Sometimes, the most interesting businesses reside behind the most uninteresting doors. There’s something oddly romantic about going to an industrial area or back alley where there’s very little activity, opening a featureless door, and discovering something incredibly cool going on behind. The plainness of the surroundings adds to the mystique of the work being done inside.
That partially explains the experience Saroyan Humphrey had when he ventured to the East Bay to meet a family that’s been making custom sports cars for years. The company has been around far longer than that and started as a horse-and-buggy outfit but primarily focuses on customs these days. The client, Hagerty Insurance Agency, specializes in offering coverage for people who own souped-up antique cars.
This was a story on the Moals, who run a multi-generational family business in Oakland. They run a custom auto shop but started by building carriages for horses. Now, they build completely custom, one-of-a-kind hot rods and sports cars for six figures.
It was shot for Hagerty Insurance, which specializes in insuring antique and custom autos. This was a feature in their respected magazine that is delivered to policy holders all over the U.S.
Saroyan gets work with Hagerty whenever they find a story around San Francisco. He’s also worked plenty of shoots for car magazines, so he’s racked up a substantial amount of experience with this type of assignment. Still, even he didn’t quite know what to make of this place until he actually went inside. Once he did, however, he witnessed an incredibly detailed and advanced operation.
The shop is located in a nondescript building in Oakland. No signage, just an address number. It’s next to other industrial and commercial-type buildings. You wouldn’t have any idea that six-figure cars were being made inside.
I’m interested in cars and auto racing and have followed and covered it for many years. It was definitely cool to see such a large-scale custom shop, where they create one-of-a-kind cars from sketch/design all the way to a finished machine.
The freelancer did well to get inside quickly, with inclement weather forcing the entirety of the shoot to be confined to the shop. After getting a tour alongside the piece’s writer, Brandon Gillogly, Saroyan went off and did his own thing.
Hagerty needed overall and detail shots of the working process at Moal. It was a low-key shoot, documenting whatever was going on that day at the shop. It was pouring rain on the day, so we couldn’t take any cars outside and were limited by the coverage of the shop’s roof.
There was a writer working with me that day, and one of the brothers was giving us a tour. So, it was a bit cumbersome to shoot at first, but I was able to walk around by myself to shoot after I gained their trust.
Moal Coachbuilders, as it was formally known, has been around since the early 1900s. As the century progressed, the company went from making and fitting parts of cars to repairing and constructing the whole thing. Four generations of Moals have evolved one of the coolest businesses out there, the kind of work that even people who aren’t interested in cars can appreciate. And they’re still going strong.
The sons’ great grandfather started the biz. Two generations work the shop now, a father and his sons. The dad still works at the shop regularly.
See more of Saroyan’s work at saroyanphotography.com.
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