The Jim Street Golden Sahara II is being restored at the Speakeasy Custom and Classic Shop. A closer look at who they are.
In May, 2018 Larry Klairmont acquired the Golden Sahara II at the Jim Street Estate Auction. We have tried to stay in touch with what was going to happen to this Iconic Custom Car. On September 23rd, 2018 we were notified that the fairly unknown Speakeasy Customs & Classics Shop in Chicago was going to handle the restoration of Jim Skonzakes Golden Sahara II. “It’s official! Klairmont Kollections has awarded Speakeasy the full restoration of the Golden Sahara II. Work has already begun!”
We had never heard about the Speakeasy Custom & Classics shop before, so we were intrigued. I contacted the shop to share a bit of information how I had a very special connection with the Golden Sahara, and its former owner Jim Street. And how I would love to be kept in the loop on the restoration and how I was very interested to know a little more about the Speakeasy Shop and their relation to the Klairmont Museum.
Greg Alonzo, the owner of Speakeasy soon got back to us, and informed us that when time permitted he would love to share a bit more about the history of his shop. But that he would be very busy for a while with the Golden Sahara restoration. Greg had already shared some photos and info of the start of the restoration on the companies Instagram. But now The Klairmont Museum had set a new deadline for the restoration, for a special event, and the complete restoration would be documented in a film. Because of that Greg would not be able to share any new photos, or info on the Golden Sahara, until the movie was released. As soon as we can we will be sharing the full story on the restoration and the special even here on the Custom Car Chronicle.
My name is Gregory Alonzo, I am 43 years old, I live in Chicago Illinois and I am the owner of Speakeasy Customs & Classics. We are the shop that has been chosen by Klairmont Kollections to restore the Golden Sahara II and bring it back to the public eye. Because the restoration is being filmed I am unable to talk much about that just yet, but I wanted to share with the world who I am and where my shop came from.
Speakeasy Customs & Classics is in Bedford Park, Illinois. We are a full restoration shop that specializes in Customs and Lowriders. We do everything from metal work to paint and everything in between. We do all types of custom work like air ride and hydraulic suspension, custom interior work, and of course custom paint work. Besides being owner I am also the welder/fabricator as well as the social media/marketing guy and so much more. However I have not always worked with cars. As a matter of fact I have spent the majority of my working career behind a desk. But it was never anything I really enjoyed, mostly corporate jobs, I was even a doorman for a downtown high rise for a few years.
I have however always had a passion for classic cars of all types. When I was a kid I would build model cars and of course always find a way to customize or modify them somehow. I still have a few of them. Then when I was in High School my first car was a 1966 Plymouth Fury III, with a 383 and a 4 barrel carb. Probably way too much car for a 17 year old kid but man that big boat could move! That car was actually my first taste at restoring a car. My older brother Alex smashed the front end one day! So I took on the task of fixing it myself. I had to find parts the old fashion way, with a Hemmings catalog I found a new hood and fender from Arizona. I had no idea what I was doing, but I managed to swap out the damaged parts, and even straightened out the damage to the grill and headlight bezel. I never repainted it, but at least she was whole again. I of course did what most do and eventually sold that car to buy a more reliable one that would get me to work every day!
Fast forward about 20 years and you pick up where my life of cars really began. In 2014 I found myself in a deep depression that was brought on by the sudden passing of my mother at only 58. Soon after that my father-in-law, who had been a part of my life for over 20 years, was diagnosed with cancer and passed 5 months later.
At the time I was working from home with my wife. She owns a pet sitting and dog walking business in the city. Only I was not much help still be depressed. I woke up one morning and I knew I had to make a change. The thing that brought me the most joy were cars, classic cars and I decided that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to build cars. Easier said than done right?
