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Wrenching Credentials

Sorry, folks, this page is still "being written", not just because we're still learning, but because Dave hasn't gotten his material together, while Richard wrote a short novel. Hmmm.. . . .

David

...Well ... David has formal education in bodyworking, painting and restoration, but he hasn't written it up for us yet. We'll add it when he gets it done.

 

Richard

The following is a first-person short story outlining the key people and the circumstances in which Richard studied under them as an apprentice, and a few things he learned from them.

 

While passion and getting things right are primary motivating forces, I have always felt that one of the hardest things to do when chasing your dreams, yet most valuable, is to learn from the mistakes of others. Thus, I have placed a heavy emphasis upon learning from those masters who've gone before me. I've not followed them to follow; I have my own path, led by passion, taking me to where I want to go - which is often in a different direction from others. I'm interested in learning what I need to know, or do, to further my goals, and look to those who've been there before to gain their insights, to hear of their mistakes, and successes. One may well learn more through failure than success, but I'd rather not fail, so by working through challenges with suitable mentors, one can have the benefits of knowledge and experience others bring while building one's own experience along the way.

From my earliest days, I've been interested in how things work as the mechanical world is all around us to play with and learn from. I became interested in flight and at the age of five visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, alone, during its renovation in 1969. I was a bit naughty and, realizing I was unnoticed, I went behind the large curtains and ambled among the wonderful aircraft they were preparing for display - careful to do no harm. I immediately became a student pilot, following my father's experience as a pilot - refreshing his interest - and logged a good handful of hours before I was 7. I began building and designing model airplanes until, at the age of 11, using my inheritance, I bought my own 1947 Cessna 140, 2996N though I was still only a student and I needed my father's support.

Unfortunately, my father, going for his single-engine-land certification, ground-looped her a few months later, necessitating a rebuild of substantial portions of the craft. Thankfully, he selected Farley Vincent, owner of the Covington-Vincent Airport in Covington, Louisiana, as the Airframe and Powerplant mechanic, and, as fate would have it, I was to go to school in Covington and help Farley rebuild my 140. Thus, Farley became my first true master/mentor.

Farley was a wonderful old coot - I could write volumes about him. We made new airframe parts from sheets of aluminum, and did all manner of other wonderful activities until one day 96-November was ready to reassemble. Unfortunately, it was at this point that Farley died - without having signed any paperwork - and no other Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic would even look at our work! Damn.

Frustrated, I brought the airplane to my garage on Holiday Drive in New Orleans and continued on myself for a while, doing unnecessary, but desirable longevity-oriented activities on my 140, such as painting the firewall with zinc chromate, and so forth. By now it was the late 1970s and I was a struggling college student and had chosen a double-major of Computer Science and Aerospace Engineering. I was attending Tulane University (which didn't have an official AE program) and could barely afford a car, much less an airplane, so I transferred much of my mechanical enthusiasm to my newly acquired Invader GT 5.

The Invader GT was a Volkswagen Beetle based "kit car," and it needed everything redone. "My mechanic," a black woman named Mary, worked for Tim Gilthorpe of Tim's Quality Foreign Auto Repair and I spent as much time with her/them as I could and Tim actually had me do a project of computerizing his business. I really care for Mary and Tim and their gang but it wasn't an apprentice situation - just a young pestering customer learning a few things. For example, I'd had trouble with the front engine mount coming loose, and Mary smartly swapped out the M10 nut that had a standard 17mm ATF for one that had 15 ATF, and she gave me a 15mm swivel socket (which I still have in my toolbox) with which to torque it, and this solved the problem because I'd been having trouble getting a wrench on the 17mm version of the socket. Lesson about fastener sizes, tools, and access learned! I drove the Invader while I restored it through the end of the 1970s and into the early '80s, when it was stolen from my back yard on Adams Street in Uptown New Orleans. There were a few months of overlap, though, with my newly acquired 1971 Karmann Ghia Cabriolet, which had only 36,667 miles on the odometer from new - the year was 1983.

Before I knew what had happened, I'd moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, worked for Digital Equipment Corp. in Santa Clara, and somehow managed to start a collection of Karmann Ghias. I met a lot of interesting people in the VW scene but a few short years later I moved to Colorado Springs where I was to meet the next two significant mentors in my life. One was Lynn Lyons, owner of Hare Repair on N. Union. He was owner of the only VW-only independent in town and a really great guy. Lynn taught me what serious, professional wrenching was all about. Oh, sure, I knew lots of mechanics before, but because he was also a Cajun, from southern Louisiana (like myself), we bonded in a great way. I was down at his shop on every chance I got, watching his other mechanics work, learning from all of them, working on my own projects, and often helping with theirs. The only thing Lynn didn't do with VWs was bodywork.

Meanwhile, my collection was growing and I met Bob C. Sturm, who sold me my first Porsche - a 1963 built SC coupe'. Bob taught me about many wonderful Porsche things and was very important to my understanding of the Porsche world.

As I was entering the Porsche world, I joined PCA and somehow or other met my other significant automotive-related mentor in Colorado Springs. David Brown, the manager and chief mechanic at Weissach Engineering, a Porsche repair facility, was also a bad-ass engine builder, with numerous wins to his credit. I don't recall the driver's name, but I do recall that he was the engine builder for the guy who won the 1986 Porsche Cup - quite a prestigious title. (I do recall that one of his clients was Douglas Corley III) It was Dave who taught me the serious details of engine building and it was he who first proposed I make my own parts when I couldn't find the vintage Okrasa things I wanted. I also learned machine work from him and his close friends, taking a trip to TRW's missile building facility in town to have my Okrasa cylinder heads reworked! It was very exciting.

