It’s Not EASY To Say Goodbye To California’s Iconic Porsche Salvage Yard
Photography by Ingo Schmoldt
As I pack to head down to Luftgekühlt this weekend, I wanted to tell everyone a story about another very important staple in the air-cooled Porsche community. This is much more than a business, much more than a venue for Cars & Coffee.
That said, I first heard about Jim Breazeale’s EASY (European Auto Salvage Yard) because of the amazing monthly Cars & Coffees they held on the first Saturday of the month, rain or shine. One could always expect a thick crowd of Porches to show up in front of the EASY warehouse— everything from completely restored, immaculate early short-wheelbase machines to rough and ready road runners & outlaw hot rods mingled here. Informal shows like that were often the starting spot for a day-long rally for many of the attendees. Located in Emeryville, CA, a stone’s throw from the front gate of Pixar Entertainment, EASY was the place to go if you needed parts for your old Porsche. If Jim didn’t have it, it was a safe bet that no one else would either. Since 1978, Jim has stockpiled all manner of parts, including complete chassis. Late last year however, Jim announced that in 2018 he’d be closing the business and getting rid of his sizable inventory.
As a guy who hasn’t been lucky enough to own his own air-cooled Porsche (yet!), I didn’t know much about the decades of history made here. Hanging around and talking to the regulars though, it quickly became evident that this wasn’t an ordinary gathering point. This was a great group of friends who got together to create an amazingly supportive community around a pretty specific interest. Of course they all like Porsche, but the other thing they all had in common was a love for Jim and what he’s done for the west coast Porsche world in providing such a consistent parts and knowledge resource. Everyone I spoke to was extremely generous with their time, eager to tell me about Jim and the business. I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I’m sure many of you who are reading this will have stories you’ll want to share in the comments section.
The first person I spoke to was Pete Stout, Editor of 000 Magazine.
Pete Stout: I was a car guy before I was a Porsche enthusiast. The car that changed that was a 1973 914 my older brother left behind when he went off to college and got into motorcycles. The place that made it possible to keep that 914 on the road and fix it up was EASY. I used to love rummaging through the bent and broken 914s. I’d find things like a Weltmeister short-shift kit, and install it during my lunch break at Costco. When things broke or wore out, I’d call Jim or Jeff or Spencer at EASY. When I needed a seat bottom, I went in with a flat of Cokes—I was still too young to bring beer—and there was a cherry seat pad on the wall, with Marks-a-Lot scrawl on its bottom: “Save for the Costco Kid.”
Back before you went online and ordered a new but junky repro, you went to EASY and looked for treasure. And here’s the thing: It was more fun than looking online. I’m thinking of a money manager who used to dig for period windshield wiper blades for his 100-point Carrera RS, but there are many more examples. And just when you thought it had all been picked through, there’s more. I was helping with the final cleanup for instance, figuring all the good stuff was long gone, when I found a nice pair of black basket weave door cards for a 914—never cut for door speakers. Junk to someone else, but treasure to me!
Saturday mornings at EASY, long before they were like they are now, were the coolest. I met life mentors there, like Ernie King. I met friends I still hold dear, like Cris and Ferdie Huergas. I saw cars that made an impact on me, inspired me. But best of all, everyone was kind of on a level playing field. At least, it felt that way. You had bankers getting greasy alongside UPS drivers and high-school kids. We were equals, regardless of what car we were driving, our age, our background, etc.—which was very East Bay. It was just a cool place to hang out. You learned stuff about Porsche, but also about others and yourself. There were a number of people there who I looked up to, and still do.
Jim’s contribution to the Porsche world was and is important. Back when the cars were worth a fraction of what they’re worth now, back when they were marginal in terms of whether they were worth keeping on the road, Jim made it easier to justify. And more fun, too. He saved a lot of Porsches by taking a lot of Porsches apart. He could find value in the parts, and saved so many that would be useful to someone later. He was kind of like that with his customers, too—he saw them as valuable, too, and treated them that way. I think that’s why the guy is so well loved by so many people.
For Jim, it wasn’t just about the money. He was smart enough to build a business where it didn’t have to be that way. There’d be times when he charged you, but there were also times where he’d wave off your money, too. When the Oakland Hills Fire hit, it was devastating—but stories of Jim buying up burned Porsches for more than they were worth circulated. I remember one 911 with a gearbox that had melted up top—you could see the gear sets—and that was the best part of the car! Yet Jim had taken it off of the customer’s hands. When I asked him why, too young to see the bigger picture, Jim said the person had been a good customer.
* * *
Speaking of Cris Huergas and R Gruppe, he also wanted to contribute to this store about Jim.
