When you walk into the repair shop at Norwalk’s Black Bridge Motors, it is easy to be impressed by the variety of classic cars and trucks that are undergoing work. However, these vehicles represent a distinctive blend of old-school cool and cutting-edge digital systems. According to owner Scott Gilbert, “You get the best of the aesthetic automotive design with modern technology.”
In this edition of Suite Talk, Business Journal Senior Enterprise Editor Phil Hall looks under the hood at Gilbert’s unique approach to auto repair.
What are the vehicles that come into Black Bridge Motors and what becomes of them while they are here?
“Every project in here is from the 1950s to the 1980s. Everything we are doing to these machines is to make them more safe and more capable by bringing modern technology into these old cars and trucks. It has to do with increasing the experience of the driver. Engines get replaced with modern technology. There are no fuses in that car – it is all solid-state junction boxes.
Everything here geared to what you would have in a modern car today, but packaged to look seamless in an older vehicle. At end of day, you will have a much more broad experience with these cars and trucks because you would use them like any car.”
How did the idea for the business come about?
“One of the things that led me down the path was recognizing the area was a bit devoid of a properly focused solution center for cars and trucks. I started this three-and-a-half years ago on paper and in this capacity two years ago. It took a little bit of planning, a little bit of luck. But as with any business, the key is finding the right talent and the right help. I am only one person and I can only do so much.”
Is it correct to say that this is very different from what you were previously doing?
“I was at Goldman Sachs for 10 years. I started in sales and training, then moved over to asset management. I left in 2016 to start this.”
How does your business work?
“There are two approaches: either we fix an existing vehicle fix or we work form an idea or concept to develop, find the car and build to specifications.
A lot of this industry is about dropping a car off and you don’t see it for years. We operate much differently. We work on between 15 to 50 cars in a month, depending on what they are in for. For the biggest builds, what some places would quote you in years we can quote you in months.”
What do you charge for your services?
“A proper solution can range anywhere from $5,000 for basic maintenance all the way up to $350,000 for a full rebuild.”
What is the oldest vehicle you’ve worked with?
“The oldest is a 1948 Jeep CJ. We don’t see too many ‘brass era’ cars – they don’t lend themselves to modernization that well.”
Do you have a dream car that you would like to work on?
“My dream car would be the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa. I think it’s an absolutely beautiful car. Unfortunately, you can’t touch those. But we are less about specializing in a particular brand or make and more about specializing in the solutions we offer for these cars.”
How do you promote the business?
“The business lends itself to word of mouth marketing. You need to have that word of mouth recommendation given the amount of money this industry commands. It is an expensive ticket. Our clients are mostly from within a 30-mile radius, although we’ve had some come in from California and Nevada.”
You are also working with the Norwalk public school system on vocational training. Can you tell us more about that?
“There is a shortage in talented skill-sets and different levels of capabilities for different people. Not everybody has to go through a four-year education to become a doctor, a lawyer or a banker. I think people can be valuable doing other things.
We want to take a thoughtful approach to the typical vocational school. We recognize that to work well with your hands, you have to have a very solid foundation and be academic. If you understand how the machine works, you can understand how to fix it and to make it better.
We conducted a pilot program over the summer with the Norwalk schools and next year we plan to start an internship-based program. We had 65 students apply this year and accepted 15. We wanted to make sure kids were here for the right reasons: not because they can, but because they wanted to. And we wound up hiring four from over the summer.”