A clinic on classics and restorations
Long Beach, Calif.—Southern California is Mecca for classics, customs, and hot rods — with more than 350 car shows and cruises a year for enthusiasts to display their rides. So, it stands to reason that the hot rod and restoration market is healthy, with many high-quality shops catering to the niche.
However, many of those aren’t truly “one-stop” shops, said Eric Torstensen, co-owner of The Clinic Auto Center, a complete custom and restoration shop that has also been a NAPA AutoCare Center since shortly after opening in 2013.
“Being a NAPA AutoCare Center has given us a lot of advantages including NAPA TRACS, which integrates the shop’s Mitchell ProDemand estimating software, a parts catalog, and shop management software,” he said. “It also allows us to offer great parts and a two-year/24,000-mile warranty on our work. And, customers can find us on the internet by looking up NAPA AutoCare Centers.”
Torstensen said another feature that NAPA TRACS provides, which saves him time, is the PROLink mobile app that wirelessly links to his computer.
“I just scan the VIN with my phone and the PROLink app sends all the vehicle information to our PROLink Desktop account for NAPA catalog searches and parts ordering,” he said. “There’s a NAPA Auto Parts store three blocks away with two great reps, Jesse Drake and John Stevens, who are both very knowledgeable and resourceful when it comes to customs or classics.”
The Clinic gets a lot of referrals from other shops, including paint and body shops, that want Torstensen to do the mechanical work because they are a NAPA AutoCare Center and has two ASE-certified technicians.
“In fact, we have three cars from other shops now. One we did the electrical work, one we installed a fuel injection system, and the third we actually assembled and fixed a cooling system problem.”
He said traditional repair shops that don’t specialize in classic work bring cars to his shop, not only for mechanical work but also for upholstery, paint, and other specialized services.
“Those are usually second cars that belong to a repair shop’s regular customers and they take it as far as they can then bring it to us for the rest.”
In addition to doing mechanical work, which Torstensen said is the shop’s “bread and butter,” accounting for about 40 percent of the shop’s work, The Clinic is a true one-stop custom shop.
“We do everything in-house, including frame-off restorations,” he said. “We have a custom-built paint booth and spray Valspar and House of Kolor paint, which we buy from Keystone. We also do brakes and rotors with a Pro Cut on-car resurfacing machine, alignment on a Snap-on alignment machine, tires and wheels, with Ranger equipment, and custom upholstery.”
Torstensen said he is seeing an even mix of muscle cars and 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s restorations, which vary in price depending on a number of factors.
On restorations where everything stays original, the cost can range from $20,000 to $30,000, depending on the condition of the body and parts, and if the customer wants to add a high-performance engine, transmission, air-bag suspension, or sound system.
“My manager/partner Oscar Padilla and I get together and figure the amount of hours a project may take and then calculate our shop rate,” he said. “Then, depending on the cost and how big a project it is, we break it down into two, three, or sometimes four payments; the first when we start, the second half way through, and the last when car is completed.”
If the vehicle is complete and just wants performance upgrades, such as fuel injection, exhaust, or suspension, the cost is figured using the shop’s software to establish prices.
“We are doing a lot of fuel injection systems that look like carburetors, including MSD, Edelbrock, Holley, and FiTech; Dynomax and Magnaflow exhaust; Monroe and KYB shocks; and AccuAir E-Level air ride suspensions,” he said. “I’m lowering a 1996 Lexus right now.”
Torstensen purchases power plants, parts, and accessories from NAPA, Team C Performance Center, Jegs, Original Parts Group, Rare Parts, Speedway Motors, Summit Racing, EPWI, The Truck Shop, and Trim Parts.
The shop uses BG products for all fluid exchange services, which he buys from Mark Mongelli at PetroSpecs.
“Mark is a terrific rep, the transmission and coolant fluid exchanges, as well as their fuel injection cleaning system, has proven to make a real difference,” he said. “They really stand behind their products and are available anytime we need help or training.”
Since opening the 18,000-square-foot shop, which was the original location of Boulevard Buick, built in the 1940s, business has grown 30 percent, which he attributes to putting out top-quality work and word-of-mouth referrals.
“Long Beach Boulevard is busy all the time and a commuter train runs down the middle of the street,” he said. “The entire front of our building is glass, so I put our assembly and final paint finishing departments up front so people going by daily can see us work, and it’s proven to be a good source of new customers.”
Torstensen is quick to point out that his wife, Laurie, and his sons, Leif, 17, and Everett, 16 are the main reason the business exists. “Without their support The Clinic would not be possible.”