Featured: 35 Years On, This Shop Endures in an Improbable Location

35 Years On, This Shop Endures in an Improbable Location

By Aaron McKenzie
July 3, 2014
4 comments

Photography by Josh Clason for Petrolicious

When Bernie Sloan and Jeff Taw first opened British European Auto for business in 1980, everyone advised them against setting up shop in San Pedro, an out-of-the-way harbor enclave tucked at the end of the 110 freeway between Long Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes in the South Bay region of Los Angeles.

“To an extent,” says Jeff, smiling as he reminisces, “they were right. Maybe we would’ve done better had we gone to Redondo Beach or Torrance, but hey, all the guys we knew with shops there are gone now and we’re still around.”

Both Jeff, a native of Great Britain, and Bernie, a transplant from New Zealand, had apprenticed as mechanics in their respective homelands, and both were recent arrivals to Southern California.  Like so many twentysomethings before them, they had been drawn to Los Angeles by the sun and by American Graffiti-inspired fantasies of the area’s car culture.

“Growing up in Britain, we aspired to your low-riders,” says Jeff. “American cars were like gods to us, but they were also completely foreign. After I’d been [in the United States] for a while, I was restoring a 1968 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and I had to buy another one just to figure out how to put that one together.”

No surprise, then, that Bernie and Jeff elected in their professional lives to specialize in British cars. Over next three-plus decades, British European gradually transitioned from a garage where owners had their new, daily-driver 1980 MGBs tuned up to a full-service restoration shop for vintage British cars.

British European Auto now resides in a barrel-roofed garage that dates to 1937 and which, until Jeff and Bernie bought the place in 1995, housed a Soderstrom and, later, Colleto Ford dealerships . Passersby, strolling down San Pedro’s Pacific Avenue, can’t help but notice the assembly of Austin-Healeys, Jaguars, and Lotuses displayed for sale in the original glass showroom, where British European handles consignments for its customers.

In selling a vintage British sports car, however, Jeff and Bernie inevitably encounter questions about the cars’ reliability. Jeff is quick to dismiss such concerns.

“Quite honestly, it’s the way they’ve been repaired in the past that makes them unreliable,” says Jeff. “All too often, these cars were previously owned by someone who bought them when they were cheap, before they were collectible, and then relied on some Mickey Mouse mechanic at the local gas station to repair them.”

Asked about the special qualities of a vintage British sports car, Jeff is quick to point to the lines of the cars – a Bugeye Sprite will never be mistaken for a German or Italian car – as well as to their legendary handling. They are also, notes, Jeff, “incredibly clever compromises.”

“The engineers who built these cars would borrow the suspension from one car, pull an engine from a truck, and somehow create a sports car,” says Jeff. “The TR3 has a Massey-Ferguson tractor engine, while the Austin-Healeys mostly had commercial six-cylinder truck engines. Somehow, it all worked.”

Thirty-five years on, Bernie and Jeff are still working, too, though Jeff points out that this is very much a labor of love and certainly not the right line of work for anyone worried about their hourly wage.

“But it’s a very rewarding job,” says Jeff. “You’re always solving puzzles, making things fit, and there’s a lot of satisfaction at the end of each day.”

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Ryan
Ryan

Jeff and Bernie are great guys. My dad had his 68 TR250 restored there, ground up. They documented the entire build and gave him a photo album of it when it was done. My cousin takes her 67 TR4 there too.

RODRIGO BISILLAC
RODRIGO BISILLAC

En la foto del garage, hay un Bentley Brooklands que se fabrica desde 1992. Saludos

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle

I have to agree with Robert seeing the men/women behind the machines would be great as well. With that being said this story brings up memories when i was kid hanging out with dad dreaming about what it would be like to own a little car shop of are own to build, mod, and restore cars as a hobby/business.

Robert Calinescu
Robert Calinescu

Would have been nice with a picture of the men behind the story, just my 2 cents when it comes to the article. Keep up the great work of finding stories like these and sharing them. Love the site!