Cracking this man is a job for a CIA interrogator, because anything short of waterboarding or tooth extraction is unlikely to get Jeff Cameron to talk. It’s not that he’s involved in some sort of despicable espionage or covert acts of treason. To the contrary, he’s just a humble man who doesn’t like tooting his own horn. That explains the shocking disconnect between the caliber of muscle cars and street rods his shop has rolled out over the last 50 years, and the peculiar lack of national spotlight that’s been directed its way. The stunning craftsmanship and creativity infused into each of Jeff’s projects can go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Ringbrothers and Roadster Shops of the world. Backing up that bold claim is Jeff’s personal ride, a ’61 bubbletop Bel Air packing a stroked W-series big-block, an overdrive trans, giant brakes, and a RideTech air suspension. To put it simply, Dooley and Sons Rods and Customs (www.dooleyandsons.com) is the most badass hot rod shop you’ve never heard of. Despite Jeff’s aversion to attention, that’s all about to change, because a shop this good is simply impossible to ignore.
The nondescript berg of Magnolia, Texas, is an unlikely setting for a hot rod shop. Many of the town’s 1,100 residents have probably driven by Dooley’s everyday and never noticed that it’s even there. Tucked behind the cover of towering pine trees and vicious airborne insects is a gleaming 20,000-square-foot facility that boasts a chassis, body, and upholstery shop all under one big roof. The showroom is packed with an eclectic mix of street rods and muscle machines, ranging from Pro Touring Corvettes and Tri-Five Chevys to Hemi-powered Willys and vintage gassers. “My dad Dooley started a custom upholstery business right out of high school in 1961. He was the typical ’60s hot rodder who had to learn how to do everything himself,” Jeff says. “He passed on his knowledge and work ethic to me and my brother, Tom, and while I learned how to do upholstery work, my true passion was paint and bodywork. We expanded into building hot rods and doing collision repair work in 1985, and by 2001, we got rid of the collision shop to focus on hot rods full time. We do everything in-house—including paint and body, custom interiors, chassis fabrication, and electrical work—which allows us to maintain an extremely high level of quality control. As we started doing more Pro Touring builds, we felt the need to invest more R&D into chassis development. Now we make complete replacement frames and state-of-the-art suspension components for Chevelles, Tri-Fives, and first-gen Camaros.”
Compared to the wild creations Dooley and Sons typically builds, Jeff took a much more modest approach when building his bubbletop. While he sought to upgrade the suspension and brakes for enhanced driveability, he still wanted to keep the car somewhat original. While most hot rodders come up with cockamamy excuses as to why they have to build a certain car, Jeff’s inspiration was genuinely profound. His grandfather purchased a 348-powered ’61 Bel Air brand new in 1961, which was the same year Jeff’s dad started the family business. Jeff grew up with fond memories of that car, but that’s just part of the story. “My daughter, Meg, was born four months premature in 2005, and her twin brother, Jake, died 16 days after birth. Things like that can either make you or break you, but fortunately for us, it’s made us stronger,” Jeff says. “I wanted to build a car that was for Meg, that was also built in Jake’s memory. The number of surgeries and challenges Meg has had to go through is too much for one person, yet she comes through every time and is still so happy. It kills me every day that her twin brother isn’t here with us today, but with everything we’ve been through, I wanted to build a car that was all about her. The ’61 Bel Air has plenty of room in the back for Meg’s wheelchair, and it’s something cool and different that you don’t see every day.”