OCEANSIDE — It’s like taking a drive back to the 1950s. A bright orange Charger greets customers at Smitty’s Surfside Garage. In the waiting room, Route 66 posters and vintage license plates hang on the walls. Step onto the wooden porch adjacent to the shop floor, and owner Joseph Smith will give you good old-fashioned service with a smile.
It’s Route 66 that brought shop owner Smith from his hometown of Chicago, Ill., 20 years ago with a California dream. In those 20 years, Smith worked at a variety of jobs, until he landed the job of accountant for a Fortune 500 company, which he recently retired from, and then opened Smitty’s Surfside Garage.
At 45 years old, Smith was retired for eight months before he opened the garage. The catalyst for coming out of retirement was when he took his own classic car in to be repaired. “It took nine weeks,” Smith said. “I missed a car show. I was livid.”
The next time Smith ran into the shop owner, he had news for him. “I told him, your service was so bad I opened a shop,” Smith said.
“I want to treat people as they should be treated,” Smith said. That philosophy seems to be paying off. Business is generated by word-of-mouth, without any advertising. “I want customers to say, ‘It’s a great place to go.’ Period,” Smith said.
“So many shops are in it for P and L (profit and loss),” Smith said. “I don’t do any superfluous work on people’s cars.”
The shop is extremely clean. Smith himself checks each car that comes in and goes out, and he is usually the one who talks to customers. Smith strives to give his business a personal scale, modeling his garage after those in the Midwest, more of a place to gather and shoot the breeze, than a business.
While classic car restoration is his specialty, Smitty’s Surfside Garage does everything from oil changes to transmission work. “I came in with the idea of restoration of classic cars, but old customers come in with Buicks, Nissans, Fords,” Smith said. Smith works on all cars with the same care.
Smith has been working on cars, and hanging around people who work on them, since he was 14. He went to auto mechanic school and has worked on cars for friends, neighbors and himself for 20 years.
Smith owns 11 cars that range from a 1969 Porsche, to a muscle car and a Ford pickup truck. “Every car has a purpose,” Smith said. He added he might drive his Lincoln Navigator to a Hollywood wedding, or his new Porsche if he’s going out to dinner. “My favorite car to drive is the Hummer H2,” Smith said. “The best car in the universe is the 1969 DeVille.”
Whether he is behind the wheel or under the hood, Smith at last, is living his California dream. “I’m doing exactly what I want to do, and what needs to be done in the automotive industry,” Smith said.