11-Year-Old 'Automotive Prodigy' Can't Drive Yet, but Educates the Masses on All Things Cars
By Will Oliver, LehighValleyNews.com
Published Aug. 16, 2023
There's a theory that 10,000 hours of quality practice at something can make one a master at that task.
If that's the case, one Hellertown, PA, preteen is probably well on his way to meeting that threshold, as he's been consistently keeping at the art of cars and making it his lifestyle for most of his life.
Giuseppe Iatarola, 11, has made a name for himself with his social media channel and website "Giuseppe's Garage," offering information on car trouble, preventative maintenance and more to followers from near and far. If you want to learn from a young "old soul" about how to winterize your ride, pull a dent, put on a spare tire and more, he's your guy.
His family runs Lucky's Auto Body, a shop that's been open for 15 years at Polk Valley and Leithsville roads in Lower Saucon Township.
Giuseppe's parents said they remember him wanting to help with small tasks around the shop when he was between 2 and 3 years old.
Now at 11 going on 12 years old---donning a mechanic's shirt, pinkie ring and slicked-back hair---he's a recognized internet figure.
“I was going through YouTube, and there’s no videos of kids doing anything on cars,” Giuseppe explained. “So I’m like, ‘I wanna give it a shot.’”
The size of Giuseppe’s following on social media is nothing to sneeze at, including 116,000 followers on Facebook, 55,000 on Instagram, more than 7,000 on YouTube, and more than 11,000 on TikTok---all as of early August.
His father, Luciano "Lucky" Iatarola, said the family is sure to read each comment on every video and at least send back a “thumbs-up.”
State Sen. Lisa Boscola even sent an article clipping she read about Giuseppe along with a letter to the family.
“He’s not an influencer,” said his mother, Rachel Iatarola. “He’s an educator.”
Luciano said Giuseppe is free to come and go from the shop as he pleases, especially if he ever wanted to try a new hobby.
But what happens if there’s ever a day without the chance to work on cars?
“I don’t sleep at night,” Giuseppe said, laughing.
“That’s all he wants to do,” Luciano said. “He has a couple of video games; they’re all car-related.
“Anything he does is automotive---you know, cars, pickup trucks, all that kind of stuff. He learns because it’s fun for him.”
Rachel said her son is often referred by others as an “automotive prodigy,” as he can rework engines and so much more.
“Yes, he’s been taught,” Rachel said. “But he really understands it.”
“Some of the parts weigh more than he does; he needs a little help with that stuff,” Luciano said, chuckling. “But if you give him parts of a car, he’ll know exactly where they go, what they do, how they operate when it comes to the knowledge of the part.”
Giuseppe also said he enjoys putting together model cars, making note of his gold mid-’50s Thunderbird and candy apple red ’49 Mercury.
Luciano said the boy even likes to use automotive paint on his model cars, with those colors running about $90 a pint.
Giuseppe also has a collection of Matchbox cars probably numbering in the hundreds, his father said. As for the model cars like the Thunderbird and Mercury, he’s probably got around 50.
Making His Mark
ZF, a German supplier specializing in transmissions and more, sent a representative to the shop to talk gear ratios and more with Giuseppe.
From there, the company even shipped out a Hellcat eight-speed transmission and told Giuseppe to have fun and study it. Luciano said the boy eventually had it taken apart, looked over, reassembled and back in the crate to return.
Giuseppe said he’d enjoy moving into the engineering side of the automotive industry once he’s older, opening his own speed shop and specializing in hot rods, drag cars and more.
The couple said they're proud of their boy, who’s going into seventh grade and on the high honor roll with straight A’s.
Rachel added Giuseppe was taking part in eighth-grade math and other honors courses while in the sixth grade. Luciano said working on all the cars is probably helpful in those specific subjects.
“The deal always was if you do well in school, then you get extra shop time,” Rachel said. “And he’s surpassed extra shop time.”
What’s a normal summer day look like for Giuseppe and the gang?
Luciano said they’ll head into the shop, and he and Rachel will have cappuccinos while Giuseppe will usually have milk or an occasional coffee himself.
