2Guys Auto in MA Restores Classic Cars Back to Life

Joe Dean and Mike Libardi of 2Guys Auto Restoration with one of the classic cars they're working on.

For longtime friends Joe Dean and Mike Libardi, the opening of 2Guys Auto Restoration and Repair in North Adams, MA, is a return to their roots restoring the cars they love from the past.

Dean and Libardi share a passion bordering on obsession with classic cars.

Before opening the shop, the duo always had a "project" and 2Guys is really a formalization of what the two have been doing in garages and driveways for years before.

For more than 40 years, Dean ran Dean's Quality Auto &Truck Repair, a business started by his late father, Jimmy, in the 1960s. But in the spring of 2021, he decided to sell.

While Dean was getting the sale of the business in order, Libardi was at the new garage on Hodges Cross Road getting things ready. Dean joined him later that summer.

This June will already be two years in business.

The concept really started percolating in 2013, when Libardi returned to the area from the state of Florida, where he owned a body shop and worked for NASCAR on a pit crew.

"My dad got sick, and I came home to take care of him and kind of never went back. I learned how much racing takes away from your life," Libardi said. "You are home two days a week and then you are back on a plane again going to the next race."

Dean himself was getting tired of overseeing his truck repair, plowing and wrecking business that had him out at all hours.

"I went through all of that, and I went through all-of-the-night working … I would start plowing at 2 in the morning, go all the way around, then go back to the shop and work," he said. "…You get to the point where you want breakfast for supper and supper for breakfast. I could do that as a young guy but once I turned 60, I knew I had to get out."

When the opportunity to purchase the former Rick's Auto came around, Dean felt it was time to seriously start thinking about making some changes.

But the move down the street was not turnkey. In Dean's words: "The place was a dump."

"I knew it was nice once upon a time … so we went down to take a look," he said. "You couldn't get 5 feet inside the door. It was just filled with junk."

He said pipes had burst, turning two motorcycles, one brand new, into something you would be more apt to see at the bottom of a dredged lake.

But after sifting through the junk, rust and parts, the duo found a canvas on which to build their dream shop. Not too small, not too big, with just room enough to handle the number of cars they want to work on at a time.

Dean and Libardi completely gutted the current structure and put on an addition to accommodate a temperature-controlled state-of-the-art spray booth.

You can't bring your Honda Civic down to 2Guys or your dinged-up minivan. Maybe they will take a look at your Firebird from the mid-'80s. Otherwise, Dean and Libardi aren't interested.

The determining factor: computers.

"Once you start getting into computers and fuel injection, it is not fun anymore," Dean said. "I want to turn screws on that little mixture on the carburetor. I want to make that respond."

And there is a need for this specialization and, according to Dean, there are few who can work on these old cars.

"The young guys don't understand these cars, and you can't look it up on a laptop. You have to touch it, feel it, turn the screw, wrench the bolt," Dean said. "We know all of that. We grew up doing it. I grew up in my grandfather's shop. I learned how to set up a rear end … I did my first bearing job on a motor when I was 14."

Libardi agreed and shared that his own origin story almost mirrored Dean's, adding being steeped in these old car parts gave them an education that seemed to be a thing of the past.

"I was always into cars and grew up around it with my uncle," he said. "I was doing mechanical stuff and changing oil when I was 12 years old. In eighth grade, I was pumping gas. I would check the oil and wipe the windshield. I couldn't reach the middle."

They did see the irony when complaining about a 1914 pickup truck they worked on that had kerosene lights and no electrical system. They had to use the old hand crank and magneto method to get it started.

2Guys is busy. Dean kept glancing out the window at parked cars that have yet to enter the garage but have entered his mind. Mid-interview he would run through mental lists of parts he needed for these projects taunting him in the parking lot. Parts he was pretty sure he had stored at home in his 40-year-old collection.

"People find out we are working on old cars and suddenly we have a waiting list," Dean said. "We have five in motion now and there are probably eight, 10 more out there. We have four coming out of Florida this summer."

The hot rod community is pretty tight. Dean said everyone typically knows what each other has. But when they opened, Dean said he had no idea so many people had these classic cars stowed away in garages and barns waiting for a worthy mechanic to bring them back to life.

