For decades Rosell’s Auto Repair has been a Muscle Car eye candy treat that snapped you to attention, compelled you to slow and maybe linger a little too long as you digested the visual feast, and only then, to move on. The small neat structure sporting two bays housed in an immaculately maintained shop, sits on neatly groomed grounds populated by an ever changing eclectic assemblage of really interesting special interest automobiles. Solid examples of rust prone mid-fifties Detroit iron, such as 1957 Fords and Forward Look Plymouths often grace the grounds as do hot rods, tweaked Model Ts, Mopar muscle, Corvettes, 442s and Pontiacs, lots of Pontiacs. The owner is a classic as well, he is as genuine a New Jersey product as Taylor Pork Roll and Bruce Springsteen. Meet Al Rosell.
90 GTOs, 30 Corvettes and counting
If there can be a middle of nowhere in Northern New Jersey, Rosell’S Auto Repair can be found in it. Like a collectible car oasis situated in a wooded sprawl of forest and fine homes, Al Rosell’s four acres of automotive finery, years ago, served this once rural area as an off the beaten path, back road Citgo Service station. To this day no other commercial property exists for a mile at least in any direction.
Raised in Westwood, New Jersey, Al harbors a real passion for Pontiacs. It all began at the age of eleven in 1974 when his sister’s boyfriend, now husband, blew the engine in his 1965 GTO and parked the dead Pontiac in Al’s family driveway where it sat all summer. Throughout that summer young Al could be found sitting in that GTO for hours at a time stoking the fires for his future Pontiac passion.
At the age of sixteen Al bought the first of his 90 (and counting) GTOs, a 1966 hardtop with no drive train. He swapped in a Chevy V8 by himself with sufficient expertise that he enjoyed driving that car for a year until someone offered to buy it for twice what Al had in the car. Sold! In that same year young Al started pumping gas at a local service station. Within a few months the skilled beyond his years teenager had been taken inside to apply his considerable talents to ever increasingly demanding projects. A few years passed and Al moved on to a repair shop with higher level challenges including electrical trouble shooting, air conditioning and some custom work. With a few more years of experience under his belt, Al knew the time had come to go out and run his own shop. 1n 1996 Al purchased the little back woods Citgo station in River Vale, New Jersey. While having high hopes Al had no idea of the bright future in store for the little gas station as a classic car Mecca.
Given the opportunity to buy all four acres surrounding the station, Al jumped at the chance. He knew this would afford his business the opportunity to grow. Grow it did, but never to where it lost the appeal and high octane charm of Al’s small “can do” performance boutique dedicated to delivering a very personal and consummately professional experience.
Rarely if ever caught without a lit Marlboro wedged between index and middle fingers, 58-year old Al, now a seasoned and gifted classic car technician and shop owner, moves through work areas cleaner than most kitchens with the poise of a relaxed predator scouting for a target. In Al’s case he stands ready to contribute to the efforts of his two expert mechanics Greg Martino and Scott Jodzio.
Al’s approach to business has earned him the respect of the classic car community as both a skilled resource and an honest partner in advocating for what he sees as the proper course of action even if it means turning the job down.
Al notes that less and less of his shop’s clientele involves the traditional everyday work associated with keeping the family vehicle running. With his reputation for skill and ease with conquering high performance and vintage vehicle challenges, the working lifts in his bays most of the time serve a second purpose as classic car display pedestals.
“We do everything except body and paint”,” says Al. Rosell’s Auto Repair eagerly accepts power train and chassis challenges. Al says, “We do new engines, great motors for speed, a wide range of conversions, suspension upgrades, disc brake work, all of that kind of stuff. We also do interior work.” In describing his favorite work Al says, “I love doing engines. We will pull an engine, rebuild it, dyno tune it, detail it and if the customer wants, we incorporate chrome touches to whatever degree desired. When finished, that engine stands out as a work of art that can smoke the tires through all the gears.”
