Invariably, a passion for custom builds most always comes down to one wildly varying but commonly shared experience: The cool factor.
This past year at the SEMA show – a place that might hold the title for having the highest density of cool factor feels per square foot anywhere in the custom vehicle world – it wasn’t a towering show truck, exotic sports car or even a sleek and screaming muscle car that had the place buzzing. This time, it was a custom camper called ReRun that stole the show for many attendees.
Its Name is ReRun. And It Is Cool.
The story behind this resto mod build is remarkable on its own, to be sure. But first consider ReRun the vehicle, itself. The completely custom, one-off project is built on a 1972 Chevy C30 camper chassis and was the brainchild of the team at Creative Mobile Interiors in Grove City, Ohio.
While “sporty” certainly isn’t the first term that first comes to mind when you see this beast of a build (and it is undoubtedly beastly,) a 402 big-block engine with Keith Black domed pistons, March Performance serpentine kit and Sniper fuel injection helps anyone standing within earshot to understand that this is no pig. Under the hood, it’s a thoroughbred through and through.
Other performance upgrades including Wilwood brakes, a hydraulic clutch and a Muncie SM465 transmission ratchet up the performance needed to move what’s behind the driver’s cab down the road with haste.
What’s back there, and the reason this build is getting so much attention, is, put simply, a whole lot of awesome. The camper shell is a full custom creation, upgraded in nearly every way possible while staying true to the general style and lines of the original. A kitchenette, a full bathroom, a queen-size bed, a flat-screen TV and Wi-Fi give the retro beauty all the creature comforts of a modern camper.
For Josh Gifford, Creative Mobile Interiors’ president, ReRun epitomizes much of his, and the company’s, approach to all the custom projects the company builds.
“Big, small, new, old – it’s all fun,” says Gifford. “We treat an older coach like this (ReRun) the same way we do a million-dollar coach. It’s got to be interesting and creative and high quality and it has to be executed really well. ReRun is all of those things.”
For Gifford, the vision for ReRun and a big debut SEMA project build was about 10 years in the making.
“The first time I attended SEMA I knew we had to be there as a company eventually,” he recalls. “We’ve come so far since then.
A lot has happened in those years. By the time we went to the show in 2017, I decided that the time had come to get started.”
To say that “a lot has happened” is a substantial understatement. The intervening years saw the company grow substantially in revenue and staff, move into consecutively larger shop spaces, and build a national reputation for its creative custom coach builds. Regrettably, it also saw the unexpected passing of the company’s co-founder, Owen Connaughton.
‘Josh, We Trust You’
“Having gone through the tragedy of losing our founder and owner had left us all changed – left the company changed,” says Gifford, who took over as president of the company in 2013. “But it has been so great to see how the company and the team has grown and evolved and bonded through that experience.”
All of those trials and tribulations made it great time to start a high-profile project for the staff to rally around, according to Gifford.
“When I had the idea in 2017 to do a retro camper build for SEMA 2018, I think the team was ready for a boost,” he says. “Thankfully, I was able to bring the team around to the idea. I told them from the start, this will not be a money maker, certainly right away. But it will be a staple for us as a company. Everyone will know this vehicle.
“They just said, ‘Josh, we trust you.’”
Gifford started by tracking down just the right vehicle. And quite a vehicle it turned out to be.
“We found this amazing green 1972 Chevy C30 camper with 40,000 miles on it out in Colorado,” he recalls with a chuckle that hints at the inherent cheekiness that comes with upfitting a big block engine into a beast of a ’70s truck camper. “When we bought the camper it still started, ran and moved, but it certainly wasn’t up for a cross country road trip.
“We purchased it and then trucked it back for probably about five times the price we paid for the camper itself,” he says, laughing. “It was great. The interior looked untouched. It was rust-free but it had this amazing patina on it.”
‘We’re Going to SEMA’
While the project ended up creating quite a splash at the industry’s biggest trade show, success in the early days was far from assured.
“I’ll never forget the day that it arrived back at the shop,” Gifford says. “We brought the entire team together and then pulled the camper into the shop. Everyone’s jaws just immediately dropped. I remember just saying, ‘We’re going to SEMA.’