I figured a good place to start would be school, well there are not any restoration schools in the Chicago area, plenty of automotive programs but none that were only about restoration. So I got involved with a mentoring program that uses classic cars to mentor youths, there I started to learn there everything I could about restoring them in return I would help out with the program where ever I could. I started with some basic body work and then a few months later I took a welding class and that was it, I was hooked! A year later I decided to go back to school and enrolled in the automotive program at Morton College, where I have completed 23 credit hours with a 4.0 GPA. Now my specialty is welding and metal fabrication, however I can also do bodywork, paint and I know a lot of basic mechanics as well as hydraulics and air ride systems.
Two and a half years ago I started working for Armando Alba, at his shop Mando’s Customs, which specialized in building Lowriders with a Midwestern style. There I was really able to hone my skills since I was able to work on so many cars and learn more than ever. During that time I had begun to develop my plans for Speakeasy. I really enjoyed working for Mando but in my heart I knew I wanted to own my own shop someday. Well towards then end of 2017 Mando informed me he may have to close the shop. But I was not ok with that. When he first told me I tried to work with him to find a way to keep it open, but in the end he decided he really did not want to run a shop anymore. In January 2018 he asked me if I would be interested in buying him out and changing Mando’s into Speakeasy Customs & Classics. I was hesitant and first but in the end I took over the shop on March 12, 2018. My first task was to hire Mando as my shop manager and painter!
Armando Alba is the glue that keeps the shop together. He has been working on cars pretty much his whole life. Born in Juarez Mexico he moved to El Paso Texas when just a few years old and lived there till he was in his teens, he then moved to Chicago. As a teenager he was very into drawing and all types of art work. He began his career in custom work when he started to customize his bikes. He would paint them over and over, swap seats and other parts, and personalizing them. As he got older he was leaning more and more towards cars and he found a passion for Lowriding. Mostly because of the culture that came with it, but also because he was able to incorporate his love of art into his building of cars.
His first job was at a parts store in 1999 and he worked there till he got a job managing an auto shop in 2006. In 2011 he opened his first shop, a regular repair shop. While he ran that he was building his 1963 Impala lowrider “Medio Oeste”, which means Midwest in Spanish. When he started to show it is when he started to get requests from people to build their cars and Mando’s customs was born.
He continued to run that shop until he decided to work with me to turn it into Speakeasy Customs & Classics. Mando is an amazing painter that can do all types of artwork with paint including pin striping, silver/gold leaf, patterns of all types and so much more, but not only that he can build a car from start to finish on his own if he had to.
The rest of my team consists of Angle Alba, Mando’s son. Angle is 19, and started working in the shop in 2017 when he moved to Chicago to live with his father from El Paso, Texas. He started to work with him and began learning body work and paint and he also helps with a lot of the finishing work and final assemblies. He is currently enrolled at Lincoln Tech College where he is taking collision repair so he can advance his skills. He is working on a 1964 Bel Air Lowrider that should be ready by next summer.
Adrian Arreola, Mando’s stepson, is 23 and has been working with his dad on cars since he was 13 years old. He does a lot of the wet sanding and buffing after paint, helps with final assemblies and does a lot of metal finishing as well. Jesus Gonzalez does a lot of our electrical work as well as mechanic work. He helps with engine swaps and suspension work including air ride and hydraulics. He is 29, born in Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico.
He moved to the Chicago area in 1994 when he was 5 years old, and also started working on cars with father when he was only 13. Later he took the same automotive program that I was enrolled in at Morton College. He has specialized in installing stereo equipment and mobile electronics of all types and he assists Mando with the wiring and plumbing of hydraulic and air ride systems. He is in the process of building a 1967 Chevy Camaro.
Finally we work with a freelance designer, Mike Herbert, who does all of our art work and renderings and even came up with our Logo. He has the ability to help us work with our clients and help them see their final product before we even begin to work. He can even take a client’s build to a whole new level by designing one of a kind parts that he can then design in 3D that be turned into reality by means of 3D printing, engraving and even casting. Mike has experience in the product design industry and is involved with a local car design community called Old School Car Class that integrates automotive history and future with students and enthusiasts.
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