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He has a ‘Need for Speed’

Nathan Hander owns Hander Built Auto in downtown Wells

By CJ Holl - Special to the Register | Apr 11, 2021

Nathan Hander stands next to a blue and white 1999 Trans Am he has turned into a high performance car. He started his business, Hander Built Auto, LLC, in Wells at his home and it is now located at 52 Second St. SE, a building in Wells which he purchased in 2019.

Nathan Hander wasn’t born with a wrench in his hand, but close to it. As owner of Hander Built Auto, LLC, in Wells, he grew up in auto care and has now made it into a career. He is mostly self-taught and has been working in the business for the past 15 years.

He spent eight years at Country Corner Service doing mechanical and diagnostic work, however the need for speed, and a chance opportunity, allowed him to open his own niche auto shop in Wells that primarily focuses in performance and custom work.

“I’ve always been into performance and custom,” says Hander, “I started getting side jobs at home.”

Home was not always Wells, as Hander grew up in St. James and graduated from St. James High School. He and his wife, Bethany, lived in Florida for a short time, but family drew them back to southern Minnesota.

The two-stall home business quickly outgrew the cramped quarters and a friend suggested looking into a shop for sale at 52 Second St. SE in downtown Wells. He bought it in November of 2019.

The building has a long history as an auto shop – it was a former Mobile gas station, auto body shop and many years ago, a Ford, AMC and Chrysler dealership. In fact, Hander found business cards from the 1940s inside the walls from when it was a Ford dealership.

Hander’s niche is performance “hop ups” to cars. He is clear that he wants cars that are drivable and fun.

“I don’t build show cars, I build performance cars,” Hander explains.

A couple recent projects were a 1997 BMW he upgraded to a Chevy LS motor and a 1979 Trans Am for a customer just starting to get into racing. He said for that project, he kept things simple so items could be easily changed at the track. And most importantly, the customer can pick it up and drive it home.

He also added a turbo system to a 1999 Firebird and took on another project that another shop had been working on for three years.

He completed the upgrades in four months. That project, a 1977 Mustang II, involved a bored and stroked 302-cubic inch engine, made into a 347 stroker motor and he also added a fuel injection system.

“I focus on keeping cars ‘streetable’ and I believe a car is meant to be driven. I do mostly mild, nothing wild, although I can do wild,” says a grinning Hander, leaning on his nine second quarter mile Trans Am. Clearly, that car is wild and screams speed even sitting still. As Hander’s personal car, he said it is the one that got him interested in performance building.

Beyond cars, Hander also tunes 2011 and newer Harley Davidson cycles. He said it is a change of pace from cars and enjoys it nearly as much as changing out an engine on a performance car.

Hander said business has been good and he has been growing organically by word of mouth and customer referrals. It has gone so well he has been considering adding another full-time mechanic. He would like to take on more general maintenance and add a dyno for performance testing.

In between service jobs, he is also renovating the facility. He would like to return it to what it looked like as a Ford dealership. He is adding flooring and taking down the wall coverings, exposing the original brick.

The love of cars, trucks, and bikes led Hander to start ‘Wells on Wheels.’ As Hander explains, it’s a low key, comfortable car show plus. No trophies and judging, just a casual get together. He said everyone is welcome and the next ‘Wells on Wheels’ will be Saturday, May 15 from 8 a.m. – noon outside his shop.

If drawing customers from Iowa, Brainerd, Wilmar, the Twin Cities and Mankato is any indication, Hander is off to a fast start with his business.