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Old Mon, October 11th, 2021, 02:47 PM
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No Nod What happened to the Automotive Aftermarket?

I've been into automotive performance a long time, having started working on lawn mowers at the age of 12 and then working my way up through dirt bikes, 3 wheelers, and eventually cars and trucks.

Growing up in the '70s and 80's, American kids, teenagers, and adults all had a love affair with with cars, and especially modifying them. Yeah, I know this goes back to the '50s, but obviously I wasn't there.

Anyway, kids would spend hours at the sides of the fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and even the cool guy or gal in the neighborhood that enjoyed sharing their knowledge and passion for their vehicle. Kids would run around fetching tools, crawling under the car to grab a dropped tool, and get covered in oil just to be like their idols and feel like they were part of something cool. Me? Oh, yeah, I was definitely that kid!

Now when we weren't wrenching on a car, we were probably at the local auto parts store or speed shop, looking for the next, shiny item or go-fast part to purchase. Names like Edelbrock, Weiand, Offenhauser, Holley, Crane, Crower, Isky, Hooker, Heddman, Moroso, Heads by Rick, Accel, Mallory, MSD, Manley, TRW, SpeedPro, Sealed Power, SCAT, Cragar, Centerline, Flow Master, Thrush, Cherry Bomb, and hundreds of others were common knowledge to vendors and customers alike. You could find these names at places like Super Shops, Jegs, Rose Auto, Advanced Auto, Murray's Auto, or any other local Speed Shop which just about every town had at least one of.

Now at these temples of performance and chrome, the people working behind the counters new these parts inside and out. The knew what combinations made good power, know which headers would install without having to remove the steering column, which intakes would fit under a stock hood with a 750 Holley bolted on, which cams would give you that bad-ass lope at idle, and what gears would get you down the quarter mile the fastest with your particular setup. The people that ran these places were something just barely short of gods, and we all looked up to them. In fact, it wouldn't be uncommon to run into these people hanging out a friend's house (or maybe even your house) helping to wrench on a vehicle in their off time.

Moving along to the manufacturers, these were companies that built their reputations on making products that were of the highest quality. If a new company came along that built crap, in about 10 minutes everyone would know about and they'd be gone in a month. Only the best would endure for decades, continuing to build upon their time tested and race proven reputations. It was a great era in automotive performance. Maybe even the greatest!

And then you get to the skilled tradesmen. The body guys that could make a 30 year old rust bucket look like it just rolled off the showroom floor, or give you a candy color paint job that looked like it was 3 inches deep. The machinists that could polish a crank to a mirror finish, or could port a set of heads that would help pick up an extra 30 or 40 HP. The engine builder that knew every trick in the book, like how to reroute the oil galleries to help prevent main bearing starvation, or which forged crankshafts had a reputation for surviving 8000 RPM. These guys spend decades developing their profession that was just as much art as it was skill, and these guys were well know in their communities. Not just in their local communities, but in the performance and racing communities as well.

As I move on, I am regularly reminded by people who know me how exceptionally nostalgic a person I am... A point which I simply cannot argue. They're absolutely right. However, I'm not ignorant to the fact that things change and that we are often forced to accept the fact despite how much resistance we may put up against it. In my 20s, I was heartbroken when one of my favorite speed shops closed down. It really did seem to signify that the market was changing, and local places were starting to have difficulty competing with mail-order companies like Jegs and Summit. Now as I am getting older, I'm seeing many of the venues I experienced and often participated at as a young man being closed down. The latest victims to "progress" are Atlanta Motor Speedway in Commerce, GA and Moroso Motorsports Park in West Palm Beach, FL. Of course, we lost Hollywood Dragway so many decades ago dues to complaints of noise from people who bought houses KNOWING there was a drag strip up the street, despite the fact that the drag strip was built in 1966 and was miles away from the nearest home for nearly 20 years. The same fate befell the popular Hollywood Sportatorium as well, which was basically right next door.

