Converting a vacant Sam’s Club into a high-end collision repair facility for his family-owned business, Jeff Baggett was a man on the move. His life was filled with long days — and some sleepless nights — as construction progressed and business plans were finalized for the $7 million expansion of Classic Car Motoring in Irondale, Alabama.
Hard work has never intimidated Baggett, whose love for restoring antique cars with his late father, John, prompted him to open his restoration business more than 40 years ago. He enjoys getting his hands dirty with his sons, Chris and Josh, and he’s not afraid to admit he sweats the small stuff, with no detail going unnoticed when repairing Mercedes, Porsches and Rolls-Royces.
It is a family affair for the Baggetts. Jeff’s sons run the day-to-day operations of Classic Car Motoring — Chris as general manager and Josh in overseeing marketing and transportation of luxury vehicles. His daughter-in-law, LaDonna, is shop manager and handles payroll. Jeff and his wife, Dianne, were enjoying retirement together, but when Classic Car Motoring purchased their new location in August 2019, Jeff came back, to serve as general contractor, and so did Dianne, as controller and accountant.
Over a few days in March 2020, the hustle and bustle in Jeff’s busy life quickly came to a grinding halt. Jeff contracted COVID-19, which led to double pneumonia, causing his lung capacity to take a plunge. For three weeks, he was on IVs and oxygen, in the biggest fight of his life.
“It got really bad,” said Jeff, among the first people in Alabama diagnosed with COVID-19. “I’m 60 years old, and I have a pre-existing lung problem. They wanted me in the hospital. I told them that if I’m going to die, I’m going to die at home.”
Getting Back to Business
Jeff’s story — and his life — did not end there. Knocked out of commission for six weeks, he suffered irreversible reduction in lung capacity. But he’s grateful to have survived and is thankful Dianne, who was also infected with COVID-19, recovered much sooner due to her early diagnosis.
Now, Jeff’s focus is back on moving from a 32,000-square-foot shop in nearby Birmingham, Alabama, to a 140,000-square-foot, air-conditioned building that is scheduled to open in August 2020 with about 45 employees. Classic Car Motoring is the only collision repair center in Alabama that is certified by Mercedes-Benz USA and Tesla. Their new facility will have it all — 12,000 square feet of air-conditioned storage that can hold 114 vehicles, 19,000 square feet of dedicated space for repairing commercial-sized vehicles and a retrofitted Global Finishing Solutions (GFS) paint booth for applying vinyl wraps and paint protection film (PPF).
Classic Car Motoring does not belong to any Direct Repair Programs (DRPs) with insurance companies, and nearly all their business comes from repeat customers. The definition of a “specialty shop,” Classic Car Motoring does not use used or aftermarket parts and has a labor rate that is sometimes higher than what insurance companies pay.
“Our shop is not for everybody,” Jeff said. “If somebody is concerned with the resell value of their car, that is our customer. If it is just a car somebody uses to get from Point A to Point B, that customer is not for us.”
With premium finishes a must when repairing luxury vehicles, Classic Car Motoring’s new location will feature three Ultra XD Paint Booths (each with AdvanceCure Blade accelerated curing) and two Ultra XD Mix Rooms from GFS. Each downdraft booth is 33 feet long, and two of the booths are 24 feet wide, giving Classic Car Motoring plenty of room for painting oversized vehicles or large batches of parts.
“GFS understood that I wanted things that were different,” said Jeff, who dug the exhaust pits himself for his booths. “Having a custom-built booth, GFS has stood up and honored everything they said they would do, and I can’t complain. It has been a smooth process. They even built some one-off things for us that will be new to the industry. That is the kind of people I like to deal with — not the norm for the industry by any means.”
Sweet Home Community Support
Determined to make something positive out of his fight against COVID-19, Jeff is partnering with a local grocer, local bank and other area businesses, as well as TV and radio stations, to feed people in need in the Birmingham area. On scheduled weekends, 400 meals will be distributed through the “Support Alabama” fundraiser, served out of Classic Car Motoring and packaged by their employees.
“There are a lot of people in Birmingham who have lost their jobs and are struggling but have too much pride to take food,” Jeff said. “The community is really coming together to help those most in need.”
With COVID-19 behind him, Jeff is back to working long hours and diving into the details as he tries to make everything perfect for the next chapter of Classic Car Motoring. In some ways, this is a new beginning for him as well.
“It has made me more cautious but also more caring for people. It has definitely changed my life, and that is why I feel like I need to give something back,” he said. “We have to come together to get through this. The only way we are going to survive these trying times as an industry is by working together.”