Words Barry Alt, photos Darren Ohara:
Gearing up for the 30th anniversary of the successful restoration business Russell Jacobs started in 1989, he looks back on his experiences and plans for the road ahead.
“I started dragging old cars home when I was 14 years old, to my mom’s family farm, working on anything old with a motor.” At age 16, Russell Jacobs’ car needed a paint job, so he wound up asking for work at the local auto body shop. He spent five years there learning the ropes and developing his passion in restoration.
On his 21st birthday, Russell Jacobs Custom Auto Repair Shop, (later incorporated as RJ CARS) was born. “When I first started out, there were some nights I would work all night and into the next day.” Russell started working out of a building on the family’s farm until he moved to his current location in Arkport, NY.
The shop has come a long way. One of the larger pieces of equipment purchased was a Nova Verta Spray Booth, an investment about which Russell says, “That was my dream, to build a shop that would allow us to put out high quality work”. The focus has always been to keep building on the quality of the work by investing in training, software and equipment, even if it was only for a single job.
Specializing in factory-correct restorations, the shop also provides high quality body and paint work, mechanical repair, and collision repair. The projects can vary from a black ’68 Charger R/T, to a ’59 Cadillac, and anything else. Another major build in 2018 was a 1973 Volvo 1800ES rally car.
Although Russell continues to work on many types of cars he says, “The MOPAR’s are the ones I have the most love for and the most knowledge of. Those are the cars that really caught my attention when I was young.”
Current smaller service work includes a’68 Charger and a ’67 Camaro RS. An engine rebuild, engine bay driveline work, and bodywork are going into a 1938 LaSalle convertible for a collector.
RJ CARS is a family affair, with his son, Matthew, managing the mechanical and assembly work, while daughter McKenna is involved with other responsibilities throughout the business. His wife and daughter also assist with events such as the Chrysler Nationals at Carlisle. Once, they received a ’70 Cuda that was delivered with parts inside the body, trailer, and in a truck. It took a week to carefully inventory all the parts. “It’s really quite a responsibility to take care of a person’s car, but also all of their parts that they hand you. It’s a big commitment,” says Russell.
RJ CARS has a diverse client base that come from far-away places, and many local clients from the Rochester and Corning areas. Clients located along the East Coast and beyond have sought out restoration services from this well-known business.
Currently employed at the shop are two auto body craftsmen and another employee for mechanical assembly. Russell manages the projects and oversees the operation. Parts and Service Manager, Darren, also assists with IT, while Mandy manages the office.
For two years now, Russell has participated as an expert at the Restorer’s Round Table at Carlisle which allows the public to ask shop owners questions about restorations.
Moving ahead after 30 years, the plan is to build on the quality that’s been established. Also, on the side, he finds time to help his son restore his ’70 Dodge Dart Swinger. On finding balance he says, “Ride the teeter totter like a surfboard.” He’s grateful for receiving lots of help from staff and family, and the council of his go-to people. He also finds time to enjoy riding his Harley and hunting.
Russell never seems to lose sight of the next thing needing attention, whether it’s something to improve in the shop or hiring Motorhead Digital for their newly re-designed website making it mobile ready and allowing them to better feature projects staying current in fast-changing times.
After 30 years, RJ CARS is proving to be up-to-speed and fresher than ever.