"We didn't have the slightest idea what was out there. If I had known 10 years ago, I would have turned that shop into a hot rod shop," Dean said. "Because I could have kept everybody slammed. We could have put four more bays down there with four more guys and still not keep up."

2Guys has done total and partial restorations. They have rebuilt classic cars that have gone on to competitions including a Pontiac that scored 394 out of 400 at a national Pontiac competition.

"These are Pontiac national events. These are Pontiac judges climbing all over the car. One clip missing, that is a point," Dean said.

Libardi, the shop perfectionist, was haunted by the six points they lost because of the Pontiac's carpet.

"We didn't do anything to the rear carpet. It was tucked up underneath because there wasn't enough. It was only a quarter of an inch up underneath, but it needed to be a half inch," he said. "We didn't cut it, it was all we had. But that is what they are looking at."

Sometimes Dean and Libardi take on passion projects that hold sentimental value to the owners.

Although the two understand this value, they do try to talk clients toward more sensible, cost-effective, less challenging designs that would at least drive straight and have working doors---mostly to no avail.

"Someone has an attachment and you can't talk them out of it," Libardi said. "Sentimental value is often more than value."

They recalled one client who brought in a beat-up '70s Chevy pickup. With it, he had a picture of himself and his sister as children sitting on a camper stored in the bed of a similar truck.

"It was a picture of his father's truck. He said it was red and white, it is a CST high trim truck. He said, 'this is what I want, build it,'" Dean said.

The project took more than six months and nearly 850 hours.

"We took it all the way down to the naked frame, blasted and painted the frame, and came back up through. Suspension, virgin motor rebuild, transmission, new brakes, all new body panels," Dean said. "Added vintage air and all Cheyenne trim on it. That was well over a $100,000 job."

Dean praised Libardi's work, noting he was so diligent you would think the truck would be permanently sat in a museum. 

But to Libardi's dismay, the owner had not planned to stow his magnum opus away only to be brought out for special occasions---he was going to put some miles on the truck.

Dean said the owner has a camper loaded in the back, just like in the photo. And during the summer, travels the country camping with his two dogs, cats and bird.

Dean said the client told him he could buy a brand-new truck for cheaper, but he wanted to be able to repair it on the road without the aid of proprietary computers, a sentiment Dean and Libardi completely understood.

Oftentimes they conduct partial restores, undoing the mess others have made.

"We have had several jobs that were started somewhere else. That is the tough part. You don't know what has been done," Dean said. "We got a Chevelle, we looked at it, and we started over … he had $30,000 in that car, and we tore it down. It was garbage."

Dean and Libardi are right where they want to be. When asked if Dean missed the wrecker business, he let out a resounding "no."

Although the hard late hours were important to him, he was done with it.

"I had my time with it and now I am making up time. I learned from my father. I remember before I had my license, he would knock on my door and say, 'We got one over an embankment I might need your help,'" he said. "I have been doing it my whole life. My father's first wrecker was a 1948 Ford snub nose. I used to stand in between the bucket seats and go to wrecks with him and help the best I could."

Libardi echoed Dean and said moving on from hectic schedules is part of getting old and a reason why he decided to stay.

"You get old and that's what happens," he laughed.

When asked if they had any desire to expand, Dean let out another unequivocal "no," noting things are perfect as is.

"We are going to run with what we got until we can't anymore. We have plenty of cars to work on," he said.

He said they have one employee---a younger guy in his 20s---who knows all the old ways. As long as they own the shop, things will be kept small.

But, he added, after two years in business, they are not opposed to selling the shop. Dean said if they were handed a "check with enough zeroes" someone could be in the shop "tomorrow."

It doesn't matter to 2Guys if they are working out of their dream shop or their back yard, because the important thing is bringing these classic cars back to life and reconnecting them to their owners. Exhuming them from garages and barns and bringing them back or surpassing their former majesty.

"We have a little shop to work out of at my house. I got a bay up there," Dean said. "We can go there and putter and keep ourselves busy."

We thank iBerkshires for reprint permission.

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