Thursday, 12 July 2018 10:57

Oldest Body Shops in America: Bistagne Bros Body Shop

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Tom Bistagne (in truck) and George Bistagne circa 1950 Tom Bistagne (in truck) and George Bistagne circa 1950


In 1946, the Bistagne Brothers Body Shop was founded in a rented, 400-square-foot shop on the northeast corner of Chevy Chase and Verdugo in Glendale, CA. The two brothers and a single hired helper now had a clear vision of where they were going and how they were going to get there.

In 1948, the business expanded and a plot of their own real estate, on the southeast corner of the same intersection, was purchased. A purpose-built garage building was erected on the site into which the brothers moved in 1949. As of January 2018, they were at the same site.

A 1955 magazine article notes, “All operations on the 5,000-square-foot lot are under direct Bistagne control except two which are sublet. Vic’s Top Shop is conducted by Victor Roehner, an old Pierce-Arrow craftsman from Buffalo where quality workmanship was a creed. The other sub-tenant is Russell Thomas, who runs a frame and alignment operation in a 40 X 30 foot shop. He has a $5,000 investment in the latest Bear equipment for frame and front end work on which he specializes.

“Mobile equipment of the Bistagne plant consists of two pick-up trucks and a tow car for bringing in wrecks. The firm maintains a fleet of 10 loan cars for the convenience of customers whose vehicles are tied up for service. There is no charge to customers for use of a loan car.”  

By 1955, Tom and George employed “eight metal men, four painters for spot and complete jobs, one glaze and polish man, one frame specialist and one tow truck operator.”

By their own admission, some of their early days in the collision repair business were rough-going financially. In the days before CCC, Mitchell and Audatex, they had no idea what to charge for a repair to ensure that their costs were covered and a fair profit was realized. But eventually they figured it out and “diplomatically declined” those jobs that were not profitable.

In June of 1955, the shop performed the following work: 148 customer-pay jobs for which they collected a cash payment, 114 insurance jobs and 48 miscellaneous jobs. During this period, the shop was part of one of the earliest forerunners of the DRP concept: the Available Garage Plan, which gave them “preferred listings” with insurance companies bringing them “prestige and business from the carriers.”

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