‘Shorty’s Dream Shop’ showcases Latino car culture through a Midlothian garage

Tucked away less than a half-mile off US Highway 67 in Midlothian sits a shop of dreams. Sights of Chevy Impalas and the bones of what was and will again become a Volkswagen Bus suggest you’ve arrived.

Inside Shorty’s Custom Paint, Javier “Shorty” Ponce houses his collection of past and future. A glistening sage-and-black lowrider he restored and customized himself is parked proudly in the middle of the garage below American and Mexican flags hanging from the banisters.

He points to the classic car as a prime example of his painting style: “Subtle, but it’s going to be catchy.”

That also describes Ponce, an unassuming soon-to-be reality TV star whose work speaks for him. When Shorty’s Dream Shop premieres Nov. 16 on MotorTrend TV, he’ll join the likes of Dallas’ Richard Rawlings and Austin’s Jesse James as gearheads who gained celebrity from their intricate work restoring and tricking out cars, trucks and motorcycles.

Shorty Ponce (left) starts a car that will be featured in the upcoming reality TV show “Shorty’s Dream Shop” while camera operator Ryan Fedor films him at Shorty’s Custom Paint in Midlothian. The show follows Ponce and his crew as they work on ground- up classic car restorations.(Liesbeth Powers / Staff Photographer)

On a recent afternoon, a TV crew was filming the remaining scenes of the 10-episode series. At a producer’s instructions, Ponce slid into the driver’s seat of a newly restored car, stepped on the brakes, turned on the lights, revved the engine . Then he repeated the sequence, as videographers crouched near the exhaust and beyond the garage doors.

Ponce isn’t a novice at reality TV. Shorty, a high school nickname in reference to his height, was a regular on Iron Resurrectionanother Texas-based MotorTrend show in its sixth season. That series follows a small crew who transform rusted-out motorcycles and cars before selling them to the highest bidders.

When Ponce left the show before its 2020 season debut, fans made YouTube videos theorizing and later explaining why Ponce was no longer a cast member. (He left to spend time with his granddaughter and attend to the work mounting at his own shop).

Shorty Ponce and his crew restore classic cars at his garage, Shorty's Custom Paint in...
Shorty Ponce and his crew restore classic cars at his garage, Shorty’s Custom Paint in Midlothian.(Liesbeth Powers / Staff Photographer)

The 58-year-old Oak Cliff native is known in the classic car restoration world as one of the best painters in the business.

More than 44,000 classic car aficionados follow Ponce on Facebook, where he invites fans to stop by car shows, snag his latest merchandise decorated with a Shorty cartoon or watch him work in his “kitchen,” the paint studio. The network series following him and his crew serves as a vehicle for him to do more of what he said he’s truly passionate about: “I prefer to just be working on cars.”

Customers bring cars to him in various stages of disrepair, so the cost of a makeover depends on the starting condition and the final goal. Since Ponce and his crew charge by the hour, the price could ring in from $30,000 to somewhere around $700,000.

His brother-in-law introduced him to car restoration from spending weekends at junk yards, picking up potential parts. “Even at 10 years old, I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” Ponce said. “I just knew that I wanted to work on cars.”

After owning and operating a collision repair shop in Oak Cliff for 20 years and working at a local dealership for 20 years before that, Ponce wanted to focus on the corner of car culture that has long intrigued him — restoring the classics.

So 10 years ago, Ponce opened Shorty’s Custom Paint. In that time, he said he’s transformed at least a couple of hundred cars. He and his crew fix cars “Texas-style.” While there’s no strict definition, it’s what feels right to the crew, with each restoration seen as artwork.

Jerry Mata Sr. of Wylie watched Ponce on Iron Resurrection and was enamored with his work.

“He’s a total professional,” Mata, 75, said of Ponce. “He’s a perfectionist. He wants everything done right.”

For decades, Mata, a Vietnam veteran who is visually impaired, restored classic cars with his sons. Mata told his youngest son they should see whether Ponce would paint the latest car they had been working on. After Mata’s son emailed Ponce, he heard back within minutes. Then the two worked to surprise Mata with a transformed 1969 Chevy C-10 truck painted and customized by Ponce and his crew.

