For some, it’s a hobby. For others, it’s a passion. For others, it’s a job.
For Hamilton resident Kevin Burke, owner of Kisthardt’s Custom Auto Upholstery, restoring hot rods is both a passion and a job, one he’s been doing since he was a teenager.
At Kisthardt’s, located on 4th Street in Ewing, Burke and his crew repair upholstery in cars, boats and airplanes. They build boat covers, repair windshields, make and repair convertible tops, make custom awnings for businesses and special covers for medical equipment. And they restore hot rods and vintage cars, going back to a 1918 Hupmobile.
Kisthardt’s was founded in 1928 by Jack Kisthardt, and stayed in the family until Burke, an employee, bought it 10 years ago. Burke moved the business from its former Brunswick Circle location three years ago.
Kisthardt’s works on a lot of muscle cars from the 1970s, including a ‘70 Cuda and a ‘74 El Dorado. Last year he helped restore a ‘67 Chevelle that belonged to the parents of a Trenton Police evidence technician, which the technician had tracked down to Oregon.
Burke said he grew up in Edison and got a job at an auto upholstery shop down the street before he was even old enough to get his driver license. He’s been working the trade ever since, developing a keen eye for detail along the way. Though the shop has five employees, Burke looks at everything before it goes out the door.
“I feel that we’re just really observant on detail,” he said. “People will look at different examples of the same thing, and one just looks better than the other and most people couldn’t tell you why. But all my guys can.”
Burke has worked on some glamorous restorations, like a 1955 Jaguar and interesting ones like an old fire truck that’s now on display at the firefighter’s museum in Trenton. He’s also done more mundane jobs, like re-upholstering cars because of cigarette burns or plastic drooping down from car roofs because the foam is disintegrating, a familiar sight to drivers of old cars.
He also does a lot of custom work like trampolines and large umbrellas for day care centers that are required to provide a certain amount of shade on their property.
Customers come from as far away as upstate New York to have Burke work on their cars. The popularity of convertibles is keeping Kisthardt busy, since most convertible tops will only last 10 years or so before needing to be replaced. (Burke knows this better than anyone, since he drives a ‘73 Mustang convertible.)
When it comes to restorations, Kisthardt’s does it all, including making wooden frames for antiques like the popular 1933 Chevy.
Also common are cracked windshields and side windows smashed out by thieves.
“I love cars and I always like seeing people’s stuff,” Burke said.
Kisthardt’s Custom Auto Upholstery is located at 354 4th St. in Ewing. For more information, call (609) 434-0700 or go online to kisthardts.com.