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Friday, 21 August 2015 22:40

Longtime Sacramento Auto Shop Operator Rolls Into Second Retirement

Eighty-five-year-old Ed Quint is ready to retire … again. He says he really means it this time.

The longtime owner-operator of the Porter-Sprague Inc. auto shop at 722 12th St., in Sacramento sold the downtown business in 1996, the end of a 32-year stretch of tuneups, body repairs, engine fixes, restorations and much more at the site.

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Ed Quint works on a 1948 Chrysler New Yorker Highlander at Porter-Sprague Inc., a Sacramento-based auto shop that started business in 1917.

A short retirement stretch of do-at-home chores, leisurely rounds of golf and traveling the West in his motor home ended in February 1999, when Quint came back to take over the faltering businesses and revive it.

Quint felt an obligation to the site. After all, it was one of Sacramento’s longest-running businesses, started in 1917. And Quint had been turning wrenches since graduating from Grant High School just after World War II.

“We came back and put a sign out telling everyone that the old gang was back, and we kind of went from there,” Quint said.

Now, Quint says, it’s time to move on. He closed the doors for good in mid-July, auctioned off much of the remaining repair/body shop equipment last week and must be out by the end of this month, clearing the way for

Sacramento auto dealership Mel Rapton Honda to open a downtown service center.

His clients included generations of city officials, state lawmakers, serious car collectors and the occasional superstar singer-songwriter. At its peak, Quint said Porter-Sprague had 22 employees and annual revenue of more than $1 million.

Now, maybe Quint can adjust his body clock: “I’ve been getting up at 4 forever. Maybe I can sleep in until 7 now. I tried it the other day and still woke up at 3:45.”

Quint says he’s walking away with decades worth of fond memories. He’s worked on everything from Ford Model T’s to modern, computer-chip-laden luxury cars. Arguably, over eight decades, he’s put his hands on more motor vehicles than any other living human being in the region.

The shop’s reputation for knowing the inner workings of decades-old cars was respected by generations of Sacramento-area auto enthusiasts.

“They were one of the places in town where people with old cars could take them with confidence. A lot of the old-car community in town used them,” said David Felderstein, a 30-year customer and longtime auto restorer who sits on the California Automobile Museum’s board of directors. “They were honest with you up front. They’d say we can fix this or we can’t.”

Quint, with a wiry frame, a mechanic’s viselike handshake and sporting a bumper crop of mostly dark hair, could easily pass for 65. Asked about myriad changes in his work world over eight decades, he takes a puff on his ever-present pipe and says: “It’s really been something.”

Time was, you could pop the hood on a car and look down into the guts of an engine. Now, Quint notes, “it all covered up. You have to work to get in there.”

Asked what vehicles presented the most difficulties for him in more recent times, Quint said recent-vintage Mercedes-Benz and BMW models proved challenging. Both European automakers went all-in on eye-popping electronic gadgetry over a generation. Quint wasn’t stubborn about finding a solution if he couldn’t work things out himself.

“If I couldn’t do it, I made sure I found somebody who could. That always worked for us. Finding the right people for the job,” he said.

Quint recalls that it was about 45 years ago when he was opening the shop for the day and spotted a shirtless, shoeless young man whom he engaged in conversation. The young man asked Quint if he could recommend a nearby place to eat. Quint obliged, adding that his new acquaintance might want to put on a shirt and a pair of shoes.

A little while later, the young man came back and asked Quint if he knew where he could find a nearby record store. Quint obliged once again, and a short time later, the young man came back and handed over “a new record he’d just recorded.” And that was how Quint obtained his copy of James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” album, the 1970 classic that crossed rock, folk and country charts and cracked No. 3 on Billboard’s album chart that year.

Quint’s business also provided memories for everyday Sacramentans. Daisy Smith-Brown remembers her grandfather bringing her to the shop back in the 1960s.

“It looked like an old-school auto shop back then, and I liked that. It had character,” Smith-Brown recalled. “My grandpa loved his old cars, and he always said he wanted his cars worked on by real car people … people who loved those cars as much as he did. It’s kind of sad to see it all closed up. It really was something unique from times gone by.”

Quint’s journey to his second retirement covers a wide road map. He acquired his early welding/mechanic education at Grant High School, taking a break to work during World War II and then graduating in 1948.

As a youngster, he raced motorcycles and worked at a string of Sacramento automotive enterprises before finally landing at what was then Porter-Sprague Co., dating back to 1917 when founders Widley Porter and Eddie

Sprague were selling radiators at the site. The shop also did sheet metal work and installed auto panels and running boards.

Quint and partner Harold Hoff were doing their own thing when the opportunity to buy Porter-Sprague fell into their laps. They purchased the company for $5,000 in June 1964. Quint bought out his partner in 1986. Then came that first “retirement” in November 1996, when Quint sold the business. The operation went under two years later, and Quint jumped back into the game. The shop was actually shuttered from mid-December 1998 until Quint reopened it in February 1999.

For his second stretch at the shop, Quint made his longtime friend, Jim Havey, the company president and his daughter, Adrienne Oehler, the secretary-treasurer. They rehired seven of their former workers and personally called old customers to let them know that the “old” Porter-Sprague operation was back.

It was Oehler’s suggestion to put out a simple sandwich-board sign at the shop site. It read: “Ed, Jim and the old gang are back!!”

“Well, it worked, and we were back in business just like that,” Quint said.

Havey is still around and helping Quint close down the shop. That included preparations for last week’s online auction of shop equipment and helping Quint with the occasional chore, like reinstalling a fuel tank on a 1948 Chrysler New Yorker Highlander.

Quint said the closing of Porter-Sprague not only represents the end of a longtime enterprise but the passing of a way that auto shops used to do business, doing everything from body work to brakes to glass work to tuneups to paint jobs.

“We did it all. That’s just the way it was. You don’t see that much anymore,” he said.

We would like to thank The Sacramento Bee for reprint permission.

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