* * *
Cris Huergas: I first started coming to EASY in the early ’80s when I acquired my first 911. Jim was always receptive and welcomed me in, a first time 911 owner who was looking to learn about how to work on one. Jim was always willing to talk and educate me on what I needed to know about 911s. During those years I would stop by at EASY every few months or so just to visit, not really looking for any parts but just to say hello and chat with Jim and his workers. It eventually evolved to a more frequent Saturday visit where I met fellow 911 owners and made some really good friends. The camaraderie was always there. Just a bunch of guys getting together on a Saturday morning, talking cars.
This continued for many years until the mid to late ’90s when a group of guys I met at EASY all got together and took interest in building hot rod 911s. This small group of die-hard 911 enthusiasts eventually became the motivating factor to start a club dedicated to hot rodding the cars. Again Jim was very accommodating and extended the hospitality for us to have a gathering place to meet up. I got together with Jim, and between us we would have a special Saturday gathering where I invited some guys to come together for a BBQ. This get together eventually turned into a monthly event and garnered more interest for other early 911 owners. So in 1999 I formed R Gruppe with a bunch of early 911 owners in SoCal, along with our smaller group of Bay Area 911 friends. We became the founding members of R Gruppe. Jim was given an honorary membership in the R Gruppe of course, and continued supporting the cause and eventually we decided to make EASY our Northern California R Gruppe club house.
I have always made it known to many that EASY is a San Francisco Bay Area institution, though most know this already of course. Sadly with Jim’s retirement, this tradition must now come to an end. I can only say that there will never be another place like EASY and most of all, there will never be another Jim Breazeale. Thank you Jim, Linda, Rich, and John for the warm hospitality; the early 911 community was very lucky to have enjoyed the many memorable EASY gatherings you sponsored for so many years.
This, in my opinion, is the greatest thing about cars. It’s a passion that brings diverse groups of people together for a common cause. You can see the love and support everyone has for Jim and his team at EASY. His respect and welcoming nature ensured that anyone who walked in through the door would find a great environment to grow their passion.
* * *
Another name familiar to most of you is Rod Emory of Emory Motorsports. He wanted to chime in as well.
* * *
Rod Emory: There were only a handful of great Porsche parts suppliers on the West Coast, and Jim at EASY has always been at the top of the list. I’ve known him most of my life. I grew up in the Porsche parts business since my dad Gary Emory founded Parts Obsolete in the early ’70s. I bought, sold, and traded parts with Jim on a regular basis. Some of the best times at swap meets were when I would cross paths with Jim; we would always have the same items in our hands that we just bought from sellers!
When Jim decided to retire he gave me the opportunity to purchase all of his 356 and early 911 inventory. This is a great blessing to me because these are parts that I will put back to use in building 356s and 911s for the next 30+ years to come. So I’d like to say thank you Jim, for your dedication and willingness to serve this Porsche community.
* * *
When I first approached Richard Breazeale, Jim’s son, about the idea of writing this story about his dad and EASY, he was about as busy as a person could be. He has his own career to think about, and was in the process of helping his dad liquidate the massive inventory. He still took the time to answer my questions and scan some pictures of the old days at EASY.
* * *
Ingo Schmoldt: I’ve read that your dad, Jim Breazeale, started European Auto Salvage Yard back in 1978. What can you tell me about how your dad started this business 40 years ago, and why the focus on Porsche exclusively?
Richard Breazeale: While my dad was attending college in the mid ‘60s, he worked part-time at a salvage yard, in Berkeley, called Parts Central. They specialized in all European makes. In January 1968, having reached his 5th year of college, he became eligible for the draft. A few months later, his number was picked, and by October, he was in Vietnam. After spending 14 months in Vietnam, he returned home in January of 1970, with hopes of finishing his accounting degree. Since he had already missed the start of the semester, he called up his former boss, Ken Vonhof, and asked if he could come back to work, at least until classes resumed in the fall. Ken welcomed him back, quickly made him manager, and Jim never returned to college.
Jim was managing the yard, now called All Foreign, but he had a burning desire to be an entrepreneur. Since auto salvage was the business he knew, auto salvage was the business he wanted to pursue. Jim had spoken to Mr. Vonhof regarding his desire to set off on his own, and while All Foreign was going to be passed onto Ken’s children, Ken offered to support Jim in any way he could. In 1977, the husband of a high school friend approached Jim regarding opening an auto salvage business together. Not wanting to compete with Ken, Jim came up with a plan. He went to Vonhof with the idea of opening a salvage yard focusing only on his favorite of the European makes, Porsche. (After returning from Vietnam, he bought his first Porsche, a 1968 Sand Beige 912. Previously, he had owned mostly British sports cars, but the 912 converted him to Porsche.) Ken thought that was a fabulous idea, agreed to never compete, and sold Jim his entire Porsche inventory. When the doors opened on January 2, 1978, the shelves were already stocked, and there were Porsches waiting to be dismantled.
