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El Paso Father, Son Gain Major Attention for Fuel Tank Biz

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July 29--You might never see them, but you sure do need them, especially if you own a hot rod, classic truck or muscle car.

They are stainless-steel fuel tanks made by hand by an El Paso company called Rick's Fuel Tanks & Accessories.

The father-and-son shop is owned by Hector Guerrero and his 28-year-old son, Rick Guerrero.

"We put a huge emphasis on staying local because we live here, first and foremost," Hector Guerrero said. "We employ people who are local. We buy our raw materials locally, but our sales are zero locally."

The clients for the Guerreros' fuel tanks can be found in 14 countries on five continents.

"We bring in money into the community, we employ within the community, we support local business but yet our money comes from elsewhere," said Hector Guerrero. "In 10 years, we've probably sold 12 tanks locally."

He said the interest is simply not here.

"You have to consider the culture here," he said, "If we sold dresses for quinceaneras or weddings, we would probably be the best at it. Or if we had a tortilla factory, we would be the best. But for fuel tanks? There isn't a market for that here."

Carlos Chong, owner of Jalopy's Rod & Custom at 908 Tony Lama, is one of the few El Paso businesses that use Rick's Fuel Tanks & Accessories.

"Sometimes we'll order a complete tank, but it all depends on the customer," said Chong, whose shop services vehicles for fabrication and restoration. "Everybody is going with modern engines. We're using a lot of high-tech engines, transmissions and drive trains and adding them to the old cars. They are required to have fuel tanks that are equipped with a fuel pump inside specifically for fuel injection."

Chong, who worked with the Guerreros about 10 years ago, has a background in building NHRA dragsters and Corvettes.

"They've become pretty successful at building those stainless-steel tanks," he said. "There is a big demand for it now because pro-touring racing is getting bigger. They are using muscle cars and making them into road race cars, and they are using a lot of his tanks."

Rick's Tanks and Accessories grew from a 1,500-square-foot garage to the 4,000-square-foot building it now owns.

Hector and Rick Guerrero were renovating classic cars at their first shop, called Rick's Hot Rods.

"Restoring cars was great, and it paid he bills for a while, but we were becoming dependent on paying our bills from our customers paying their bills," Rick Guerrero said. "Because of that, we looked at the market and saw a void for stainless-steel gas tanks."

A friend of the Guerreros', who was a dealer for another fuel tank manufacturer, knew they could produce quality tanks.

"He told me they were 13 to 14 weeks behind on his orders, so he asked us if we could do it," Rick Guerrero said. "We did the first one, placed a small magazine ad, and it just snowballed from there."

Rick's Fuel Tanks & Accessories caught the eye of Tim Strange, the host of Spike TV's series "Search & Restore," a show about completing unfinished projects and restoring classic cars.

"Tim Strange is actually a friend of mine I met at one of the car shows I attend to show our wares," Rick Guerrero said. "He had contacted me last season and asked me if we could be a part of it, and I said of course and we sent out a tank. I wasn't available to be on the show, but I told him next time he needed anything to let me know."

Rick's provided a fuel tank for a 1955 Handyman Wagon.

Rick Guerrero said he plans to attend a taping of "Search & Restore" in November.

He said he is not surprised that the custom fuel tanks Rick's specializes in -- mid-'50s through early-'70s hot rods, classics, muscle cars and trucks -- have taken off they way they have.

"Surprised not so much, happy very much," he said with a smile. "We get compliments on them all time and it's all due to our guys in the back shop. No matter where we go, the East Coast or the West Coast, people always comment on the quality of the work. We expect a lot out of our guys, and they always deliver 100 percent. I'm just happy that all the gears are meshing together."

Rick Guerrero said the tanks are built for performance and function.

"One of the biggest compliments we get is, 'It looks too good to put underneath the car,' " he said. "I love it, because that shows the guys make a good quality product we all can be proud of."

Among Rick's clients are the Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young, who is regarded as one of the most influential musicians of his generation, and reality TV star Brody Jenner.

"Neil Young has a car called the Linc Volt," Rick Guerrero said. "It's a '60s kind of custom Lincoln that runs on biofuel. About two years ago, the car had just come out of a fresh restoration and there was a fire, and a firefighter took an ax to it to cut the trunk open so it just got redone again. He is actually getting ready to drive it across Canada on his next Canadian tour."

The average price for fuel-injected stainless-steel gas tanks is about $1,295.

"We've done fuel tanks in conjunction with fuel pumps that went as high as $2,800 and even higher than that," Rick Guerrero said.

Getting the business off the ground and sustaining it has been difficult.

"In 1999, we went to the Chamber of Commerce looking for help because I didn't know how to write a business plan; I didn't even know what a business plan was," Hector Guerrero said. "There were some businessmen there, and a gentleman flat-out told me that I was crazy doing what I was planning on doing in El Paso. He told me if I sold beer or menudo, I would do fine and the banks would lend me money."

That man was right.

"No bank would ever touch us, so we did this all on our own with our own money," Hector Guerrero said. "The initial investment was a very small sum of money. It's so small I'm embarrassed to disclose it."

There were times when Hector Guerrero questioned himself.

"We went through some tough times," he said. "I almost lost my house. I even rode my bike to work because I (didn't) have enough money to buy fuel.

"One of the biggest hurdles was having no capital and landing a huge contract where I couldn't buy the raw materials needed to complete it. That happened several times, but we got the jobs done."

Today, the company is going strong, employs 10 people and continues to build quality products.

"The efforts and the tenacity came to fruition," said Hector Guerrero. "And in this market, that is what you need. Never give up. In all fairness, we have a very good crew who have believed in us through thick and thin.

"There is no one in the city who can produce the quality that we do. The reason I know that beyond a reasonable doubt is because this year I have interviewed about 25 welders to do what we do. I finally found one that will fit in. Our people really make the business."

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