tribe, but we can still give each other hell with a level of awareness that none of us want to be sitting in automated pods everyday! If gearheads are to attain a larger infrastructure in today’s world then not only do we need to be aware of new tech, constantly educate ourselves, and encourage open source pipe dreams that are typically write-offs, but brand purity needs to die to an extent. There is importance in preservation for future generations still, but we need to utilize the entire parts bin at our disposal if we are to maintain a large market share. We can do efficiency as well as any other engineers as long as we can see the big picture. Innovative hot rods are a time-honored American tradition and that means evolving with the times. There was a large croud that didn’t like stripped down coupes back in the day! Gut these fucking lifeless metal objects and turn them into works of art! Take them as a blank canvas to be turned into a beast that’s a culmination of art and engineering! Generation Gran Turismo isn’t going to waste their limited income on much of numbers matching fucking anything. We have a lot of interests to spend money on and we need to build shit that inspires future generations instead of boring them! Real life Hot Wheels guys! Stop hoarding ideas for fear of ridicule! Our culture is larger than ever, but lacks the amount of people with mechanical know-how that it did in the past. That aspect of it doesn’t necessarily need to be revived to past levels where everyone knew how to work on things. We are already millions strong, but the internet has managed to divide us into more niches than ever before. We are fabricators, product developers, industrial designers, and innovators without verbalizing those titles…yet. We are a useful, helpful, but savage group. Don’t be a soft ass whiner when a fellow “Donatello” gives you hell about your chosen brands, methods, and concepts. Do your bickering with intellectual respect, the big picture in mind, and when someone else tries to bully one of your siblings then don’t stand for it or make our culture look uncivilized! Lets all help each other figure out ways to make money as a gearhead!


Bill Bailey

P.S. In true #UnrefinedProject form, the thoughts that I have presented here are rearranged, not refined, just put out there raw at some point. I have much research to do, this is one of many evolving projects, and it is subject to changes. Good projects are never done. They are only abandoned.