If the 1940s and 1950s marked the industry’s earliest “modern” beginnings and the 1960s signified the industry’s “grammar school” years, the 1970s could be seen as its teenage years.
Changes were happening, signs of maturity were beginning to show, and yes… there were some “growing pains.”
Veterans of that period claim it was like operating in the Wild West. After calling on a shop, one former insurance adjuster noted, it was not uncommon to return to one’s car to find an envelope stuffed with $100 bills over the visor to ensure continued “favorable treatment.”
Another veteran noted that during that time, the collision estimating guides were competing for market share. Each one tried to outdo the other by building in repair times here and there and then showing the prospective shop how much more time and money they could make with their brand of estimating guide. It was not until the insurance companies started writing their own estimates that they started noticing the differences.
It was a time of what one industry veteran called the “Infamous Two-Man Shop.” Young technicians wanting to strike out on their own, either because they didn’t like the work they were being handed or because they thought they would make a bundle of money as an owner. They would leave their shop, rent a small garage and start their own business. It wouldn’t be long before they’d realize they needed some help and would recruit a buddy from their former shop. They then would go to all the old shop’s insurance contacts, tell them they would do the work a little cheaper, and the cars would start to roll in. Unfortunately, in those days before job-costing, the new shop never knew if they were profiting or not. Many simply went bankrupt and closed the doors.
The 1970s saw the seeds sown for what would become the model for 21st century collision shops. Before the days of ABRA, CARSTAR and Caliber, Pittsburgh industrialist Ward Wickwire signed the first franchising agreement to open an American Way International body shop in Pittsburgh, an early model of the MSO concept. AWI never became a household name and was never nationally recognized, but this period would give rise to those who were.