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Profile: Continental Motorcars auto shop owner Frank Cervetto races vehicles

Posted: October 1, 2010 6:04 p.m.
Updated: October 2, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Frank Cervetto works on a 1997 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 at his Continental Motorcars shop Thursday afternoon.

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Driving as fast as 182 mph, Frank Cervetto endures gravitational forces greater than astronauts face when a space shuttle takes off. Shifting gears at neck-breaking speeds, he takes corners on racetracks banked steeply enough that the tracks would send ordinary drivers hurtling into concrete barriers.

While racing, Cervetto is simultaneously analyzing what’s going on with the car and determining what adjustments need to be made during a pit stop that may last only seconds. How fast a car can be driven is not quite as important as the driver understanding what all its systems are doing.

Cervetto, owner of Continental Motorcars, is a race car driver by choice and a master automotive technician who repairs passenger vehicles by profession.

One longtime customer said because Cervetto understands cars, he doesn’t just make repairs by the book. If a part fails, he works the problem backward to determine why that part failed and fixes the root cause of a problem.

Finding the source of the problem during the initial visit to Continental Motorcars saves the customer time and money by avoiding repeat visits to the garage, and possibly the purchase of multiple new parts, rather than gradually discovering through trial and error why a vehicle malfunctions.

Trained at the Lincoln Technical Institute in New Jersey and graduating in the top 10 of his class, Cervetto spent a decade at a factory a dealer sent him to specializing in the mechanics of European cars Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen. He later moved west, eventually settling with his family in Santa Clarita. 

Hands-on approach
“I’m the owner, but I still wrench,” Cervetto said.

Cervetto compared his services to larger shops, where he said cars are processed through a series of steps and handed off from person to person so that in the end, many times, no single person has all the knowledge about a car the shop just worked on.

To stay current with technological advances in the automotive industry, Cervetto said he continues his education by attending training four to five times per year.

While the repair shop specializes in European autos, Cervetto said he works on all cars.

“A person will bring their import car in for service or repairs, but then begin bringing in all of the family cars,” said Cervetto.

Continental Motorcars opened on Railroad Avenue next to the Saugus Cafe in 1987 after Cervetto sold a previous repair business in Canyon Country.

The repair shop has two employees, down slightly from years when the economy was healthier, but up from the past year when Cervetto carefully managed expenses to weather the economic downturn.

“I manage inventory like real estate,” he said. “I don’t buy more than I need and sell what I have.”

Cervetto also said he focuses on customer service to maintain repeat customers, and gives his employees an incentive when business goes well.

Longtime employee Jermy Huff discovered the auto shop when, as a child, his parents brought their cars to Continental Motorcars. His parents say he was interested in cars since he was a little boy.

“I like puzzles. I was always good at them,” Huff said. “Basically, cars are just bigger puzzles.”
Huff said he spent his youth taking apart small appliances like his alarm clock to figure out how they worked.

Cat rescue
Cervetto said one of his most interesting jobs was the time a woman brought in her car, saying every time she started the engine it locked up and made a peculiar sound — a sound like a cat.

Cervetto ran through a mental checklist of possible causes for the noise. What he did not expect was to actually find a stray cat stuck between a crankshaft pulley and belt.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I turned the ignition, and it sounded exactly like the cat sound the owner imitated.”
Cervetto was able to rescue the cat and call a veterinarian. The cat survived.

First place
Cervetto has won scores of trophies for placing first in auto races, so many that he has them displayed in his office, home and personal garage. He has also won first place in four championship race series and in one Western State Championship Series.

Building his own race cars and racing for 20 years has given Cervetto an appreciation of the working dynamics of a vehicle. He doesn’t operate in a “repair” frame of mind, but evaluates the entire workings of an automobile when assessing a problem.

Cervetto last competed at Coronado Speed Festival in San Diego last month, the only auto racing venue in the world held on an active U.S. Navy runway. He said the manufacturers were all at the race, supporting the factory cars competing.

The factory cars racing had the manufacturer telling the engineer, who would tell the mechanic, how to tweak or fix the car to be competitive. Cervetto was racing his own car, telling himself what his car needed as he drove.

“I came in second place and beat a lot of the factory guys,” he said. “I was pretty proud of that.”

Continental Motorcars is located at 28545 Railroad Ave., next to Saugus Cafe, and can be reached at (661) 255-5381.

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