Al Porcelli, a collision repair industry leader and educator and the founder and longest-serving official of the Auto Body Craftsmen’s Guild, died April 7 from conditions associated with a long life. He was 95.
Porcelli was the son of Italian immigrants who came to America in the early 1900s. He was born in 1924 in Brooklyn, NY, and grew up during the Great Depression.
Porcelli began working at age 10 as an apprentice, sweeping floors in the auto electric shop next to the home where he was born in Brooklyn.
By the time he graduated high school, Porcelli had mastered servicing automotive electrical, as well as all other systems.
Although he wanted to enlist in the military when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he finished school first. He joined the U.S. Navy within months, and soon became a top fighter aircraft mechanic at Pearl Harbor. His automotive experience gained him quick promotions, and by age 20 he was training other mechanics in aircraft electronics.
After four years of honorable military service, Porcelli returned home to Brooklyn and began working at a collision shop in Queens. In 1947 he married his neighbor and childhood sweetheart, Orrie, with whom he had three sons, Michael, Dennis and Anthony.
In 1949, with co-worker and fellow veteran Henry Keller, Porcelli opened Central Avenue Collision Works, in a two-car garage in Glendale, Queens. Through their hard work, the business grew rapidly, and within five years it moved to a much larger, fully-equipped facility, across the street from their humble beginning.
They were viewed by their peers as the best partners in the business, who produced the highest quality work, for more than 25 years until Keller’s retirement.
Three years later, Porcelli’s oldest son, Mike, who worked in the shop learning the trade from age 5, became his dad’s new partner. Together they continued their tradition of quality work and consumer advocacy, expanding the business until the elder Porcelli’s retirement in 1990. Today, the family tradition continues, under the third generation of Porcelli ownership.
After just a few years in business, Porcelli realized the collision industry suffered from many abuses and deficiencies, and did not really operate in a free enterprise environment. To address this problem, Porcelli and 11 other local shop owners, known as the “dirty dozen” because they did the hard work, formed one of the earliest collision trade associations, the Auto Body Craftsmen’s Guild of New York City, to promote the interests of shop owners, workers and consumers alike.
Since its inception, Porcelli held every leadership position in the organization, and was very proud of his service as a chairman of the education committee and as the longest-surviving guild founder.
For more than 60 years, Porcelli and the guild advocated for better trade education in public school systems and within the industry.