Bill Beal is a wizard of auto restoration, with creative flair and unlimited imagination.
He has run Beal & Co., Inc. auto collision and restoration for 26 years, since soon after graduating from East Henderson High in 1987. He is married with six children. The shop is at 5222 Willow Road, up a drive in a residential area near the Champion Hills development. It is off the beaten track.
Off-beat describes bubbly Beal. Customers know him nearly as much for his blue or purple-tinged hair, as his colorful personality and oft-zany restorations.
For example, when a 1990 Lexus owner wanted pizzazz added to his treasured vehicle, Beal suggested a unique bed for huge 15-inch speakers. They are nestled into a mini pool table in the side-hinged trunk, with a cue ball and eight ball. Inside the car are television and video game monitors, and the most eye-catching item of all. The shifter is a disarmed Smith & Wesson pistol.
Such touches add unique “character,” Beal said. So does hinging the trunk lid on its side, and having doors open by remote control upward like the Batmobile. Beal reattached doors on a 1985 Caprice, to open off the back side away from the driver.
Beal specializes in custom body work, major collision, and complete frame-off restoration such as for show cars and speed boats. “We do everything to bring that car back to a level of quality,” Beal said, “so you can take it to a show. or have pride driving it.” He refurbished a 1947 Dodge Power Wagon in three months, and it made a national paint calendar. A 1953 Studebaker he reworked won a tri-state best of show honor. He said many vehicles are not unusual, but have immense sentimental value.
Beal fended off the recession, by re-calibrating his business. In 2006 the downturn first cut into his industrial projects. “My business started to tank. We figured God wants us to learn something. We made adjustments, to do more collision work and restoration. We knuckled down, stuck with it, and have gradually grown.”
Beal studied auto body work at Blue Ridge Community College. He soon built a reputation. “People knew I knew cars, and worked on them.” He often did brake jobs. Growing up, Bill Beal II helped his father Bill “Pop” Beal do tune-ups. Pop was an air traffic controller. “We worked on our hot rods,” Bill II said.
Now, Bill said his father “supports my business, behind the scenes,” Bill said. “He gives advice. He picks up supplies in town.” Pop worked in his own father’s salvage yard in Florida, and later as an air traffic controller.
Bill’s wife Melissa worked in the office for years, until two years ago, but now is busy caring for their six children. These days, Bill’s mother Gale (Pop’s wife) runs the office. Melissa is “fourth-generation auto business,” including her father Russell Weideman. When Beal goes home for lunch, sometimes she brings regular customers to dine.
Working on cars “feels natural,” Bill Beal II said. He can “remember how things are built, and put back together. It takes focus” and quality each step so “the job’s done right.” He added, “each job pushes you to the limit” of problem-solving.
Main shop mechanics are Beal and Julio Fausto, known as “Raza.” Raza has worked at the shop for six years. He also has a good sense of humor. He said Beal keeps the atmosphere light, yet also focused on their craft.
Yet “family comes first,” Beal said. Weekends are off. Beal and Raza often take civic breaks, such as to Etowah Elementary which Beal’s children attend. “We’ll carve pumpkins for an hour,” Beal said. The other day, they served during lunch hour at a church soup kitchen. Beal said in doing such deeds, “our hearts feel good.”
Both have long fought off substance abuse, which in Beal’s case lasted a decade. “I’ve been clean for 20 years,” he said. They (with Gale) give inspirational talks in prisons, and lead recovery program classes once a week. They mentor other mechanics as de facto interns to help them “straighten their lives out,” Beal said. “We get them to use skills they may not know they have. Some people succeed so much, it changes their lives. Others get a spot of encouragement. They may go into a different career. But it’s a first step, to getting through personal turmoil.”
Some of Beal’s biggest challenges and success stories are in taking rusted-out and other vehicles, and making them better than ever. “I’m often the last stop, to find someone to build what they want built. Our projects are very unique and complex. We work on customer ideas, with a lot of moving parts.”
Some come in looking like “disasters.” Restorations “from the ground up” often take 1000 hours over one year. Fees are for time and materials. “If it’s in decent shape, plan on $30,000 or more,” Beal said. “We redo the interior, and wiring. It may not have the (authentically) right motor. He added, “we document every step with photos.” He said of less-costly options, “no matter how cheap it is, the bitterness of poor quality far outweighs the savings.”
Yet he also saves customers money. In an ongoing project, “it wasn’t cost-effective for my customer to build panels out of steel. So, we used fiberglass.” This was in building up a heavily rusted-out 1963 Cadillac “flower car” (hearse). He bought a ’63 Caddy limo as a “donor” for various parts, and authentic engine. As a limo service car, its windshield has an extra half-foot of height needed for the hearse.
“I think outside the box,” Beal said. He converted a 1995 limousine into a van for his family, with TV inside. He can adapt classic bodies onto newer cars for stronger engines, better safety and fuel efficiency and more repairability. “Rather than rebuild with outdated equipment, we buy a more modern chassis and motor and fit the (classic) body to that car,” Beal said. “We balance modern conveniences with an old-style look.”
He is developing a kit, adapting size-wise his father’s first-year (1953) Corvette shell onto a 2000 ‘Vette chassis.
The Beals’ son Seven Micah is five. His ultimate birthday is in two years. “Seven was born 7/7/07, at 7:37 p.m.,” Bill said. “He weighed 7 pounds, 14 (7×2) ounces. He was 21 (7×3) inches long. And Micah 7:7 in the Bible, is where we were at then. We were thinking of shutting down. But we persevered, and God blessed us.”
For more on the business, call 693-8246 or check http://bealandcompanyinc.com.