As the 1980s drew to a close, I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area and joined the various Porsche and VW related activities. Very quickly I met someone who put me in touch with another very important mentor, Richard (Richie) V. Lukes, of Lukes & Shorman fame. (Lukes & Shorman was extremely famous in the Porsche world.) Richie was a third-generation machinist and before WW2 had raced motorcycles. During the war, he solved many important problems the Navy was having. For example, he developed the procedure for boring the holes for periscopes in submarines, which was previously problematic. After the war, Richie had gone racing with these air-cooled Porsches and quickly became the local area tuner of choice. Richie continued to invent many special things for Porsches, including the "windage tubes" that Porsche itself later admitted they stole - and made a production item - from Richie. Anyway, Richie was long-since retired from L&S and had lots of time to take me in as an apprentice. I think I was at his place more than anyone during the last five years of his life - except for Wanda, of course, his lady-friend. ...It was Richie who helped me tie in all my other knowledge with vintage Porsches.

Richie Lukes, two of his Porsches

'58 356 coupe (left) and '50 coupe (right).

Another vital mentor I met at about the same time - 1989 or so - was "Red" McClintock, who ran a business called simply, Porsche Services. Red wasn't well liked by other Porsche mechanics in the community but was both well respected and a fantastic mechanic. I rented space from him in the back of his shop on Blake Street in Berkeley (not all that far from Richie's place in El Cerito). I was often found after normal work hours and on weekends in Red's workshop working on my own machines. I tried hard not to bother Red, but he was always involved in what I was doing anyway - he seemed quite curious at my perspectives and direction, and guided me gently along the way. At one point I pointed that he was watching over my shoulder and thanked him for it and expressed a little surprise and his response was, "Well, Richard, you're different; you listen. And you already have enough skill I don't have to coach you much, and I get the feeling I'm not wasting my time helping you."

Red was a master tuner also and taught me lots of little tricks to save time. Most of his work seemed to be 911s but he had some four 4-cam Carerra engines and I begged him to let me work on them, and he reluctantly spared some of his time to get me familiar with them and pointed out some little-known but vital tricks for getting the cam timing correct. We had two fact-finding projects together - or fact-proving projects might be a better description. The first, and the one we completed, was that we took my rather huge crankshaft collection including not less than 14 different Porsche, Okrasa, EMPI, and air-cooled VW cranks, and we used a selection of the then-available gland-nuts (it was 1991, I think), and did a series of mounting them in a fixture he'd made to torque them to various torques and measure the relative change of the diameter of the journal of bearing 1. In short, we proved that there was a lot of pure BS out there about the subject. (One of these days I'll dig out our work and publish it on this site!)

A third mentor I met at just the same time - I think it was June, 1989, was Harry Pellow, who, like Red, wasn't well liked by a lot of the mechanics in the Porsche world but also was well respected. I already knew about Harry because Bob Sturm had introduced me to his work with a copy of "Secrets of the Inner Circle" - and copies of "The Registry" - magazine of the Porsche 356 Club in 1986. When I moved to the Bay Area, I was looking for Mahle cylinders - or pistons and cylinders - for a 1500cc Okrasa engine (same ones used in early 356) and Harry had a set. But he wanted $3000 for them! Ouch!

As he did for others, Harry was very helpful to me, but there was something more. He was a bit pompous and arrogant, and sometimes we clashed because of it, but in fact we'd become fast friends. Harry told me on a good handful of occasions that one of the reasons he pushed me so hard, in particular, was because he saw a lot of himself in me - he thought of me like a younger version of himself, almost like a son. (I never really appreciated all that until after he'd died.) Anyway, Harry gave me a lot more of his time than he did with most others, though he was generous with his time to most everyone. Once he told me why, and it sounded rather like Red's remarks; he said that I was more worthy than most to receive his knowledge because, he said, I was able to learn from the mistakes of others, I was appreciative of the knowledge, was actively applying it, and always challenged new things when they didn't fit into what I thought I had known previously. These words I took to heart and appreciate deeply.

Richie Lukes introduced me to Dimitri (Dema) Elgin in the early 1990s, who is a present mentor, mostly on things related to camshafts. And Harry Pellow introduced me to Jay Robison, another current mentor, and I've learned a lot from Jay on a great many topics. In addition, along the way I met Jerry Young, co-founder (along with Richard Davis) of Buggy House Motor Sports in Hayward. Jerry is another current mentor and is especially helpful when it comes to performance issues and he's a great sounding-board for solutions to odd problems. I am grateful to have these people in my life and am pretty sure they'll give me good marks should you contact any of them and ask about me.

During these many years, I've pursued many projects, and until the creation of this business they were almost exclusively my own. My motive has been long-term enjoyment of my machines and helping others do the same. "This business" came about gradually, starting in about 1986 when I was in Colorado Springs, and by 1990, I was building "high dollar" specialty engines for others, but it was still only an aside from my earth science work. Some skills I've readily absorbed and desired from the start, like engine building, while others have come more slowly, more grudgingly, such as bodywork - frankly, I hate the dust. However, I've strived to do everything possible that I can do myself, from upholstery to transaxle building, from designing and fabricating reproduction parts, to hunting down the most difficult to find original pieces.

I intend to put here some photos and information on things I've done, but there's a lot of work in putting together a web site and I'll have to come back to this later... However, I've built all the engines you find on this site and here's one link to a 1958 Karmann Ghia that I restored - there are a great many more, I just need to come here and document them for you!


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