In observing the state of the performance shop industry, Al bemoans the relentless disappearance of the machine shops, true auto parts stores with knowledgeable staff and the expert craftsmen that reside at the heart of custom performance solutions. Al says, “These guys are the very soul of the business. I am watching their numbers melt away without any replacements.” He also notes that the really good auto parts stores are disappearing. He says, “There is no money in it. Nobody has bearings pressed on and off anymore doing U-joints and such.”
In recent years Al has expanded his services to address the desire of classic car owners to separate themselves from the sale of their vehicles.
Al says, “I have found myself selling more and more collectible cars for people.” Unlike earlier times when car guys bought and sold their cars, a new generation of owners don’t want to be troubled. They have the money to buy what they want. When they grow tired of it they want somebody else to deal with the inconvenience of its disposal. Al says, “People with money come in expressing an interest in having me assume the process of selling their classic car. The reasons are always the same. ‘I don’t want people in my house. I don’t want to deal with scheduling. I don’t want to negotiate.” For Al it offers a double benefit. He brokers the deal and becomes the “Go To” guy who people come to rely on when they look for their next collectible car. Al says, “It’s like an annuity. Some people develop a pattern of short term fascination with a classic car and then quickly tire of it. I can benefit on both ends of that romance.”
One significant trend that Al has observed over the last few years is the ascendance of the restomod as a preferred choice by many enthusiasts versus the traditional classic car with its original equipment.
Pointing to a nice mid-sixties Corvette Al says, “If you took this car and put an LS motor in it, it would increase its value by $50,000. More and more that is what the new generation buyer wants today.” Many, now in the market, instead of seeking originality want reliability, handling, comfort and air conditioning. Al says, “They don’t want the old stuff. People are different today. They want all the creature comforts of their new car, but the look of the old. The demand is there.” When asked when the market changed Al indicates that the change in priories became evident about five years ago.
When asked about interesting cars that came out of his shop, Al recalls a 1930 Model A. He ripped out the original drive train and replaced it with a Ford Pinto four-cylinder motor with a C4 transmission. He used the same rear, put in an adapter kit and got rid of the torque tube. Al says, “Car’s phenomenal 90 horsepower versus 40, electronic ignition. Thing runs beautiful.”
Two very interesting cars reside in a special place in Al’s heart. In 2015 an older gentleman approached Al describing a 1966 Corvette that had been in his garage since a bad accident in 1971. Al saw the car. It rested under a deep shroud of dust. Al bought it. He did a complete frame-off restoration. Al says, “Every piece of the car is new except the antenna and the grill. “The Nassau Blue beauty sits proudly in Al’s personal two-bay garage he built on his 4 acres. The other bay holds the subject of a love lost and found.
In 1996 Al bought a 1970 Orbit Orange Pontiac GTO Judge. He then sold it to a friend who had it for fifteen years. It was sold again with the next owner keeping it for 7 years. When it went up for sale again Al bought it back. Since he first sold the car, the two subsequent owners had driven the car a total of two times. Of his 90 GTOs the Orbit Orange Judge ranks at the top.
In reflecting on his years running Rosell’s Auto Repair, Al displays a balanced perspective. He says, “I have a great group here. I love my business. I even still have 30% of my hair.”
Nice story. Al is lucky. He was able to take a passion and turn it into a successful business. Interesting observation how people with money want “resto-models”, i.e. the look of a well preserved older car, but with all the modern day conveniences. I understand the rational, but regret these cars will never be “original” again. But I guess it is better that they still remain in circulation than being parked somewhere.
Thank you for your thoughts.
Outstanding story of a dyed in the wool motor head!
Al is all of that.
What a great guy. I have known Al since the late 90’s when I worked for the old “Valley Ford” in Westwood. He used to buy auto parts from us and I got to know him pretty well.
I always look forward to driving by his place whenever I am in the area just to see what he has parked outside. His work is impeccable!
So glad to see he made it into Driving News.
Tom you have been around the business for a while. That is high praise for Mr. Rosell.
Greetings Burton , I can so relate to this read which you already know . My Brahms days were winding down as Al was coming of age .
A common language is spoken here .
Thank you , Best, DT.
Maybe It is time to do a story on the iconic parts wizard of Brahms. Got any good photos?