Ray Hilton was very lucky to have grown up during the height of the Hot Rod and Muscle car era. At a very early age he became fascinated with Muscle cars and developed a talent for art and music. So, it was only natural that he began drawing pictures of cool hot rods as a child. As he grew older this passion lead to building and customizing model cars and trucks. Creating custom paint jobs, elaborately detailed power plants and suspensions. His wild, gull winged, mid engine ‘56 ford F100 won a top 10 prize and was editors choice in a international model car competition sponsored by Hot Rod magazine.
Around the age of 13 Ray scrimped and saved and bought his first mini bike. It was kind of a dull orange so of course it needed a little more pizazz. Ray painted it a wild metal flake purple. Not content with the rough riding solid rear axle, he designed a swing arm style rear suspension, complete with shocks. His experience and resources were limited so It was a bit crude and didn’t function quite the way he had hoped but the seed was planted and his fascination for taking things apart to see what made them work, building mechanical things and fabrication really started to take off.
That mini bike led to other projects as his passion for hot rods continued to grow. At the age of 16 when his grades were slipping in high school his parents made him a proposition. Study hard and improve your GPA and Dad’s 1967 Mustang GT would be his! Well, that’s all the incentive Ray needed.
Ray was asked by the school administration to teach freshman auto mechanics his senior year of high school. He was given the ‘67 Mustang a year before graduation, so it became a project car for him and his students in his auto mechanics class.
He wasn’t content to leave the stock 390 in the Mustang. He found a 427 side oiler for sale and bought it on the “lay away” plan. He did odd jobs, delivered baked goods for the school bakery and even cleaned out horse stalls on the weekends for one of the local farmers to come up with the cash to buy and rebuild the 427.
“That was my first hot rod. I learned a lot building her.” Ray sold the ‘67 Mustang shortly after high school as it wasn’t very practical trying to drive it to and from college at Ferris State University where he earned a degree in Graphic Design. But, before he let her go, he removed the shift knob on the 4 speed top loader trans. It now resides on a clone he built of that exact car which remains in his stable today. In 1975 he got his first job as an Graphic artist/illustrator at a local department store which led to other opportunities that ultimately culminated in a 42 year career as a graphic artist.
All the while though, after his 9 to 5 day job, he would pursue his passion and love for building hot rods. His first full restoration/resto-mod was a 1970 Ram air III, 4 speed Trans Am. He began the restoration out of a small one car garage. With his career on track he was able to build his own small heated shop and as funds permitted he finished the Trans Am.
With the experience and knowledge gained from that project, over the years, he completed several others. A few stand outs were a 1967 Shelby GT 350 pro street car with a tube chassis, full cage and a 514 cu. in stroker motor, a 1989 Mustang road racer and a 1965 Shelby Cobra replica featuring a period correct ‘65 427 side oiler with dual quads. These can be seen in the featured builds section.
In 2003 he invented and copyrighted a product called the Hilton Boost Overlay. By placing a special overlay on top of the boost gauge face and recalibrating with the supplied instructions, It allows the the measuring of higher than stock boost in the ‘03-‘04 Supercharged Mustang Cobra Terminators. The product has been on the market since 2003 and was featured in Hot Rod, 5.0 and Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords magazines. He is an authorized vendor on the SVT Performance site and is a supplier to Lethal Performance and Late Model restoration supplies. To date nearly half the ‘03 and ‘04 Mustang Cobra owners have purchased the Hilton Boost Overlay.
When he retired from his job as a graphic designer he decided to pursue and share his life long passion for building hot rods. He started “Rides by Ray” Custom Built Hot Rods in July of 2017 and immediately was approached by customers wanting custom made hot rods. (These are featured in the “projects” section). His creations continue to take over the streets. What is your dream car?