Well, here we are in the new Millennium. Everything is now mail-order and ordered online. The obvious drawback to competing with mail-order and online companies was that customers lost the ability to walk into a store, chose an item, look at it, hold it, get a feel for it, and even get some degree of excitement before being able to purchase it TODAY, take it home, and install it. Buying locally, you could also inspect a part for any obvious flaws, damage, or even identify a fitment issue before you purchased your desired item. And since the parts guys were pretty knowledgeable, they could help you along as well. Amazon and eBay have replaced the local speed shops. There are now brands and companies that nobody has ever heard of making products and parts online that now all seem to come from China. The quality of just about everything has gone to crap, and the sad part is that if you get something that doesn't fit, doesn't work, or is just plain broken, you send it back and they just send you another piece of garbage. In fact, I've even received USED items that someone else has already sent back. There is basically zero quality control at this point.

I'm not trying to make this a political statement, but this where this really ended up.

When American companies made American parts sold through American channels and local shops, the quality just seemed to be so much better. Companies put their reputations on the line with every part they made, and then made sure that it was the best possible quality... at least for the technology that was available at the time. As I said earlier, companies that made crap products didn't last very long, and companies that didn't know their products well didn't last very long either.

Nowadays, it seems that just about every American company is making their products in China, and unfortunately the quality is mostly garbage. And to make matters worse, you have to wait several days or even weeks just to get the item in your hands to find out it's garbage. So you send it back, maybe try a similar item from another company, and maybe you get lucky or maybe you don't. It's all a crapshoot now. And that's not even getting into all the Chinese knock-offs which are even bigger garbage that the stuff distributed through American performance companies.

The whole performance industry, as I have experienced it over my lifetime, has pretty much gone to hell and it makes me sad. I'm sad for the loss of the local speed shops and the ability to pick up a distributor or camshaft kit on a Saturday and have my project running Sunday. I'm sad over the loss of quality components that are available. I'm tired of getting stuff in the mail just to find out it's either broken or garbage quality and then have to send it back and find something else.

Most of all, though, I'm sad that as Americans we seem to have become professional consumers. Nobody seems to want to build things, instead just buying everything online. The term "Built not Bought" has now become a badge of honor, because it's so rare. We've gotten away from being skilled craftsmen. Try finding a good machine shop, body shop, or engine builder in your area. It's tough if not downright impossible. The only really good guys that seem to be left in these industries are in their 50s, 60s, or even 70s, and when they die off, their skill and knowledge will die with them. There's nobody to train because nobody is standing at their dad's side anymore, learning how to do these things and developing an appreciation for the satisfaction of a job well done. Kids are sitting behind computer screens and cell phones, and completely losing out on spending time with family and friends, or learning valuable skills that can never be replaced.

I hope that this world (or at least this country) can figure out how to get back to point in time where things like family and community become important again. Even just something as simple as a couple of guys standing around an open hood, sipping a couple beers, and talking about the new camshaft and headers someone just installed. Those types of bonding could really help bring people closer together again and maybe even resurrect an industry that has almost become non-existent.

One can only hope...
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Old Mon, October 11th, 2021, 03:53 PM
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Nicely stated, Bill. I grew up taking things apart and putting them back together again, sometimes, with changes that I knew would improve the design, and sometimes with changes that were total mistakes. I learned how things worked that way.

Maintaining and improving my vehicles has always been a way to make the vehicle "mine", not just something that I was going to discard in the next month.

Like you, I despair in the way we have outsourced everything to other countries. We still hold an edge in "design", but I fear that will soon be lost too.

At 80 years of age, I won't be around too much longer to see the fall, if it comes. I hope, for the Country, that some of our bright young citizens can turn this around!

- Jack
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Old Mon, October 11th, 2021, 05:12 PM
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I remember taking bikes apart when I was a kid... Over and over again I would take them apart to the point I could not get them back together.

Finally my dad stopped helping me and I had to figure it out for myself...

So thats how it went for me.

Then cars, then trucks...
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