IS: EASY’s organization system seems a little… unique. From a glance it looks like just a hodgepodge of parts, but when you get close you can see there was a lot of detail behind it. Did you guys always have a good idea of what you had and where it was?
RB: Organized chaos? The truth is, we did try to keep things roughly organized. We always had an ok idea of what we had and where we could find it. Over the last 15 years, John was the key to the operation. Since he was the one doing the bulk of the dismantling, and filling of orders, he knew where (most) everything was. After nearly 40 years of roaming EASY, I could usually get to the right area to begin searching. As we’ve been clearing out the building, there has been far fewer surprise finds then any of us expected (although we did just find part of a roadster top). I guess that means we did a pretty good job.
IS: What were some of the rarest parts that came through EASY that you recall?
RB: The rarest part that I can remember (I was too young to remember the Carrera II or twin-grill roadster) was the set of Rudge knock-off wheels. If I remember correctly, the set was complete (hubs, wheels, and spinners), and my dad had the set re-chromed. He advertised the set by having one of the wheels zip-tied to the particle board, behind the counter. It was just hanging there for everyone to see when they walked into the office. He eventually sold the set to a customer from Germany. Now I try to plug my ears when people are talking about current Rudge wheel prices.
IS: When did the Cars & Coffees first start? It’s gotten to become one of the preeminent regular get-togethers for air-cooled Porsches.
RB: Those started long before such events were called Cars & Coffees. EASY was always open on Saturdays, and until about 2003, open every Sunday. The coffee pot was always full, and there were plenty of EASY cups sitting around. We had a local group of 356 owners, known as the “East Bay Grease,” who would meet at EASY to socialize, pick up needed parts, and get out of the house before weekend chores. On any Saturday, you’d have at least seven or eight 356s lined up on Harlan St. There was also the contingent of early 911 owners. In 1999, one of those guys, Cris Huergas started the R Gruppe, and EASY was named the official NorCal clubhouse. Turnout on Saturdays continued growing (without the help of Instagram), and it was typical to find 20+ cars parked on Harlan, but things exploded on December 3rd, 2011. We got word that Wayne Carini would be in town, filming an episode for Chasing Classic Cars, and would stop by for a few minutes. We sent the word out, to all our friends, to show up at EASY. We ended up with a huge turnout (for those days), and Wayne and his crew spent most the morning filming. The episode, titled “California Dreaming,” aired on October 12, 2012, and featured two segments on EASY. Our little car meet was now broadcast around the world, and Saturdays haven’t been the same since.
IS: What are some of your fondest memories of helping your dad in the shop?
RB: It’s tough to try and pare down a list of fondest memories, as EASY was already around six months when I was born, but I’ll offer up a few. One of the best experiences I had with my dad was buying cars from private parties. While it didn’t happen often, we would occasionally get a phone call about a car left in a garage somewhere. The story was usually the same, the owner had passed away, and the heirs wanted extra space in the garage. One of these excursions had us driving out to Bethel Island. We found the house, and the widow showed us to the garage. Inside was a nearly complete 911, but what was more interesting were the boxes of parts the previous owner had accumulated. Included was the six-tip exhaust that can be found on my dad’s brown 911. Some of the other memories, that I will always cherish, are simply about all the fun we had. There were very few days at EASY that were “work.” If we weren’t having fun, we were doing something wrong. When I was in T-ball for instance, he encouraged me to work on my swing by swinging at cars. Yep, as a six-year-old, my dad sent me out in the shop to hit Porsches with a baseball bat. Later, we would hit golf balls through 944 back glasses. There were also many back and side glasses that were kicked out, with one of us kicking, and the other catching.
IS: It must have been a monumental task clearing the warehouse. What’s next for the location?
RB: The process began, in earnest, at the end of November. Rod Emory showed up with two 26’ U-Haul trucks and a car trailer. There were eight of us, and we spent two full days loading. At the end of day two, the trucks and trailer were packed full, and they headed home. My dad and I were standing in the shop, looking around, and that’s when reality hit, clearing the warehouse wasn’t going to be easy. While it was clear to us that stuff was gone, the amount of parts remaining was daunting. We’ve been working day in, day out since November, and there’s still more work left to do.
Regarding what’s next for the location when we do clear out in full, I’m extremely happy to announce that the building will remain virtually identical on the outside, even the EASY sign will stay up. While Porsche parts will no longer be for sale, the spirit will live on.
IS: I’ve heard that the Cars & Coffee event could still live on too, is that true?
RB: It is true. The new owner wants the events to continue, and wants my dad to continue hosting. The goal is to keep it the same, minus the ability to pick up a Porsche part or two. (We joke that most the people that show up nowadays have no clue we sell Porsche parts anway!)