The need for exploring off-road is a notion that we feel we can find across the entire United States. That’s the drive behind our new column, Stateside Shop Tour. Come with us as we tour the nation looking at shops that build capable off-road machines of all shapes and sizes, as well as the parts that support them.
Our previous stop brought us to the southern reaches of a far northern state as we checked out Iron Rock Off Road in Shakopee, Minnesota. Josh Ruppert gave us the lowdown on his business and its passionate beginnings. This week, we transition to the Badger State as we check in on Max-Bilt in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Speaking with owner and founder Phil Norvold, we got to better understand this establishment and its beginnings.
“I was going to a technical school for automotive repair,” said Norvold. “My dad asked me if I wanted to rebuild a 1985 CJ-7 for an assignment, and I said sure. I went at it and finished it, and it almost made me swear off wanting to get a Jeep, but I gave in and bought one. It was a 1982 CJ-7.”
Norvold switched gears and transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where he received a degree in Business Management. During this time, Norvold’s father was in need of a center console for his CJ-7, and so did Norvold, as it turned out. Thus began Max-Bilt, which opened its doors in 2010.
Since 2010, the business has gone from location to location before settling in Eau Claire, with a shop spanning 5,000 square feet and now staffed with six full-time and one part-time employees. The team is currently tinkering with Project Ruby Red, a 1983 CJ-7, which will go to Norvold’s singer-songwriter sister when all is said and done.
“We want to make this a nice, clean build,” explained Norvold. “It’ll have a fuel-injected 4.0-liter inline six like you’d expect. Then we’re going to update the suspension, putting YJ leafs springs in the rear and Crown springs in the front. We haven’t settled on shocks yet, but we’re leaning toward Bilstein 5100s because they don’t heat up too fast and have a nice ride quality. For tires, we’re going to go with 33-inch BF Goodrich KM2s.”
Far from being starved for work, the Max-Bilt team always has something cooking. “We do probably two rigs a year in a full frame-up restoration,” said Norvold. “We actually have the opportunity to do a SEMA build for 2016, and I’m really excited about it. I’m thinking of going with either an old Grand Wagoneer or a Willys Sedan Delivery panel wagon on a JK drivetrain.”
The ideas and motivation are strong with Max-Bilt, just one more awesome shop in this great country of ours. We can’t wait to see what Norvold and his team dream up for SEMA 2016. In the meantime, we wish them a happy New Year as we continue our journey around the USA. Next stop – Illinois.