Prior to June of 1978 I primarily did mechanical work on most domestic cars, including quite a bit of specialty work on what is commonly referred to as good old Detroit muscle cars. It didnít matter which ones, Ford, GM, Chrysler, even Ramblers, and Jeeps. I was an assistant teacher for an auto shop at a local high school in 1973, and got a couple of years experience doing body and paint at a body shop, and also out of my own garage.
In February of 78 I went to work for Bel-Kirk Motors in Kirkland Washington in the Volvo department, and in June, I was transferred to the Datsun division of the same company. I seemed to fit in there like a favorite pair of sneakers, and it didnít take me long to realize that I had found a new home. It helped a lot having three mentors in the shop to guide me and teach me the ropes. George Calhoun (one of the first master technicians in the nation for Datsun), Don Benson (a retired hydroplane driver), and Larry Klintworth. All three had been working for Datsun anywhere from 10 to 18 years by the time that I started there. It didnít take very long for me to realize that the Z car was a very unique and quality orientated vehicle and I really started appreciating them. The boss/owner of Bel-Kirk Motors had a 1978 black pearl 280 Z as his demo and I quickly fell in love with it. He was kind enough to work out a deal with me to purchase the car but I had to wait until it had about 6,500 miles on it. At that time the car had about 4,000 miles on it, and it seemed like an eternity for the rest of the miles to be put on that black beauty. At about 5,200 the boss informed me that he decided to let me have the car a little early, and of course I was ecstatic! Having built and/or resurrected every car that Iíd ever owned at that time I though I was on top of the world with a brand new 280 Z. The 1978 black pearl 280 Z was the only year that a black first generation Z car was ever produced for the US. Nissan only allowed two of them per dealership. This particular one was given a wide silver stripe down the middle of the car by the body shop at Bel-Kirk Motors, which made it even more unique. At that time Bel-Kirk did an advertising campaign and had a poster put on the sides of quite a few Metro buses that went all over the greater Seattle area. On the poster was a picture of a 264 Volvo and my black Z car, with the earth between them. The caption said ďBel-Kirk MotorsĒ ďThe Best of Both WorldsĒ Imagine the feeling of pulling up alongside a big bus and seeing a picture of the new car you're driving on the side of it! Like Nissan's more modern day ads say, ďEnjoy the RideĒ.
My new Z was pretty cool but it had a multitude of running problems that numerous other Z cars were also experiencing and I knew that they were a better car than that and the problems had to be curable. My mentors couldnít come up with all of the answers, so when I went to the factory school on fuel injection I tried to learn as much as I possibly could. The teachers for Nissan didnít seem to have all the answers that I was hoping for either, and these guys were well versed, so I took it upon myself to try and solve some of these problems. Most of the solutions that Iíd been taught by these people were very good but there were a few things that were circumventing the problems instead of actually solving them. I literally attacked my own car on my own time and did a lot of trial and error, mostly error by trial. After about a year of trying different combinations and settings I had learned quite a bit, some of which were things that didnít pan out so I also learned what not to do. Eventually though I started coming up with good results for a lot of different scenarios that would play a big part in my future with Z cars. The regional office for Nissan started referring some mechanics to me for technical assistance with their derivability problems over the next few years, so even back then it wasnít uncommon for me to be talking on the phone with someone from another state helping walk them through certain diagnostic procedures. As time went on I was sent to numerous Nissan factory schools at the regional headquarters in the greater Portland, Oregon area. Without the obstacle of my own Zís running problems I wouldnít have had the challenge of solving the unknown and almost unobtainable task at hand, and I can honestly say I have found my true calling in life. In 1986 I partially dismantled my 78 black Z and started the task of making it into a show car with the help of a couple of employees. I entered it into itís first show in January of 89 and continued to put it in a couple of shows a year for the next few years. After over 10 years of buffing and polishing the 25 coats of black pearl metallic lacquer with gold dust embedded into the paint, it has finally worn out and itís time to be completely stripped down to metal again. Now all I need is a few thousand dollars and a few hundred man-hours or so of work to spare and itíll be even better than before.
Moving right along, I stayed at Bel-Kirk Motors until 84, bummed around for a few months, then went to work at another local dealership called Rood Nissan. After about 5 months of working there I got seriously fed up at my lack of recognition and lack of decent pay, and decided to quit and start my own shop. At that time I had a whole 2 customers and no money in the bank. Not a very promising start but I was determined. After two months I located a 2 car garage for rent in a residential area and proceeded to set up shop there. It was a very rocky start and I had a very serious cash flow problem but continued to stick with it. The majority of people that I knew said that I would ďNEVER MAKE ITĒ by working on just Z cars, Iíd have to work on other cars too. My reply to them was I HAD A DREAM! I also told them that if I couldnít make it by working strictly on Z cars and a few other Datsuns, then Iíd have to find another line of work to get into. I was fed up with the way that the automotive repair industry was headed. With the exception of Bel-Kirk Motors the majority of places that Iíd worked for in my career, had walked all over me in many ways, leaving a very bitter taste in my mouth.
Somehow I managed to squeak through the winter of 85/86 with just about two pennies to rub together when the telephone started ringing and work started coming in on a very regular basis. Having very few managerial skills to draw from, I made a lot of typical mistakes, but after a year and a half in the garage I was forced into moving my shop to a real commercial location and hiring a body man/painter to start the body shop out and a helper for myself. I also made one of the biggest mistakes of my life and took on a partner. After 8 months I changed the locks on the doors, and ended up buying back the half of the business that Iíd given him in the first place, and swore Iíd never take another partner on no matter what. It was a fairly expensive and tough lesson to learn but it could have been a lot worse. By this time many of my customers started calling me "Z-man", for obvious reasons. The tag caught on and stuck so I decided to adopt it officially and ended up putting it on my business cards.