After some breakfast, they’re ready to tackle the day.
Luciano set up a hypothetical scenario for Giuseppe.
“Let’s say a wreck comes in, what happens?” he asked.
His son answered back like clockwork.
“Let’s say it’s in the front,” Giuseppe said. “We’ll start with the bumper cover, fender, stuff like that, whatever’s smashed.
“And then we’re gonna have a pile of the good condition pieces that came off, and then I write down all the broken pieces. I give [Mom] the little note and she orders the parts and deals with insurance.”
On the day of Giuseppe's interview with LehighValleyNews.com, his first job was fixing up the car of a deceased veteran, a no-charge project for the man’s wife.
Giuseppe started ticking off what had been done and what needed to be completed for the vehicle, including replacing the wheel hub and shutting off the ABS light, putting in a new battery and detailing the inside of the car.
He said he’d also be handling the brake cylinder for a ’67 Camaro, which was a tough part to find. Giuseppe had high regard for Dorman Products of Colmar, Montgomery County, which came to the rescue and brought the part to the shop the day before the interview.
He also planned that day to take point on priming a fender from a wreck. And he said they’d soon be handling a Subaru that had a tree fall on it. That would involve a number of tasks, including removing and replacing the trunk and headliner.
Giuseppe’s favorite part about automotive work? He said that would probably be the fabricating side of things.
“You start off stock, and then like a week later, you transform with different headlights, grill, tail lights,” he said.
An Industry Icon
In addition to features in local publications and news outlets, Giueseppe's been highlighted by Speed and Kulture Magazine, and will be featured in the September edition of the publication's new and upcoming quarterly book.
MotorWeek, a program touted as television’s longest-running automotive series, invited him last year to be part of a Season 42 guest segment. He’ll join again this year as a contracted segment host.
“As far as we’ve been told, he’s the only one that can go and do a segment without a teleprompter,” Rachel said. “So his knowledge is off the cuff.”
One of his previous segments included a welding how-to. The family said they were grateful for the patronage from Miller Welding and Linde Gas & Equipment, companies that sent out equipment for Giuseppe to use for the demonstration.
Luciano said Giuseppe also specializes in a specific lost art: filling dents with lead filler. Rachel said the practice is basically obsolete on modern cars.
“On old cars, the metal was thicker,” Giuseppe said. “It’s just a whole different ball game.”
Luciano said Giuseppe demonstrated fixing dents in a fender from a ’57 Lincoln about 12 different times at an event last July, drawing kids even older than him in for questions about the process.
For the Love of Family and Fans
Some fans even swing by the shop to meet and hang out with him and his parents.
Giuseppe noted a prized possession gifted from a local follower who visits weekly: an owner’s manual to a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing.”
That “sports car of the century” was only in series production from 1954-1957, and was the fastest production car of that time, according to the Mercedes-Benz website.
“His father had the car way back in the day, and that’s where the owner’s manual came from,” Giuseppe explained. “And it’s in pristine condition; it’s not even ripped.”
How many kids do you know who buy their first car with their own money and start tinkering with it years before they can legally drive it? That’d be Giuseppe.
He paid $500 for an old ’82 Volvo 244 Turbo, “got it running like a clock” and then had to fix a faulty fuel distributor. The car needs new tires and another Turbo, he said, but the seats are in good shape.
He added the car stuck out to him since it was one of the final years Volvo produced the vehicle using the continuous injection system over the incoming electronic fuel injection.
“Never will I ever forget that car,” he said.
What about when Giuseppe turns 16 and gets behind the wheel for good?
He’ll have the Volvo for everyday use, and also his dad’s old Volkswagen Beetle waiting for special occasions.
“I’ll definitely get a girlfriend in that car,” Giuseppe said, laughing.
Coffee trips with the parents aren’t complete without taking a ride in their Camaro, old Ford pickup truck or dune buggy.
“Or it’s no fun!” Giuseppe said.
As for his favorite cars, he said it changes by the day. But he eventually shared some notable top picks: ’70 Plymouth Cuda with the 426 Hemi, ’60 Pontiac Bonneville and ’55 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop.