Michigan native and Alabama transplant Dave Martin has a rather unusual craft: he builds and restores wooden boats and wooden cars. Though Martin is departing Birmingham and moving farther south to a town near Montgomery, his niche business will no doubt continue to attract folks from all over the state and country.
Martin stumbled into his craft serendipitously when he accepted a job at Rybovich in West Palm Beach in his early 20s. Soon enough, after catching the eye of his boss with his work ethic and natural talent, he was being asked to head up boat-building projects.
“I’ll never forget, my boss pulled me aside and said, ‘I need someone to supervise the construction of this new boat hull. I don’t think you have the experience to pull this off, but I’ll let you try,’” he reminisced.
Eventually, Martin got married and relocated to Wisconsin to start a family. He found another boat-building job at a now-defunct yard, as well as a gig building custom cabinets. He ultimately decided that going into business for himself was his next goal and bought a 1951 Chris Craft Riviera, building a new wooden boat by following its pattern. Martin sold the boat after attending a few antique boat shows, made some contacts and started his business in earnest. Soon after, a fan asked if he could rebuild a wooden car. Martin said he thought he could.
“One day a guy walked in, and I knew him through boat work, and he said, ‘Look at these pictures,’ and it was an old car. He said, ‘I’m thinking about buying it, and I was wondering if you could build a new body for it.’ I’d never built a car, just boats, but I figured, if it’s wood, I can do it. So he bought it and sent it over, and that was the transition from boats to cars.”
Martin and his wife found their way to Birmingham by chance, during one of the many road trips between Wisconsin and Florida to visit extended family. Birmingham “caught their eye,” he said, and he found a place that built custom cars and got a job, cementing their plans to relocate to the South. By 2019, the phone started ringing for Martin to complete more custom work, and he was able to quit his day job and focus on solo projects in the basement of his home.
As of press time, Martin has more than two years’ worth of projects lined up, many from other states. His marketing, he said, has been almost all word of mouth — even when he attends car shows, it’s mostly just to reconnect with his clients, who have all become friends.
“These cars are all long term projects — they take about a year, and you get to know the owners,” he noted.
Want to reach Dave for a project? Email is best, at email@example.com