Anyone who has been reading car magazines since about the mid-1970s would recognize the logo for Dave Bean Engineering. It looks like Dave’s initials fashioned into a slot-car track, and it generally appeared in the smaller ads back in the cheap seats of pretty much every car magazine I read as a kid. A Lotus racer back when Lotus was just another weird little foreign sports car in a market crowded with weird little foreign sports cars, Dave got into the business of selling parts because he couldn’t get them himself, because he had fallen in love with the cars from a company that was about as organized as a parrot rodeo. So he just started making calls. And then people started calling him.
At the last inventory, there were about 100,000 parts packed into the former drive-through lumber warehouse in San Andreas, California, from which Dave Bean Engineering operates. Also, importantly, says longtime employee Ken Gray, “We pride ourselves in offering Lotus therapy.” Meaning, when you collapse into a puddle of tears and bloody knuckles while trying to replace the four rubber driveshaft doughnuts in an early Elan, there’s a crisis hotline you can call that is answered by friendly people with The Knowledge. As someone who spent seven years restoring an old Lamborghini, a firm that in its early years made Lotus look organized and efficient, I can vouch for the priceless gift of having a guy to call.
My Lamborghini guy in Phoenix has never liked the press, has never, to my knowledge, taken out an ad in a magazine, and has yet to get around to creating a website, so I’m not going to say his name here. He once told me that Lamborghini owners are a pain in the buns because they never call except during the week before Pebble Beach, and then they want the part yesterday. Because so few Lamborghinis were made and they’re rarely driven, inventory sits in my guy’s bins for years waiting to be purchased. I’ve been buying stuff there since 1996 and have tried to be less of a pain by not being too demanding and by, you know, putting his kids through college, or making all the payments on his Fountain boat, or whatever he does with the thousands I’ve paid him.
Although I have never believed he got rich selling master-cylinder rebuild kits for $40 a pop, I did find out that these guys have feelings. After one frustrating parts search years ago, I left a few mildly disparaging comments on a forum. Maybe six months later I was in Phoenix and went to my guy’s warehouse to buy some parts. As though he had been waiting patiently for this moment, he whipped out a printed sheet and read me back my comments verbatim. All I could do was stammer a repeated apology; I needed those suspension bushings. For years my wife baked him Christmas cookies as penance.
We who like old cars, and especially the orphans and the strange stuff, are reliant on our guys. They are the mad monks of the automotive landscape, the ones who keep the flames lit and the sacred teachings intact in wonderful indoor junkyards and steel-shelved temples of obsolescence. Long after a car company has gone belly up or has forgotten about and abandoned its old products, these guys keep us going by finding the obscure bits or having them made, and by counseling us when we’re stuck. Vintage Maserati people call Jacques Pozzo di Borgo—great name for a Maserati parts guy, eh?—at maseratisource.com. Duesenberg dudes call Randy Ema. When I owned my 1969 Toyota Corona, the best place to get advice and parts for this common appliance—built in the hundreds of thousands by what is now the world’s largest automaker—was a guy named Carlyn Dinkler in North Carolina. If Carlyn didn’t have it, good luck.
This past August 13, a Sunday, Dave Bean, 78, a guy who undoubtedly turned a lot of frowns upside down, passed away suddenly in the night. “I went home for the weekend and came back and he wasn’t there,” Ken Gray told me. “There were so many things I still wanted to talk to him about.” If you have a guy, hug him—by which I mean call him, chat with him, and order some stuff. You won’t know how much you desperately need him until he’s gone.