Art's automotive celebrates 30 years in business
The 12- by 12-foot trophy room adjacent to the office at Art's Complete One Stop Automotive Service is filled with plaques and trophies covering every wall from floor to ceiling. The trophies and awards represent recognition for building the finest custom cars, motorcycles and trucks possible and entering them in the most prestigious car shows in the country. Art Washburn's name is on every one of them. Most are for first place in a variety of categories.
Art Washburn, Jr., together with Jan, his wife of nearly 46 years, has raised three children and operated one of the most successful independently-owned automotive repair and auto body shops in New England. This year they are celebrating their 30th anniversary in business at the same location - 34 Southwest Ave.
"We've done fairly well over the years," Washburn says reflectively. "But it wasn't easy. The road to modest success took years of working 12- to 16-hour days."
He thinks before speaking and smiles as he reminisces about more humble beginnings. Before he started the business in April of 1977, Washburn was working as a civilian mechanic at the Newport Navy Base, plus he moonlighted on the side.
He built half of the building he presently occupies and went to work there every night after working a full day at the Navy base. The work at his shop soon backed up to the point that he had to take the gamble and make it a full time Southwest Ave. business. He remembers that it was a major decision to go into his own business after quitting his job. He and Jan married in 1961 and they had three kids, so he could not afford to fail.
Failure has never been part of Washburn's vocabulary. He loves his work and he loves working hard, and together, those loves paid off. Now the business that started as a one-man body shop with occasional help offers complete one-stop service that includes mechanical repairs and bodywork on anything that can navigate the highways. His shop has expanded to 14 bays with three lifts and the personnel it takes to keep his many customers satisfied.
"When we opened in '77, we did strictly bodywork. Then in '79, we expanded the building and started doing mechanical repairs. Besides all the work, we still found time to build custom cars and restore some classics," Washburn said. "We've totally restored everything from Model A Fords to British-made Bentleys," he added. "And we've built and designed everything from custom hot rods to limos."
"Now I only restore vehicles if they interest me from a historic perspective," Washburn said. A classic '51 Ford Custom sits half completed at the front of the main bay. Beside it sits a 1939 Ford Woody. A walk through the shop reveals a few other vehicles that are the envy of every collector in the country. The inventory includes an award winning T-bucket, which is a highly customized 1927 Model T Ford hot rod complete with hand rolled and pleated upholstery. He also has a l989, limited edition, customized Trans Am, and a 1990 convertible Nissan truck that won the All Truck Nationals at Carlisle, Penn., the biggest custom car show in the country.
"That was significant," Washburn said. "We drove that truck 700 miles to get it to the show. It wasn't brought down on a trailer like most of the other entries - and it still won," he continued. The judge said the paint job was the best mural he had ever seen. "Although I don't have a favorite vehicle, that Nissan is one of my favorites because it started a trend in New England. When we started building convertible trucks, only a few had been seen on the West Coast," Washburn added. "Winning the big prize at Carlisle was a real accomplishment. We're very proud of that."
Washburn and his wife also host a significant car show of their own. For seven of the last eight years, they have staged the annual Jamestown Seaside Family Cruise, a classic custom auto show at Fort Getty. The only year the show was cancelled was in 2006 because of inclement weather. This year will be the eighth show, and the event will take place the Sunday before Labor Day on Sept. 2.
When asked how he got started learning the complexities of his trade, which includes everything from engine rebuilding to body design and painting, Washburn smiles. "When I was 11 years old, me and Pede Manchester had a '37 Ford that we took apart and reassembled. It never ran, but we learned how it worked," he said. When I was 17, I worked part time for Luke Hazzard at Sylvia's Garage. Luke taught me a lot. But that's how we learned in the old days. It's not like it is today. Cars didn't have computers. Now you can get a degree in auto mechanics. Back then you had to learn as best you could. I was fortunate to have learned things from some knowledgeable guys who were willing to teach me what they knew."
Washburn and his wife, Jan have two daughters, Cynthia and Natalie, and a son, Art, Jr. Between them, they have made Art and Jan grandparents six times and great-grandparents once. "And with all of these classic hot rods and toys for boys, can you believe that every one of my grandkids and even my greatgrandchild are girls? Not a boy in the bunch," Washburn says laughing. "So, I don't know what's going to happen with all these cars, trucks and motorcycles. That's the least of my worries," he says.