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'Vette business is a picnic for Yogi Bair|
His gruff voice is deceiving. You might think it a liability for a businessman until he introduces himself as Yogi Bair.
"Nobody knows me as Harold... It's always Yogi, the Linesville resident explained.
Bair, who still uses the cartoon-character name given him as a young mechanic, is considered guru of Chevrolet Corvette owners today.
Behind his home and inside a former Dodge car dealership, he and a small staff of employees transform wrecked, weather-worn and neglected Corvettes into automotive masterpieces. They also refurbish car parts for customers around the world, customers who consider them angels of mercy.
From the confines of tiny Linesville, a town better known for a spillway where the ducks walk on the backs of the fish, Bair makes his home and business.
He has no desire to move. "We're turning away 90 percent (of those wanting major repairs)," he said. The 50-year-old car enthusiast said he simply doesn't have the space or manpower to keep up with demands.
But he takes that fact in stride. "I've been losing (that business) for years." Bair said he still does millions of dollars worth of repairs and sales. And there's no end in sight, despite the fact that he's highly specialized.
He works only on certain models of Corvettes, those built from 1965. He has been specializing in Corvettes since 1970.
At the age of about 13, after his parents died he moved from Punxsutawney to Pittsburgh where he worked in a horse stable. From there he moved to Cleveland, where he got his first taste of body-shop work. Bair returned to Pittsburgh and as a teenager opened a business with a friend.
Eventually, his friend, originally from Linesville, convinced him to move there. Ten years before going into business on his own, Bair worked for a nearby Chevrolet dealership. There, he spent a lot of time doing body work on America's one and only sports car. But there were limitations.
"I worked for Chevy, and we never had a system to repair the cars . It was always fiberglass resins and mattes, and screws and nails and whatever they could get to put the body on."
Later, he discovered a special adhesive made at the Molded Fiber Glass Tray Co. in Linesville, a company that has been building Corvette parts since l953, when the first polo-white model was introduced to the world
That's the reason we got started using the bonding material," Bair explained. Today, he uses the stuff in his business and also markets it to his customers.
The adhesive's formula remains a secret "MFG right today will make it for me. They don't make it for anybody else, but they'll make it for me by the barrel."
In turn, he added, he has helped them with various problems. In addition to body repairs, his staff of 10 full-time employees and 20 part-timers, with some secretarial help thrown in, do a great deal of work on the frames and suspension components of Corvettes.
Those kinds of repairs came natraully. "The guys (who own Corvettes) quit wrecking their cars. They got too expensive to wreck...." instead, people started parking their 'Vettes. "They don't drive them. The cars just sit and the (wheel) bearings don't hold up after 20 years of sitting. It would help if people would drive them...." he said.
Demand for parts is so great that Bair spends a great deal of time traveling to car shows and flea markets searching for parts, many of which have been discontinued by General Motor .
"We buy parts and then split them up and sell them...(additionally) I search the country to see who's making the best parts, and then I go for the price. I buy volume after I find out who's got the parts," he said.
"We ship every day somewhere in the world. "Customers in Belgium, Sweden and England buy regularly from the company. "They love our prices."
Die-hard Corvette owners also will search out his business. "Every year, you see more people here. They make it their vacation to come here."
Although most won't drive their car to show him, they will bring pictures, he said.
Earlier this year, a man from Germany and another one from Canada, traveling together, stopped to buy parts from him.
It wasn't until this year that the company offered a catalog of parts. Bair only began advertising in car enthusiast magazines a couple of years ago.
Word of mouth has been the company's mainstay, the owner said.
Also this year, Bair will be shipping his first car to Japan. A former Linesville man and his wife who live in Japan arranged for Bair to restore a 1977 Corvette for them. The car is almost finished and will be shipped in time for Christmas, he said.
Bair said the company needs telephones and computers to handle the workload. "Some days we wish it would slow down," he said. In terms of major car repairs, "We're six months behind. You can't get in here until next winter..."
Getting an appointment for repair work isn't easy either. If Bair feels comfortable with you and is satisfied that you car is original, he will think about finding a place for you in his schedule.
Wanting him to prepare a Corvette only for shows is taboo. "We build cars to be driven," he said.