At 16, most of us were worried about getting our hands on a junker that would get us from home to school and back. If we were lucky, we might have had the gas to get over to a friend’s on Saturday.
Anthony Donno isn’t your average teenager. The Chandler, Arizona resident is making a splash in the automotive art field and has met with some big-name celebrities, including Jack Nicholson and Robert de Niro.
And he did it all before he turned 16. How? Donno builds benches from car parts as part of his business, ADD Designz.
The back of the each custom piece is typically made from an old tailgate, while the seat is wood. The legs use parts from a suspension system and every one comes with its own license plate.
“We like to have pinstripes (on the tailgates),” Donno, clad in all black except for a pair of maroon Vans, said while showing off one of his benches. “It gives it an artsy look.”
Donno grew up in automotive shops. His dad, Chris, founded Xtreme Auto Works, where he still works.
The younger Donno was inspired to weld while watching his dad. He was too young to repair late models or restore classics, so Donno was taught the basics and started turning pipe wrenches into his own creations.
That blossomed into a cross, small animals, lamps and, eventually, a massive Tyrannosaurus rex that sits in his dad’s front yard.
At one point, Donno decided to make a bench. He took it to a car show, where two women offered to buy it from him.
Unbeknownst to Donno, the women were hosting a large party that would be attended by some people who worked in the art world. A gallery owner spotted the bench, asked the women who made it and was put in touch with Donno.
A relatively short time later, Donno would be meeting Nicholson, de Niro and celebrity car buffs, including “American Restoration” host Rick Dale.
“It was surreal,” Donno said.
Chris Donno said he has been amazed by his son’s meteoric rise.
“I live vicariously through him,” he said. “He’s just blown me away by how far and fast he’s taken this.”
Donno, a humble person, said his father’s pride means a lot to him.
“I’m just want to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” he said, quietly.
The benches take between one and four weeks to build, depending on the order. The basic ones described above cost about $1,500, but more custom ones — with working headlights and a Bluetooth-ready stereo, for example — can run about four times that amount.
Donno plans to keep building the benches and hopes to open a shop of his own one day. Until then, he’ll continue to work on his dream truck at Xtreme.
He and his dad tracked down a 1968 Chevrolet C10 truck about three years ago. He knew he wanted it as soon as he saw it.
So far, he has about 1,000 hours into the build. He has rebuilt the frame and preserved the patina panels, including the “Surf ‘N’ Cycle” text scrawled on them. The truck was originally used by the likely now-defunct Florida company.
He estimated that it will be road ready sometime in 2020. When it’s all said and done, the 502cid big block with twin turbos will be putting out about 900 horsepower.
He plans to use it as a delivery truck so he can turn his attention to his dream car: A 1967 Chevrolet Nova.
Until then, the high school sophomore will keep building benches and working with his hands because it makes him happy.
“A lot of heart goes into these,” he said.