“We had had this vision of doing our thing to the inside but leaving the entire exterior untouched,” he recalls. “But we got in there and took the walls out and there was dry rot every- where. So, we decided to tear it down and rebuild it from the ground up, inside and out. We built the custom shell, which is dimensionally the same as the original, but we worked some new angles into it. Inside, we’ve really never done anything quite like this. The finishes are just killer.
“It’s no trailer queen,” he says. “It’s built to drive down the road. It’s terribly loud, it really is, but that’s kind of how I am, and I really like it.”
ReRun isn’t just loud, literally. Figuratively, its voice is being heard around the country, says Gifford, doing wonders for the profile of the company.
“The reaction at SEMA was exceptional,” he says. “It was everything we hoped for. We were featured in a lot of media, magazine shoots and social media features. We got some great exposure. In fact, we got several jobs from it from that launch at SEMA.”
That exposure has produced a corresponding boost in interest in Creative Mobile Interiors’ services. After leasing a few buildings in its years in business, the company now occupies a custom-built 15,000-square-foot shop with a 4,000-square-foot office 10 minutes outside of Columbus, Ohio, just off of State Route 71, which runs from Cleveland, through Columbus and Cincinnati and on to Louisville, Ky.
“We even had shirts made that call us ‘That place off of 71,’” Gifford jokes.
Full Custom: Past, Present and Future
Creative Mobile Interiors now employs 25 full-time employees, working on projects as diverse as Sprinter van camper conversions to limos, marketing trailers and even million-dollar-plus Class A motorhomes.
“If I were to describe what we do, I’d say we do what the mass market doesn’t do. Our consistency is in the inconsistency,” says Gifford. “Every build we do is a one-off. We might do 12 to 15 Sprinter or van conversions a year, between one and four full-size coaches a year, and probably 15 to 20 trailers and retrofits. We’re not vehicle or shell specific – we can work on anything that comes in the door.”
That diversity of projects aligns well with the company’s original vision, says Gifford.
“Custom Coach Co., which basically started the conversion industry back in the 1930s and 1940s, started right here in Columbus,” he says. “That company started from a gentleman selling bars of soap out of a converted bus, who then started creating custom coaches for other purposes. Many of us, including our original owner, Owen, got our start at Custom Coach. That creativity is very much a part of our own DNA as a company.”
After Owen’s sudden passing, that creativity lived on in the team he had built.
“Even through the tragedy of losing our owner and the tough years that followed, we’ve remained a really tightknit group,” says Gifford. “Owen built a core group of employees and nearly everyone has stood by us through these challenges. Of our 25 employees, 18 or 19 have been with us more than 10 years.
“Owen instilled in me the values and vision of the company and I have a lot of respect for that man.”
So much respect, Gifford says, that he’s taken on the responsibility of leading the company, which wasn’t necessarily part of his planned career trajectory.
“I had no vision, personally, that I would run this place at some point,” he says. “I was super happy with what I was doing.”
Regardless, he has risen to the challenge.
“As a company, we’ve been absolutely flying. I’m certainly not deeply experienced at this level but it’s working and rolling, and I got to build ReRun,” he says with a laugh. “Has it been intimidating to step into that responsibility? 100 percent. I say that without hesitation. I’m a designer and sales guy – not a business guy or numbers guy. So, we built the team to support us in those areas. What we undoubtedly have is the ability and the vision to do special things.”
That respect and vision – and more than a fair bit of pure enthusiasm – is what continues to guide Gifford and the rest of the team at Creative Mobile Interiors as it launches into the future.
“We just flat out love what we do. Since I was a little kid, I just loved anything on wheels,” says Gifford, who studied industrial design at Columbus College of Art and Design. “Our customers share that love for this work, too. So, I don’t really come to work, I come to play, and that comes through in my interactions with the customers. I come to life when I talk about what can be done on these projects.
“I suppose that enthusiasm usually means their bill goes up some, but they appreciate the excitement that we have about what we’re doing,” he adds, again with a laugh.
The one thing he won’t talk about, at least not just yet? SEMA 2020 and his next big project vehicle.
“We’ve been thinking a lot about how we’re going to top ReRun, and that’s going to be a challenge,” Gifford says. “But we’ve been thinking a lot about that and we have some big ideas.
“But for now, it’s still all about ReRun. I love that thing.”