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Classic Import is an import auto service and repair facility. The business is located at 301 W. 43rd Street in Sioux Falls. CI was started in the summer of 1983. They specialize in import vehicles and work on all types of vehicles including European and Japanese imports such as Audi, VW, Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Honda, Lexus, and Toyota. They also work on exotic vehicles such as Ferrari and Lamborghini. It is not unusual to find any day of the week Jaguars, BMW’s and Audis alongside Subaru and Honda Accords waiting to be serviced.
Import vehicles are built differently and require different service tools and equipment that very few other repair shops have. To properly service these types of vehicles, you need to have the right equipment and trained technicians. The equipment is expensive and the training time required to keep technicians on top of their craft is also expensive and time consuming. However, it is one of the biggest reasons they survive in this market. For example, CI is the only local Bosch service center in the three state area (SD, ND, and Montana). Bosch is the world’s leading fuel system for cars and trucks. They are the largest supplier of fuel injection parts in the world. You need to be certified and have the required equipment necessary to achieve this status with them. They are a “four-star” shop-the highest rating available. “Our customers know they will get the highest level of service available to them when they bring their vehicle in for service,” says Tranby. Currently they have four employees including Jim and his wife Cindy. Cindy handles all of the scheduling, parts and office work for the business while Jim and their two technicians work on the vehicles. Jeff Bream has been with the company 9 years and Terry Prehiem, has been with the company for a couple of years. One of the biggest challenges for a small import service repair shop is to find adequate training for employees. Jeff is in training to become a Bosch Master Tech. This usually takes approximately seven weeks of training. Earning this level of recognition is important in the industry. “Our clients want to know that we are up to date with the latest in training before they entrust their vehicle to us,” according to Tranby. That is the reason they hooked up with Bosch. Bosch is a German company with interests in many different lines of business. They developed the original fuel injection and diesel systems available to consumers in the early 1960’s. They have improved the ABS brake systems and traction controls found on most vehicles today. Their systems can be found on both domestic and Asian vehicles. Jim is a Bosch master technician as well as an ASE Certified Master Tech and an Advanced Electronics Technician. He is one of the few Bosch master techs to be trained on all fuel systems in the U.S. Most Bosch certified techs now are only trained on the latest systems. This gives Jim a unique advantage in working on vehicles of all ages. He is also an ASE multi-fuel master tech. This accreditation is for the hybrid and diesel equipped cars. And when hydrogen cars become available in a couple of years, he is trained to work on them.
Jim’s love for cars started at an early age; having grown up around a gas station that his dad owned (Al’s 66 on west 12th Street). He would spend his Saturdays at the garage doing “grunt” work until high school when he got a “paying job”. He and his dad would go to Husets on Sunday nights. His first car was a 1959 Vauhall (an English Pontiac with the same basic body style as an Opel). He was a sophomore in high school and paid a whopping $45 for the car. It was a little station wagon; one that could easily be moved by 3 or 4 strong your men to other parts of the parking lot. Jim tells of the many times he went out to the parking lot only to find his car in a different spot than he left it. That car lasted only one year when Jim purchased a ‘59 Ford convertible from Barney’s salvage yard. After graduating from Washington High School he went to SW State in Marshall, MN. “I got bored with college and came back to SF (working part-time at Schoeneman’s Lumber),” according to Jim. “This is where I got to know Cecil Schoeneman.” Cecil has a love for exotic import cars and would talk to me about cars. Jim started playing around with dirt racecars in the early 70’s while working at John Morrell. He worked nights and had days to play with cars. “I always had something around that I was fixing on,” Jim says. Jim’s first dirt-track race was in May of ’73 at Husets. My first racecar was purchased from Daryl Dawley (a local sprint car racer who had success outside of the area) in 1973. I sold a ’69 Corvette to afford to buy the sprint car. The weekend of his first race was the same weekend that Gary Bott (another local race car driver) was killed. “After that happened, I questioned whether this was the right hobby for me.” However, Jim’s love for cars and racing won out over common sense and he continued his racing career. It took him two years to win his first race. The track was in Jackson, Minnesota. We won twice over there but never at Husets. He later bought a Porsche and always worked on his own stuff. People knew he did this and he eventually saved up enough money to start his business. He raced a 924 Porsche in the summer of 1981 previously raced by Dr. Bundy’s driver. Jim drove sprint cars at the same time Doug Wolfgang was winning everything in sight. “We all we wanted to be as fast as Doug but none of us were able to beat him.” He raced for 5 years winning a few races but always seemed to finish in the middle of the pack. “We had a lot of fun,” remembers Jim. Later on, in the summer of 1980, Jim lost a couple more friends in a racing accident. Daryl and Roger Larson (another local sprint car driver) were killed at a race in Knoxville, Iowa. After this happened and realizing age and the desire to start his own auto repair business Jim left sprint car racing. However he did not leave racing forever. In 1997, he and Dean Kjelden (former owner BenHur Ford-now Sioux Falls Ford) raced in the Great Race. Dean drove the car (a 1947 MG TC) and Jim was the Navigator. “We never won but we always finished,” recalls Jim. The race was a time and distance race across the United States in vintage cars. There were roughly 100 cars participating in the annual event. The course was approximately 4,000 and you completed it in 2 weeks. Your score was computed based on time and distance traveled each day. The “race track” is everyday roads and you had to navigate around normal traffic. It was not a speed race as the top speed in the MG was roughly 65 MPH. Howard Phillips, a cameraman for KELOLAND TV, originally owned the MG. “The car was in bad shape when they purchased it but they knew it had potential.” Jim participated in the Great Race for three years but their best finish was the first year where they finished 3rd in the rookies class.
The first location for the business was working out of Jim’s garage on south Sherman. He worked there for a year and a half; testing the waters to see if he could make a business out of his passion. From there they rented a building from Gene Elrod at 33rd and Grange for the next three years. From there they moved across the street from their current location, renting a facility from Arne Josten, the local “Thunderbird guy” (Arnie had a collection of 36 thunderbirds at the time). Three years later we moved to our current facility. The current facility was built in 1989. Jim sold his Mercedes 350 SL for the down payment on the building. In 1993 they purchased additional property to the east and added on to the building. They currently have 6 hoists and six bays. The facility will accommodate up to 30 cars. Through the years they also restored vehicles but quit this part of the business in 1998 to concentrate on the repair portion of the business. Jim has restored vehicles for former mayor Rick Knobe (Mustang), a Pantera for Bob Nelson (founder of Deals on Wheels and current owner of AutoBuy Magazine), and a Lamborghini for Cecil Schoeneman.
Jim feels the future of this industry is dealing with the fast change. We will have to deal with the change from fossil fuels to electric or hydrogen cars. CI has not worked on many hybrid vehicles because most of them are still under factory warranty. He expects to be working on more of them in the near future. Along with those changes is the ongoing training necessary to work on those vehicles. “Continued schooling for all technicians will always be a priority,” according to Jim. Other changes he sees for the industry is the move to a modular format. If a unit fails, you will replace the entire unit. With the speed of change in the industry, CI feels that their specializing in import vehicles puts them in a great position to service these vehicles for decades to come.