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Economy forces changes at iconic car builder Posies

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Ken Fenical, owner of Posies Rods and Customs in Hummelstown, is best known for statement creations like this 1935 Aeroliner Sport, but the economy has pushed his business in a different direction recently. Photo/Submitted
Ken Fenical, owner of Posies Rods and Customs in Hummelstown, is best known for statement creations like this 1935 Aeroliner Sport, but the economy has pushed his business in a different direction recently. Photo/Submitted

Cars are putty in Ken Fenical's hands.

"I changed the wheel base, moved the wheel base back, took 9 inches off the bottom of the car, moved the front suspension out," Fenical said of one of his creations. Of another, "The only things I didn't make on this car were the tires, engine, transmission, light bulbs, bearings and rear axle."

Fenical's automotive reimaginings have earned him and his Hummelstown-based business, Posies Rods and Customs, a reputation. The cars — to use Posies' tagline — blend new-edge styling with Old World craftsmanship, and they're highly noticeable.

The business dates to 1964, and through the decades Fenical has accumulated an oversize notebook's worth of magazine covers featuring his statement cars.

"This guy's my hero," said Paul Rees, a native of South Wales who was in the U.S. on vacation recently and dropped by the shop to see Fenical. He has been following Fenical's work for decades, he said, and even appropriated some ideas in his own car-building. "There were things that this guy did that I don't think everyone got."

"I had to plan the trip around this," Jen Rees said as her husband took a picture with Fenical.

In addition to his fan base, Fenical also has a stock of stories about powerful people who have bought his cars. One, he said, sold a business for a half-billion dollars. Another was an attorney known for winning massive personal-injury settlements. Several boasted collections of more than a hundred cars.

But these days, Fenical is on indefinite hiatus from the distinctive spec projects he's known for.

"This is kind of the past of the business," Fenical said of the project postcards that display his best-known creations. In the past four years or so, the business has been feeling the effects of the economy, he said, and the number of employees is down to about seven from a high of 15.

Fenical is still in possession of at least one more Posies statement car than he said he should have by rights, and until it sells or he's convinced that business is really picking up, he's holding off on building more cars.

"Everybody's an entrepreneur," Fenical said, "but to be an entrepreneur in this day and age, they're really being gamblers also."

So for now, Posies is doing jobs on a time-and-material basis, emphasizing the smaller tweaks that can customize street machines while still leaving their original designs evident. Those go more slowly, Fenical said, as the owners often have a set budget per month for long-term projects and sometimes ask Posies to hold off on the work until their own businesses recover from a setback.

The team is also focusing on selling the signature Super Slide Springs it developed, but even that is changing. Todd Fenton, who works in that area of the business, said many of the spring sales used to happen at events, which meant a lot of traveling.

Now, Fenton said, people are doing more parts shopping online, and consequently Posies is cutting back on its road schedule. However, the bulk of sales still happen by phone, as purchasers often need to draw on the Posies team's expertise to find the best fit for their projects.

"We're stabbing at the future," Fenical said of the evolving business model.

Heather Stauffer

Heather Stauffer

Heather Stauffer covers Lancaster County, nonprofits, education and health care. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at heathers@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @StaufferCPBJ.

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