Though his family had moved to California, Jeff Leonard decided to stay after his graduation from Ferndale High School. He found a job at a local mail-order company so he could work his way through the University of Michigan. But things weren’t working out as he had hoped, and he realized he really didn’t enjoy winter weather, so he, too, headed west.
Thus, in 1976, just as he was turning 20 years old, “I bought a Camaro in Palm Springs and it needed some work and I couldn’t find anything (the parts) for it,” Leonard recalled. Among the things Leonard needed for his 10-year-old car was replacement carpeting.
“I found a guy in Santa Monica who was an expert in cut-and-sew carpet,” Leonard said. Not only did Leonard get new carpeting for his car, but he realized there likely were others with similar needs. He started acquiring unsold inventory from a Chevrolet dealership’s parts department.
“I put a small ad in a magazine and started getting calls,” said Leonard, who put his mail-order experience to use and founded Classic Camaro, selling hard-to-find parts to fellow owners of the Chevrolet coupe.
Fast-forward and Classic Camaro’s parts catalog expands to include other GM vehicles and then Chrysler/Mopar parts. Recently, Leonard purchased California Mustang to complete the lineup of Detroit Three parts available from a company that has grown from Classic Camaro into Huntington Beach-based Classic Industries, a major supplier of aftermarket parts to the collector-car hobby.
Oh, and that’s supplier as in manufacturer of those parts, many of them under official license from the original-equipment automakers.
Leonard said Classic Industries’ growth can be traced to providing people with the parts that wear out, and with paying close attention to how many cars of a certain make and model were produced, and how many still remain on the roads.
What sort of parts does Classic Industries provide? Recent additions to its catalogs include the “crushed can” steering-wheel hub for 1970-74 Mopar E-body cars, parking-lamp assemblies for 1981-88 Chevrolet and GMC trucks and SUVs, grilles for 1963-64 Chevy II and Nova models as well as for 1972 Pontiac Firebirds and Trans Ams, consoles for 1957-79 Novas, and sun visor support brackets for 1955-58 Chevrolets.
The company also has launched a new catalog of parts for 1978-87 Buick Regal, Grand National and T-Types, which likely means that if you’re looking to buy such a vehicle, the price will be going up very soon.
“People have recognized that when we come out with a line for their vehicles, those vehicles will be going up in value because parts will be available,” Leonard said. “We do a lot of market research. We look at the volume. If a car was high-performance. If it can be restored. If it generally is going to go up in value. We try to bring all that and make it available to the consumer who might own that car.”
Pricing of specific parts, he said, depends on demand. For example, front spoilers are replaced frequently because they rub up against parking curbs. “We sell a lot of them,” and therefore can offer lower prices.
Many of the parts Classic Industries produces are reverse engineered off original equipment. Leonard has a personal collection of more than 200 classic vehicles, and often borrows a part off one when there’s demand for such a part to go into re-production.
“We own the tooling,” he said. “We control quality to retain the originality.”
Leonard said Classic Industries plans to add lines of parts for various Ford vehicles, including trucks and Mercury Cougars.
But he plans to stick to his roots, doing parts for vehicles produced by Detroit’s Big Three.
For more information, visit the Classic Industries website at www.classicindustries.com.
Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.