America loves classic cars. So does 44 year-old Jason Oppio, who recently purchased Al’s Rod and Custom shop in Sparks from his father, Al.
The purchase seemed like a natural for Jason Oppio, whose family has deep roots in Sparks dating back to the early 1920s when his great grandparents immigrated to the area from Italy where they were farmers.
The Oppio name and its business fit in Sparks like a ball in a glove, especially considering the wild success of Hot August Nights, which has risen to become one of the most idolized car shows in the country each summer.
The car business has a way of getting into your blood, and that’s exactly the case when the business includes 70 year-old hot rods that sound good, look good and take you back to the time when life was more fun. When Al’s Rod and Custom opened in 1997, no one foresaw a business that would not just survive, but prosper at the same time.
Indeed, there is still a market for classic cars, so there remains a need for hot rod shops where music from the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and The Beatles still rock. When 72 year-old “Big” Al Oppio decided to sell the family business, Jason Oppio swallowed up the opportunity like Henry Winkler did when he was asked to play the part of Fonzie on Happy Days in the 1970s.
In the scary world of retail, Al’s Rod and Custom is a footprint of excellence that has great history and a good name at least partially because of its continued community involvement.
“Ninety percent of our business is repeat,” said Jason Oppio. “I have worked side-by-side with my dad for 30 years. I love this business. I’m a fabricator at heart.”
Interestingly, the younger Oppio left the family business for a while four years ago. He tried the corporate world for two years only to discover that the restrictions and the rest weren’t for him.
“I have to work with my hands,” he said. “I learned that when I went to work in the corporate world.”
Meanwhile, Al’s Rod and Custom is again red-lining the tachometer of business. Headlining the activity all at once is the construction of an always popular 1964 Chevelle along with the restoration of a ’56 Pontiac High Railer for the Nevada Railroad Museum.
“We have a lot of older clients,” Jason Oppio explained. “I refer to them as ‘old money’ because it comes from older people. We’re also pursuing younger, newer clients. However, the old money is still our bread and butter.”
Meanwhile, the namesake of Al’s Rod and Custom is preparing to kick back and relax, if there is such a thing after decades of hard work.
“He’s going to do a lot of fishing,” Jason Oppio predicted. “However, it won’t be easy for him to slow down.”
The younger Oppio will carry on the family tradition adding that he is injecting new ideas while also expanding the shop. In addition, he is bringing on business partner Machelle Irvin to handle the day to day operations of the shop.
New employees will be added, and a hydrodipping division will also be put in place.
“The hydrodipping process goes hand in hand with our custom painting,” Oppio said. “It compliments what we already do, which is custom painting.”
Among the many loyal customers at Al’s Rod and Custom in Sparks is Elko resident and car enthusiast Tom Kerr, who paid $150 for a 1962 Buick Wildcat in 1977. However, he sold the Buick and lost track of it until 2011 during a trip back to Canada.
“I just started tracking owners after I had sold it to my brother originally in 1980,” said the 55-year-old Kerr, who is an executive with Newmont Mining Corporation in Elko. “Somehow the Buick survived, and I found it sitting in a field where I repurchased it for far more than the original $150.”
The old Buick had great nostalgic value especially since Kerr and wife, Tina, used to cruise the streets in Canada in a small town called Princeton in the late 1970s. In a sense, it’s almost like the Kerr couple found a long-lost friend.
However, the vehicle was in dire need of help, and that’s precisely where Al’s Rod and Custom comes into the picture. Considering that the Buick had significant rust issues, the Kerr family knew that professional help was needed to resurrect the old vehicle.
“It will be done this spring or summer,” said Kerr, adding that he knew the company had restored many classic vehicles. “Al’s Rod and Custom resurrected a ’69 Ford Mach One, so I knew they had a good reputation, and I wanted to keep the car in Nevada. I knew their workmanship was top-notch, and I could tell by talking with them on the phone that they understood the car and the concept.”
Further information can be found by visiting the business at 53-115 Snider Way in Sparks; by calling 775-358-3673 or by visiting www.facebook.com. Oppio said a company website is now under construction.