Grille master: Bellwood native to appear on Spike television program

BELLWOOD – Bellwood business owner Dan Baker is only one of a few people in the United States, and possibly the world, who manufactures street rod grilles, and now, those skills have helped land him on television.

Baker, 47, who owns the grille insert supplier Alumicraft, 550 N. Fifth St., Bellwood, will appear on the Spike TV show “Search & Restore” on Saturday and Sunday.

“Search & Restore” host Tim Strange has been a friend for years, as they saw each other at car shows, Baker said.

“It was just fun to be a part of,” he said of the show. “Hot rod enthusiasts are unique. They will go out of their way to help each other. Guys will donate thousands of dollars worth of parts, just give it to a guy to help him out.”

In the episode with Baker, a firefighter named Ty Cardona of St. Louis, Mo., gets his 1974 Dodge Challenger restored.

According to the television show’s website, Cardona sold his Barracuda 26 years ago when he was a teen and was starting his family.

Today, the Search & Restore team wanted to help Cardona, who spends time helping others.

During the first show of this season, “Search & Restore” restored a 1955 Chevy station wagon belonging to a BMX racer who became paralyzed after a wreck, Baker said.

More than 250,000 people have applied to get their vehicle restored on the show, Baker said. In the two years since the show started, they have restored eight vehicles.

Each project is broken down into four weeks, Baker said. During the first week, deconstruction and body work is done; week two, fabrication work and body repair; week three, body work and paint. In week four, it’s time for reassembly.

For Cardona’s vehicle, Baker built the grille insert and custom emblems and helped reassemble it.

The show is done with volunteers, and the parts are donated, Baker said.

Delmar Baker, 73, of Bellwood, Dan’s father, started what was then a part-time business for money to restore his antique automobiles in 1988. Six months in, Dan began building grilles, and in 1998, he bought the business off his dad. He bought the current building that houses the grille business in 2005.

Alumicraft grilles start at $595, and top-end regular production work grilles can go as high as $2,300, he said. Custom jobs can go even higher. Baker gets calls from all over, including Brazil, Puerto Rico and New Zealand.

“The hot rod business has been good to me,” Baker said.

Baker has worked in the grille manufacturing business full-time for 13 years. He said the business really took off between 2000 and 2001 after he had decided to concentrate on making grilles and stopped repairing appliances, another business he took over from his dad.

Business didn’t always go smoothly. In 2002, someone set fire to his house garage, burning it to the ground and causing an estimated loss of between $40,000 to $50,000.

Delmar Baker considers his son the best hot rod grille maker in the United States, and he is proud of him.

Four of his son’s grilles were on vehicles picked as Great Eight Ridler award finalists in the last two years, he said. The Ridler Award is given out at the Detroit Autorama and emphasizes creativity, engineering and workmanship, according to the Autorama website.

The vehicles are heavily scrutinized during the competition, Delmar Baker said.

Dan Baker and his wife, Ginger, have two children, Elizabeth, 17, and Ethan, 15.

His involvement in the show is “phenomenal” and “commendable,” his wife said.

“I’m very, very proud of him,” she said. “He’s taken the business he’s in and gone leaps and bounds in it.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.