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Kenosha native celebrated for 32 years of engine rebuilding

February 16, 2019
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In this Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019 photo, Anthony Pontillo Jr., who operates Don's Auto Parts, poses for a photo in Kenosha, Wis. Pontillo, owner of Don's Auto Parts & Machine Shop, 6814 39th Ave., was recently recognized for his many contributions to the auto industry in being named the 2018 Vintage Engine Builder of the Year by Engine Builder magazine. (Brian Passino/The Kenosha News via AP)

KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — Despite juggling a busy career as a business owner, college professor and race car driver, Kenosha’s Tony Pontillo is convinced he hasn’t worked a day in his life.

“I’m that lucky person whose career is also my hobby,” Pontillo said to Kenosha News. “I don’t have any problem getting up for work in the morning.”

Pontillo, owner of Don’s Auto Parts & Machine Shop, was recently recognized for his many contributions to the auto industry in being named the 2018 Vintage Engine Builder of the Year by Engine Builder magazine.

The 50-year-old Kenosha native received a cash prize, wall plaque and a prize package from Federal-Mogul Motorparts’ sponsoring brands at the annual Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis.

Don’s Auto Parts & Machine Shop was one of 250 businesses nationwide nominated for the award.

“I don’t know how to compare it, but in our industry for a shop like this to win it is pretty incredible,” Pontillo said. “There’s a lot of shops in the United States.”

Founded by the late Don Jones in 1961, Don’s Auto Parts & Machine Shop is one of the largest engine shops in the nation with 17 full-time employees.

Pontillo began working for the company in 1987 and eventually purchased it after Jones’ death.

It has expanded to encompass a variety of engine rebuilding, including vintage, racing, diesel, agricultural, industrial and natural gas.

The company owns and operates Kenosha Starter and Alternator, which is on-site and specializes in starters, alternators and drive shafts.

Five years ago, the business relocated for the third time. There are six service bays for mechanical repairs.

“This was the best thing we’ve ever done,” Pontillo said. “This is a great location in the center of town in a high-traffic area. We could expand again, but I don’t know if I have it in me.”

While most industries are directly affected by a fluctuating economy, engine rebuilding thrived during the recession and continues to be as popular as ever, according to Pontillo.

There are frequent bidding wars to purchase classic automobiles and often a long waiting list for those seeking repair and restoration services.

A fully restored Plymouth Barracuda, or “Hemi ’Cuda,” with an original 426 Hemi engine can command more than $2 million on the auction block.

“We’ve had quite a few of those engines in here,” Pontillo said. “We restore engines for other companies that restore the vehicles. We’re the engine people.”

The classic automobile industry benefits from the baby boomer population. Car enthusiasts who once rolled up their sleeves and fiddled under the hood can now pay others to do the dirty work so there’s nothing left but to enjoy the ride.

“These customers are at an age where the world is soon coming to an end,” Pontillo said. “They’re a huge market for us.

“If they want a car, they’re going to get it. They have the money to do it. A lot of them go back and find that old car they used to drive when they were 16.”

For the past six years, Pontillo has been on the board of directors for the AERA Engine Builders Association. He was nominated as the group’s 2019 chairman of the board.

Pontillo is also an adjunct engine building instructor at Gateway Technical College, where he has served on the school’s board as chairman (diesel) and advisory (automobile).

Pontillo and his wife, Karla, race rear-engine dragsters in the Comp Eliminator semi-professional circuit. They leave for Florida in March for their next competition.

Pontillo’s son Tony, 17, races go-carts at Road America in Elkhart Lake.

“This award isn’t just about me,” Pontillo said. “This is an employee-run business. If it wasn’t for them, none of this would be possible.”

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Information from: Kenosha News, http://www.kenoshanews.com

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