What ever happened to the local speed shop?

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Mar 24, 2024 | Columns | Posted in Columns | From the June 2016 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

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There’s been a lot of talk in our world lately about the death of the speed shop. Even Leno has discussed it. The speed shops of yore, places where you could pick up a good ¾ race cam, a Sun tach and some of those yellow Lakewood traction bars, have more or less disappeared from the American landscape.

I actually spent two years working in such a place, Automod Atlanta. I’ll let you guess where it was located. (Hint: Atlanta.) I got the job by placing an ad in our regional SCCA newsletter: “I’m about to graduate from college and am seeking a job in the automotive world.”

Brian Hernan, the owner of the shop, saw the ad, called me up, and invited me in for an interview. I started work the Monday after graduation–first in the warehouse, but eventually graduating to a desk on the sales floor.

This was pre-internet. Our retail beat centered on the local SCCA scene, but our wholesale accounts stretched far.

Here’s the really cool thing: We catered to the sports car world. If it improved an MGB, 240Z or VW Rabbit, then we sold it. And in many cases, we actually stocked the part right there in our warehouse-rows of pallet racks containing all of the day’s top performance brands, like Hella, Cibié, Weber, Momo, Nardi, Kamei, Zender, Koni, Ansa, Amco and K&N.

You wanted a roll bar for your MGB? We had one in stock.

Needed a front spoiler for your 240Z? Should I pull a urethane, fiberglass or ABS plastic one? Fiberglass hood for a 5.0 Mustang? We stocked ones made to our own design.

Weber tuning questions? Let me get Brian and he’ll help. We stocked jets, parts and pieces for both down-and side-draft models. Plus we had the Pat Braden and John Passini Weber tuning books right on the shelf.

I left there 22 years ago to join the GRM family. Automod never made the jump to the internet, and I’m pretty sure they’re gone now.

I want to slightly change gears, but don’t worry. This will all tie together shortly.

Whenever I’m on the road, I try to visit some local guitar shops. In reality, any piece of guitar hardware, either new or used, it just a few keystrokes away. But there’s something magical about hunting for it in person, and I have been lucky to visit killer guitar shops all across the country: Nashville to Austin, New York to St. Louis, and Las Vegas to San Jose.

During a recent trip to New York-my annual winter pilgrimage to see family and grab a nosh while taking advantage of the seasonally low hotel rates–I hopped a train to Brooklyn. My destination was a place called Main Drag Music. I found them on the Googles, and it was one of the half-dozen shops I visited during those few days in my urban paradise.

Going to these different places also forces me to see different parts of a city. You never know what you’ll come across, right? Anyway, while in Brooklyn I found a pretty big independent music store, especially by New York City standards.

The dude who worked there saw me eyeing a bass. “Try it,” he insisted. So I did.

No pressure. No hard sale.

Then he saw me looking at the effects pedals, those magical little stomp boxes that can make you sound like Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan–okay, not exactly, but you know what I mean.

Looking for something in particular?” he asked.

Sabbath.”

Here, you want this one,” he replied without hesitation, handing me a silver metal box from a small Finnish company called Darkglass Electronics. “I have it on my pedal board.”

Then he ushered me to a soundproof practice room and brought me a ’78 Fender Precision Bass.

Half an hour later, I put down the guitar. Closing time was approaching, and I figured it was best to not get locked inside the store. While such a situation could lead to the ultimate jam session, as best I could tell the store did not contain a Chinese restaurant.

How’d you like the pedal?” was all he asked.

The price was close to $250. I figured that I could probably find it online for less. In my book, that’s a lot of money for an effects pedal–like, a lot.

But, at least in my mind, I did the right thing: I handed him my credit card.

He gave me info, and the store invested in the inventory–never mind the rent and other brick-and-mortar expenses. He let me try it out to my heart’s content. He made the sale.

Fast-forward to today, and I’m still in love with that piece of equipment. It would have taken me several other purchases, I figure, to find this tone. In the end, his advice and knowledge saved me time and money.

We’re all looking to save a buck, and I fully realize that ordering things online is easier. You can summon nearly anything to your door in a day or so, from a new bicycle to a 48-roll pack of toilet paper, by barely moving a muscle.

But when someone makes an investment in our scene, I give them the nod. If we don’t return the favor, then I’m going to run out of places to stop while visiting Brooklyn.

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Comments
Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
7/28/16 2:30 p.m.

There is something intrinsic about picking up a part and touching it. It's something electrons on a screen will never do.

Hasbro
Hasbro SuperDork
7/28/16 2:31 p.m.

I'm sure I met you at Automod. Little did I know that I was in the presence of future GRM greatness. Great little candy store.

06HHR
06HHR HalfDork
7/28/16 2:36 p.m.

Automotive Machine Shops are dying out too, down to exactly none in my town from 4.

oldeskewltoy
oldeskewltoy UltraDork
7/28/16 2:53 p.m.

having someone guide you regardless of the sale.......

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/28/16 3:00 p.m.
Hasbro wrote: I'm sure I met you at Automod. Little did I know that I was in the presence of future GRM greatness. Great little candy store.

That place was awesome. I was there 1992-'94.

SilverFleet
SilverFleet UberDork
7/28/16 4:23 p.m.

I miss being able to go to the local speed shop and have the guy behind the counter delve into a tome to pick out the perfect stuff for your build. And often, the markup wasn't too terrible, especially if you got the "jobber" price. I think there's only one or two speed shops left around here, and they have a web presence and tuning facilities.

captdownshift
captdownshift GRM+ Memberand UberDork
7/28/16 4:30 p.m.

I blame it on guys who work in speedshops but only utilize them to fill 2 big bottles of nitrous and opt to overnight everything else from Japan.

And Motovicity.

Hasbro
Hasbro SuperDork
7/28/16 5:12 p.m.
David S. Wallens wrote:
Hasbro wrote: I'm sure I met you at Automod. Little did I know that I was in the presence of future GRM greatness. Great little candy store.
That place was awesome. I was there 1992-'94.

Sometimes I'd just swing by to see what was parked out front - always something good. Do you remember any of these:

-Metalflaked cherry red slopenosed Karmin Ghia - fast drag motor, loud

-74 yellow europa

-80 silver Accord hatch. 1600 lbs., low diameter tires sticking out of the fenders, old school autoxer. Spent a bunch there on this one.

Very good times, man.

D2W
D2W Reader
7/28/16 5:17 p.m.

I think captdownshift nailed it. In my business I buy hundreds of thousand of dollars in parts a year. Even the very large distribution houses are getting to the point that they do not stock a lot of parts. Unless its something you use several times a year, and specifically ask them to stock it, with the agreement you will buy it if you don't use it in six months. Seems harsh right. That is the way our economy is going. I do a lot of custom one off machines, so I don't use the same parts all the time. Even though they are not special I'm still stuck with them going to the factory to get the parts which a lot of the time takes 8 weeks. Now scale that from a 20 million a year house to a local supply house that has to deal with internet sales.

On a side note, I am lucky enough to have a 4 wheel parts distribution house right in my back yard. so I get internet pricing and a storefront to buy at. Best of both worlds, but of course very rare.

ebonyandivory
ebonyandivory UltraDork
7/28/16 5:57 p.m.

I remember how excited we were to go pick up a new set of Super Swampers at the speed shop an hour away.

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