i was a teenage car detailer

By | October 26, 2013

B&W '62 Grand Prix AF&VK


In September, 1973 the local Tacoma, Washington newspaper listed a help wanted ad for an independent South Tacoma used car dealership. I had just started my senior year in high school, and was ahead on my credits for graduation, and so my school day ended at 1pm. I called the car dealership to arrange a meeting.

The fact that I arrived at TQC used cars by cross-town bus, somehow impressed Dave Welch, so he hired me that afternoon, primarily for the role of lead detailer and minor mechanical serviceman. That rounded out the crew to Dave, me, and owner Al Tone. I worked every afternoon after school, Monday-Friday from 2pm-6pm, and every Saturday from 9am-6pm.

All three of us were able, hardworking guys, and sometimes we all would work together on one car, if it was some kind of factory special edition. Usually, each car would get a full detail inside and out, including power buffing and waxing—the high-class cars got a top coat of hand-polished carnauba wax.

A lot of the detail work involved the use of chemicals and brushes and cloth.. After the outside paint was polished, I would use an artist’s type 1/8″ brush to cover any scratches or nicks with pre-mixed factory specified color paint. I wore down countless long handle broad bristle nylon brushes from scrubbing vinyl upholstery, carpet, floor mats, and rubber tires. If the tires had white sidewalls, then I would scrub them with soapy Brillo-pads. If the tires were just black, then I would grab a 2″ paint brush and give them a coat of “tire black”, which I could blend from concentrate and control the sheen from dull to shiny. As for all the stainless steel bright-work and chrome bumpers and chrome hubcaps, I used yard-lengths of multiple grade steel wool, and thousands of pounds of elbow grease. When it came to carpet color restoration, for each car I used two or three aerosol cans of spray paint—red, blue, gold, green, and of course black. As for most of the car trunks, they were fully spray painted flat gray and then spatter sprayed with black and white speckles. Lastly, after each car’s windows were polished inside and out, each dashboard and steering wheel was hand-buffed with a soft cloth coated with aerosol spray “Pledge” furniture polish–Lemon scent Pledge.

It was all worth it. The whole effort was a constructive use of time which proved itself personally satisfying; and likewise the customers really appreciated our style—we were often told that we had the cleanest cars on South Tacoma Way. Believe it. It was during that period that TQC reached new heights in car sales.

The car lot is still is still in operation, although the name and ownership has changed. The original wooden single car garage/detail shop is still standing; as is the original office; and behind it still stands the concrete block shop, which was built about a year or so after I started.

For three years, 1973-1976, I worked to build a solid foundation in the car industry. I left to pursue a career in graphic arts, but I returned to the used car business briefly in 2009 to sell cars for an independent dealer in Puyallup, Washington. In the summer of 2010, I returned to South Tacoma Way again, to sell cars for an independent dealer. I was surprised to discover that nothing really remarkable has changed since I left the industry in 1976.

For the most part, the traditional ways of conducting business is still the same. You work hard. You play hard. You want excitement. You want to reward yourself.

The most rewarding and satisfying thing one may buy is both means and ends to full dimensional living. For over 100 years the automobile is that thing which has served to satisfy the need for excitement, power, and pleasure.

Victory Flag

Mike Thacker 1973

Michael S. Thacker, 1973






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *