Originally published in the Woodburn Independent by author Tyler Francke.
All photos courtesy of Tyler Francke, Woodburn Independent.
After more than a decade in east Portland, Bill and Susan Dallas move their collision repair and restoration auto shop to Mount Angel to be closer to family and their roots
Owners Bill and Susan Dallas first met in Mount Angel over two decades ago. They moved their business there earlier this year to be closer to family and their roots.
Bill and Susan Dallas, owners of Mount Angel Auto Body, and their crew specialize in something they call the “art of invisible repair.” To illustrate what that means, Bill tells a story from his days at East Portland Auto Body, which was on Stark Street before the Dallases renamed and relocated the shop to Mount Angel earlier this year.
One day, an adjuster for an insurance company visited his shop, as they are wont to do, to inspect some of their work.
Basically, “to make sure we did what we said we were going to do, and the customer got a fair deal,” Bill explained.
Except, the adjuster had a problem with one of the cars.
“He came to me and said, ‘I don’t know that you worked on that car. I can’t find any sign that it’s been worked on,’” Bill recalled. "I just laughed and said, ‘Well, isn’t that the idea?’”
Bill said that his personal goal and definition of “invisible repair” is that his customers can’t tell their vehicles have been damaged or worked on when they get them back.
But when even someone who inspects vehicle repairs for a living sometimes can’t see the signs, you’re probably doing something right.
Bill Dallas was practically born with a lug wrench in his hand. Now 57, he’s been working in the field for well over 35 years, 21 of them at Wentworth Chevrolet in Portland and the past 12 at his own shop.
“My dad worked on cars; my stepdad worked on cars,” he said. “I was around cars all the time. I grew up around them. I would rather work on cars than just about anything else.”
Bill and his wife, Susan, opened East Portland Auto Body in 2002 and gradually grew their clientele, almost entirely through word-of-mouth and a solid reputation.
“We’ve really never advertised until we moved out here,” Bill said. “We just believe in taking care of people.”
He summed up his simple business philosophy as being that making money, while necessary, is ultimately a secondary priority.
“For me, the driving factor is when a customer gets his car back, he’s happy,” Dallas said.
This outlook has served him well over the years and helped build strong customer loyalty.
Mount Angel Auto Body technician Dan Nelson buffs a customer's Honda Accord at the shop last week.
“I’ve got people I’ve been working with for years, who, no matter where I am, if they wreck their cars, they bring them to me,” he said. “They just trust me, and they trust the work that we do.”
That in-built customer base made the decision much easier to relocate the Dallases’ shop to Mount Angel in February. Of course, it needed a new name, too, so when it reopened in early March, it did so as Mount Angel Auto Body.
The shop’s new home at 255 E. Marquam St. is in a location with its own long history in auto repair.
It’s formerly the site of Keith’s Auto Body and Towing, and while owner Keith Manning will still operate a towing service out of part of the property, he’s closed the repair and salvage yard portions of the business.
Bill Dallas explained that the main motivation for the move were the politics and high taxes of Portland and Multnomah County, which he said made it difficult to run a profitable business there.
“Up there, my taxes last year on a quarter-acre were $7,000,” he said. “We’ve got an acre here and our property taxes are about $1,700. Go figure. Basically it’s just a huge saving to be down here.”
With that savings comes the possibility of downsizing a bit, which is exactly what he was looking to do.
“I was working pretty hard up there,” he said.
But the other big factor in the move was the desire to be closer to family and their roots.
Technician Oscar Perez sands the interior of the trunk of a 1969 Yenko Camaro with a 427 cubic-inch engine.
Susan Dallas is from the DeSantis family and operated the Hairport salon in Mount Angel for a number of years.
Bill Dallas grew up in the unincorporated community of Pratum, between Salem and Silverton, but Mount Angel is where he and Susan met over 20 years ago, and he has family in the area as well.
“It feels like coming home,” Bill said. “These are our kind of people out here.”
The Dallases brought just two of their technicians with them to Mount Angel (they had a staff of seven in Portland), but have since taken on two more, including Oscar Perez, whom Bill worked with for a short while in the 1970s at one of his first jobs at the now-closed Rose Auto Body in Silverton.
Bill said his shop splits its time pretty evenly between collision repair and other insurance work and, his personal passion, restoration of classic muscle cars.
You can usually find a couple or three of his personal collection around the shop, including his pride and joy, an electric green 1970 Plymouth Road Runner, converted to be a clone of the ’70 Plymouth Superbird — of which only 2,000 were ever built.
With its flashy paint job, monster 440 cubic-inch engine and high rear wing, the car is nothing if not eye-catching and it’s for that reason it’s essentially become a sort of mascot for Bill Dallas and his shop.
“It’s mostly for advertisement and promotion, but we do use it in some charity events,” he said.
Find out more online at www.mtangelautobody.com, or call 503-845-6869.
Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-765-1195.
Steve Miller working on a Mt. Angel Police car