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Bellwood’s ‘grille guy’ earns national recognition

Baker, Alumicraft Street Rod Grilles continue to shine

Dan Baker works on a grille for a 1936 Ford at Alumicraft Street Rod Grilles in Bellwood. Mirror photo by Walt Frank

BELLWOOD — Dan Baker says he is known as the grille guy.

“When I walk around the car shows, people say, ‘There goes the grille guy,'” said Baker, 55, owner of Alumicraft Street Rod Grilles at 550 N. Fifth St.

In 2020, Baker’s business was named National Street Rod Association’s Manufacturer of the Year.

Baker admits he was surprised by the recognition. He said there are only a few companies in the United States that manufacture hot rod grilles and grille inserts, and the other companies are much larger.

“It was an honor to be selected as manufacturer of the year, to be in the same league as the larger businesses,” Baker said. “I was surprised and honored to be noticed by my peers for what we have been doing for 32 years. That kind of recognition is monumental.”

Baker

NSRA spokesman Jim Rowlett said Baker and Alumicraft were worthy of the award.

“The winner has to be someone who makes a significant contribution to the sport; he has done that through his grilles. There have been some pretty big names in the industry who have won this award,” Rowlett said. “There are very few across the country who do what he does and he is the only one who does it the way he does with his personal touch on every grille he makes. People from across the country send him grilles to duplicate. You can recognize one of his grilles when you see it.”

Baker’s father, Delmar, 81, started the business in 1988 after his 1933 Ford Victoria hit a speed bump and shattered the injected molded plastic grille. He ran it as an evening business for 10 years while working full time at Butterick in Altoona.

Delmar, who continues to help his son with the business, is also thrilled about the national recognition for the business he founded.

“It is quite a thrill to be named as manufacturer of the year,” he said. “I never thought or dreamed about getting the award.”

Delmar said that when he started the business, he built grilles for a little extra money. When he retired, his son approached him and wanted to know if he wanted to sell him the business.

“I never expected the business to expand as much as it has,” Delmar said. “It has expanded because of his knowledge, aptitude and work ethic.”

Dan graduated from Bellwood-Antis High School in 1983 and took over his dad’s appliance repair service until that business closed in 2000. He had started bending grille bars and welding grille inserts for him shortly after the grille business opened.

Dan took over the business when his dad retired from Butterick in January 1998, and started building grilles full time in March 2000.

“The business was growing by leaps and bounds,” Dan said.

In the beginning, Alumicraft specialized in grille inserts for Dodges and Plymouths. The business expanded into Fords in the mid-1990s.

Business didn’t always go smoothly. In 2002, someone set fire to Dan’s house garage, burning it to the ground and causing an estimated loss of $40,000 to $50,000. The garage was rebuilt and Dan purchased the current location from Blair Sign Co. in 2005.

After the move into the new building, more commercial grade polishing equipment and a milling machine were added because of the increased need for faster machining with a better finish appearance.

Prior to 2015, the business concentrated on grilles for pre-1941 cars.

“We needed to change because of a change in the demographics of the car industry,” Dan Baker said. “With people building muscle cars, to stay relevant, we started making grilles for muscle cars and classic pickup trucks. We still built grilles for hot rods but changed our focus. I could see the growth potential.”

When the business started, Alumicraft turned out about 30 grilles a year. Today, about 250 are made per year with the typical cost ranging from $800 to $1,000. The products are shipped worldwide, Dan said.

His grilles and inserts are often sold to dealers such as Street Rod Parts and Memorabilia in Wilmington, Ohio, and BeBops Glassworks of Athens, Tenn.

“Dan and I met at the Street Rod Nationals around 2000 in Columbus,” Street Rod Parts owner Jim Burger said. “We buy grille inserts from him. Dan takes his time. When he gets it done, it is really nice quality. I never have had a problem that it doesn’t fit when he makes it.”

BeBops co-owner Teresa Witt said, “I buy 1933 and 1934 grilles from him. His products are excellent. He is the only one I buy from.”

Witt said Dan Baker “is a great guy to work with. He makes the best grilles out there. He will work with you to build what you need.”

The COVID-19 pandemic may have helped business.

“With guys staying home, they had more time to work on their cars,” Dan said. “For guys with hot rods, this is their play money. They have discretionary money to do this.”

Baker said that for his customers, usually if they have one car, they have multiples.

“My customers are guys in their 60s and 70s that are reliving the glory days. When they were in high school, they wanted a hot rod but they couldn’t afford one or their parents wouldn’t let them,” he said. “They have discretionary income and are having fun.”

For the future, Alumicraft Street Rod Grilles has started to build more muscle car grilles, including Tri-Five Chevys, First Gen Camaros, Corvettes, First Gen Chevy II/Novas and Mustangs among others, while still adding to the street rod line up.

The Baker file

Name: Dan Baker

Age: 55

Position: Owner of Alumicraft Street Rod Grilles

Education: 1983 graduate of Bellwood-Antis High School

Family: Wife, Ginger; children Elizabeth and Ethan; parents Delmar and Carol Baker; and brothers, Ray and Tom Baker.

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