The son gave Ponce free reign on the color choice for the truck, a privilege Ponce knows he’s earned only by years of hard work. He opted for a two-tone white and blue design with leather interiors.

“The shine on it is like a mirror,” Mata said. “You can stand four or five feet away from the door or the bed and you can actually see yourself. … It’s absolutely beautiful.”

Jerry Mata Sr. of Wylie (in white shirt and blue ball cap) was featured on MotorTrend's new...
Jerry Mata Sr. of Wylie (in white shirt and blue ball cap) was featured on MotorTrend’s new series, “Shorty’s Dream Shop,” as his 1969 Chevy C-10 Truck was painted by Shorty Ponce.(MotorTrend TV)

The truck is now Mata’s prized possession. The other day he pulled the Chevy out from the garage and went inside the house. When it suddenly started raining, he ran as fast as he could toward the truck to return it to the safety of the garage , “like a little boy or something,” Mata joked.

“When I pulled it into the garage I thought, ‘My goodness, this really means a lot to me,’ ” Mata said. “I’m very appreciative of Shorty making my dreams come true.”

Throughout the series, Ponce works on more than a dozen different cars. He speaks of each one like a child because that’s how he views them. He’s bringing in new life to a family, so he’s meticulous and careful. The building process can serve as a way to memorialize a loved one and grow closer to one another.

“It’s much more than a father-and-son experience,” Mata said. “This brought us to a father, son, best friend experience. The feeling is completely out of this world.”

Andrew Ebel, chief operating officer of The GoodGuys Rod & Custom Association, a classic car show now based at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, said the association’s events see generations of car enthusiasts, especially with Latinos who involve their inner circle throughout the restoration process .

“One the neatest things about the Latino car culture is the fact of how family-oriented it really is,” Ebel said.

Latinos have long contributed to and led car customization culture in the US With roots dating back to the 1940s in Los Angeles, Latinos have restored and customized classic cars with candy colors and bounce. The restored cars were initially seen as a way of resisting an American society that often suppressed the creativity and pride of its minorities, wrote Mexico City-based writer Nili Blanck in Smithsonian Magazine.

“Our culture is beautiful,” Ponce said. “If we decide to express it by driving a lowrider, with hydraulics, to me, that’s art.”

Mechanic Joél Balboa (left) works on the engine of a 1967 Chevy II Nova.
Mechanic Joél Balboa (left) works on the engine of a 1967 Chevy II Nova.(Liesbeth Powers / Staff Photographer)

The Latino community’s commitment to maintaining the legacy of car builders before them is evident in the intricate paintwork and the attention to detail in the chrome work and the interior, Ebel said. But as the automotive scene evolves and changes, Latinos also drive the industry forward with profound early adoption of new styles.

“They’re helping set the trends for the future of what this car culture is all about,” Ebel said.

Ponce describes taking a drive in one of his six classic cars as an expression of his accomplishments. Given the time and investment required to restore and customize a classic car, the vehicle becomes a signal of the driver’s prosperity.

He’ll play classic rock or ranchero music, like that of Mexican singer-songwriter Vicente Fernández.

“If I could put some ‘Chente on, and I’m cruising, aw man, there’s no feeling like it,” he said, putting one arm out as if grabbing a steering wheel. “You’re proud of what you did, because I did it.”

Ponce hopes he can be a role model to others like him who find themselves fascinated by the classic vehicles.

“It’s one of my duties, to show that no matter what, you can make it and be someone,” he said. “It’s important for me, for the Latino kids to see that someone who had a passion for restoring classic cars could get somewhere.”

Body and fabrication specialist Charlie Chaffin tapes the edges of an exterior piece of a...
Body and fabrication specialist Charlie Chaffin tapes the edges of an exterior piece of a 1967 Chevy II Nova that will be featured in an upcoming episode of “Shorty’s Dream Shop.” (Liesbeth Powers / Staff Photographer)

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