28 March 2016

From IBM Accountant to Corvette Wizard

When I contacted the Corvette Club of America to see who they might recommend as a Corvette expert, they gave me a name without hesitation.

"Contact Tony Avedisian at Tony's Corvette Shop," Terry Popkin, the club's ambassador to the National Corvette Museum, wrote within 20 minutes of my sending an email.

I had been expecting a connection with an older gentleman, one presumably living in a wide-open desert with plenty of space for fast driving and long-term project storage. Avedisian was neither. A former accountant, he was gray-haired, but in good trim and abuzz with youthful energy. His shop was nowhere near the desert, but in suburban Montgomery County, Md., just outside Washington, D.C.

Located at the elbow of an intersection between the main road and a strip mall, Tony's Corvette Shop is a sprawling complex comprising two hangar-like buildings and some shipping containers filled with spare parts.

Upon entering the garage in Building One, I came face-to-face with a restored 1963 Z06 that looked as if it had just rolled out of the factory. It had been finished just in time to be loaded into a trailer and sent to Bloomington Gold, a judged event where the Corvette faithful go to prove their dedication to the high priests of the Corvette tribe.

The reasons for Avedisian's success were evident as soon as I entered the shop's inner sanctum. Farther inside, even, than the boxes of sun visor screws, marker light bezels and other very specific parts, was the shop's unemotional brain: a computer loaded with digital photographs. Avedisian says he takes photographs of every detail – not just of the cars he restores, but ones he spots in shows and even junkyards. All of his technicians have digital cameras, too.

The level of detail they chronicle is astounding. During the early '60s, for example, there were only a handful of GM plant employees who wrote the assembly-line alphanumeric codes on the firewall. Avedisian and his team are familiar with their handwriting, and can tell when someone has changed the original number to make a car appear more valuable.

Much of this Corvette knowledge was gained from his many years on the job. Avedisian has been restoring Corvettes professionally since 1989. Still, when questions about what's correct and what isn't bubble to the surface during a restoration, the irrefutable proof comes from the shop's archive of photos.

"It's doesn't even come down to my opinion anymore," he said. "It's forensic; you can't argue with pictures."

And then there are all the parts.

"I'm a parts hoarder," Avedisian said, plucking a screw from one of the gray metal bins lining the wall. "You see this? It's a No. 10 screw with a No. 6 head, chrome-plated."

He told me it was the only correct screw to mount sun visors on a specific Corvette model. He showed me colored fuses he'd taken from junkyards back in the '90s. There was a 600-pound stash of original wheel weights from the factory. He had suspension cradle nuts and weatherstripping, and parts that had been discontinued for years.

We walked down corridor after corridor, passing steering columns, metal trim strips and suspension parts, among other things. Avedisian pointed to a bushel of dipsticks protruding from one of the shelves. The judges at Bloomington Gold are sticklers for correct gear, he said. Non-original dipsticks and incorrect sun visor fasteners wouldn't do.

"For an original build, everything has to be the way it was when it rolled off the assembly line," he said. "That's why we've been able to succeed in this business – we have an unbelievable amount of parts."

Avedisian's rise to Corvette wizardry was circuitous. He caught the bug in his teens and restored his own cars over the years. But for nearly two decades, he worked for IBM as an accountant. Eventually, though, his love for the cars outweighed his need to maintain a 9-to-5 office job.

After restoring a co-worker's Corvette, word spread that Avedisian knew what he was doing. A local police officer was the next to commission him for a restoration. Others followed. By the end of the '80s, he and Andrew Toman, who is still his lead tech, were moonlighting at Avedisian's house. But after working nights and weekends for 10 years, Avedisian finally decided to quit his day job.

"Everyone thought I was nuts," he recalled. "There I was, I worked for IBM and had a wife and two kids. But I did it and I don't look back. This is the American dream."

6 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Bill Easton, MD April 12, 2016 at 11:31
    I known Tony and Andrew, and used their services, for about 30 years. They're the best!
  • 2
    Don Silawsky Annapolis, MD April 12, 2016 at 11:35
    Tony is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet in the car world. He gives you the straight dope, good or bad. I've been privileged to have my 1991 ZR-1 serviced exclusively by Tony since I bought it new.
  • 3
    Jim Maryland April 13, 2016 at 16:56
    Tony and Andrew are the best Corvette team around. Their eye for detail, fair prices and honesty set them apart.
  • 4
    John McClelland Washington Grove MD April 18, 2016 at 19:29
    From out initial meeting in Tony's home garage he and Andrew have kept my 58 running great for decades. It is fantastic to have their expertise just a few miles down the road.
  • 5
    William "Van" Vander Haar Glenwood MD May 1, 2016 at 12:26
    I have known Tony since he was still working at IBM and had work done on my 1979 when he worked from his home. Now I also have a 1999 Corvette and had them deal with my tires and rims. They always do impeccable work, on time and at a reasonable price for excellence. You can't do better. Tony is a sponsor for the Corvette Club of America, and his support and love of the marque is apparent in everything he does. He and his technicians are the best and their integrity is unquestionable. It is a joy to know and work with them all, and I drop by regularly just to say hi when I'm in the area.
  • 6
    Bill Stephens Maryland June 12, 2016 at 09:41
    Tony's not only an expert, he's a great guy. I live near by and have had him spend an incredible amount of time digging through his unbelievable parts collection to find something obscure. He often doesn't even charge me and when he does I get a great deal on the part and don't pay anything for the time. He and Andrew are great to deal with.

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