“I don’t like keeping things stock.”
Lee Keiper is a Northern Californian who is wholly consumed by the drive to shape every aspect of his life with his own two hands. It’s a drive that started under the hood of a ‘57 oval window bug before he was legally allowed to sit behind the wheel.
At that point, already wise beyond his years, Lee read an old manual cover to cover on how to rebuild that old hunk of metal. With the help of his neighbor, tinkering with valves and learning through trial and error, he was hooked. A vehicologist was born.
The passion for machinery extended beyond just an old bug. Lee bounced around, becoming a shop assistant, worked in a refinery, schooled at the Academy of Art, been a mechanic’s assistant, and even a boat mechanic. He amassed a resume that would rival Mike Rowe’s.
His odyssey into the automotive world really took off when he bought a 66 GTO. He refurbished the body, replaced the transmission and completely rebuilt the engine.
“It was flawless. I raced my former boss at the boat yard. Took it to Barona Speedway a couple of times and he had a 66 Fairlane that was just insane. He was an older gentleman and used to tease me a bit saying ‘What happened back there? I was waiting for you at the finish line.’”
Regardless of the race results, the old goat was his first love. And like many first loves, it ended in heartbreak. Lee sold the vehicle years later because he didn’t have anywhere to store it. It was the first vehicle he fully built. It wouldn’t be the last.
Now, Lee owns multiple vehicles: A heavily modified Subaru 08 STI, a Back to the Future Toyota 4×4, a fully-rebuilt BMW motorcycle, and the latest project: A basket case 65 BSA Lightning.
In all of his builds, he considers himself an engineer, with an eye for beautiful design.
“The engineering comes first and foremost, it has to be mechanically sound before anything else, but I also like to make things look good. You can have a nice car, but if it doesn’t run it doesn’t mean anything. I try to put good aesthetics behind all of my reasoning and fabrication”.
Lee is savvy at wrapping vehicles for high-end restorations, even applying his eye to his own collection. His pearl white Subaru was wrapped by him.
Not content to stop at just the vehicle itself, you can find Lee behind the lens when he isn’t behind the wheel. In fact, most of the photos on Le Pit Club are his work. Like his mechanical and design skills, Lee is self-taught.
In any pursuit, whether he’s wielding a wrench or a camera, creating is his goal. And inevitably, inspiration is the result.
“It’s a commonality in all of these things. You’re handed a tangled mess, and you tease it all apart. Then you put it all in a form that works well, and then it functions well. And then you add the form’s artistic layer. It’s not stock. It’s got your personality woven in it.”
So, if you find yourself roaming the streets of Northern California, keep an eye out. You might get overtaken by a piece of performance art that’s 1 of 1 in the world. It’s the rare time you’ll be happy to let a vehicle pass. So drink it in, because chances are you won’t see anything like it again.
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