Also, in January of 88 I Incorporated the business, which was another big step for such a small organization. We started doing semi-complete restorations along with mechanical repairs, and even started doing framework. By the time the recession hit in 1990, I had hired two mechanics, and another person in the body shop and had gotten rid of my helper. One of the mechanics happened to be one of my mentors Don Benson. Unfortunately the business did a nose dive just like everybody elseís and I had to get rid of everyone except one apprentice mechanic that Iíd just hired. I felt crushed having to let Don Benson go, he was a blessing in the shop, and his attitude and sense of humor helped make work seem like a walk in the park. Besides letting most of my crew go I also had to return a $40,000.00 frame machine back to the factory because I couldnít afford to make the payments anymore. Walking away from the equity that Iíd built up in that machine was very hard, but sometimes in business you have to throw out the anchor to save the ship. I obviously made it through the recession, but for one of those four years I had to run the whole shop almost entirely alone. It was a very lean time for the shop, but I wasnít one to be easily defeated. The Z cars seemed to come out of the woodwork for me to repair, as my reputation grew and grew.
By 1994 I was doing complete restorations, and had been selling parts over the counter more and more, both new and used. The business was doing much better, and I was continually adapting to the changes that would pop up concerning Z cars as they got older and older.
Each year we would resurrect more Z cars from the dead than we did the year before, and that trend still holds true to this day. Weíve resurrected cars that were dead for many months, many years, and even a couple of decades. Weíve rebuilt Zís that have gone through fires, floods, major collisions, abuse, neglect, wind storms, and a lot of stolen recoveries, through the 20+ years Iíve been in business. Weíve also stripped out many a wrecked and/or rotten one over the years too. I refer to them as organ donors. They must die so that other Zís may live. Over the past couple of years a new problem has been added to the list. More and more parts are going obsolete every year. We must continually learn to evolve with these cars as time passes. Weíve even branched out into the manufacturing end of things, in certain cases. My past experiences with Detroit muscle cars comes in handy when we do V-8 conversions, I do however wish that I would have been keeping track of all the Zís that Iíve played a part in resurrecting so I could keep a number on hand. About the closest that I can come is somewhere between a lot and a whole bunch, and thatís only an estimate.
Iíd never had any help to speak of in the office and Iíd needed it desperately years before. Sometimes itís a wonder that I ever accomplished anything at all. Then in December 97, my wife lost her job as an inventory clerk in a major pharmacy supply company. Beginning the second week of January 1998 she took over the office and the phones, the company had itís first CFO and a new head whip cracker. These were all things that the company and myself needed desperately. Within a couple of months we bought an almost new computer and started learning how to set up a company on computer. Itís a continual learning experience but weíve made major leaps and bounds thanks to one of our friends, who was our computer whiz, webmaster, and resident Mr. Science. Jim even designed and setup our very own web site, which has since been changed, but we havenít forgotten him. Many thanks Jim.
After 9-11 the business once again dropped off severely, and my wife had to get a job elsewhere because we werenít able to generate enough money to support both of us. Other than a couple of temporary employees that caused me more harm that good, and one that was good, but he joined a seminary to become a pastor, Iíve pretty much ran this place by myself for most of 2005. It is pretty much impossible to run a business that has grown to this size by myself. It takes at least 3 people to run this place effectively, and could actually use a couple of more.
Things have finally taken a turn for the better. I hired a married couple that is giving this place a much-needed shot in the arm. They have completely redesigned our web site, increased its size by about 100 percent, (and still growing), added a partial catalog to it, and created an online store. The web site and the business can finally prosper like it should. I finally have some good people working here that are total Z enthusiasts and have lots of integrity.
As of 2005, Iíve been working on cars for about 35 years, and 27 of those years itís been almost entirely z cars. Iíll continue to love these cars, and evolve with them as they change through time. We strive to have the highest quality control possible in our repairs, restorations, parts, and service as always.
When it comes down to it Iíve really got it made. Most people only dream about what I have, just like I did when I was younger. Donít take that the wrong way, what I mean is: Iíve taken my hobby and itís become my lifeís work, and has evolved into a successful business, and I love it. The Lord has come into my heart and into my life and made all of this possible. If only more people could find the happiness and fulfillment that I know, the world would be a much better place. Dreams really can come true.
I would like to wrap this up by thanking our lord and savior for all that he has done for me. Without his influence and love in my life I would just another lost soul. Also a special thanks to my mentors from Bel-Kirk Motors, Don, Larry, and George. They have no idea how much good that they did for me, and I shall always treasure what they taught me. Bill Petter of Bel-Kirk Motors for giving me the job in the first place. My older brother Howard for setting up my job interview at Bel-Kirk Motors, for being such a good role model to me throughout my life, and putting up with me in my younger years. Jim Marchisio for helping us with the computer and our original web site amongst many other things. My wife Pam for her continued love, support, understanding, and continued interest in the business and Z cars Yes, she too drives a z and loves them almost as much as I do. My parents for having me and raising me as best they could. Kevin and Karissa for all the hard work that they have put into the web site and into this place. They have given me a much-needed shot in the arm so to speak. My customers for trusting and believing in me all these years, and sending me referrals. Keep checking us out, and watch us grow. Weíre getting bigger and better every day.