Blitz Automotive celebrates 50 years in Kennett Square
By Steven Hoffman
Working on and repairing cars is more than a job for Bob Blittersdorf. It’s his passion, and he’s been following that passion for the past 50 years.
The sign on the side of his shop at the intersection of East State and Walnut streets in Kennett Square says it all:
“Blitz Automotive, celebrating 50 years, 2/7/70.”
Blittersdorf, 72, is a Kennett Square native and graduate of Kennett High School. His love of cars and their operation has been propelling his life since shortly after he finished high school. Perhaps even earlier.
The shop he owns and runs has not always been in the same place. There have been a couple of moves through the years. He hasn’t traveled far, however, and through it all Blittersdorf has carried out his job in the heart of the borough. That’s the way he likes it.
The shop’s earliest years were at 111 West State Street. That’s where Philter coffee house is now. He and his partner, Dave Aloisio, moved into that building in 1970 after Schmaltz’s department store moved out.
At that time, he said, he had $200 and a little toolbox.
It was a good beginning for him, and he had customers arriving thanks to his advertising in the Kennett News and Advertiser newspaper and good word-of-mouth around the community.
The space at 111 West State Street was a little cramped.
“The cars couldn’t come in from State Street. They had to enter from behind, and we could only hold two or three cars,” Blittersdorf explained.
Seeking more room for his growing business, he later moved his operation to Church Alley into the ground floor of what was Vorhee’s Hardware Store. This location was adjacent to what is today the Kennett Library parking lot.
Then, in 1984, he packed up and moved east to his current location, where drivers coming in from Miller’s Hill are greeted by his anniversary sign and company logo.
Early on, Blittersdorf knew working on cars was his passion. Even in high school, he said, he had a passion for drag racing.
Following his graduation, he attended Automotive Training Center in Philadelphia at 17th and Lehigh Avenue.
Every day for several years, he made the drive from Kennett Square to Philadelphia. Occasionally, he said, he was so tired he almost fell asleep in class.
Nonetheless, he emerged with a stack of proficiency certificates so deep and numerous he could almost shuffle them like a deck of cards.
He knew the guts of an automobile like the back of his hand. He said he’s proud of his skills, but he declined a compliment based on the excellence denoted on the proficiency certificates.
“You can’t know it all,” he said. “Nobody can know it all.”
How he runs Blitz Automotive reflects Blittersdorf’s belief in hands-on operation.
He concedes that computer technology is necessary for accessing information and communication, but in many cases he still relies on basic, hard copy record-keeping of classic custom jobs work. For every customer, he creates a manila file folder with their name on it. Every piece of paper associated with their job is placed in the folder.
This works very well, he said, for him and the car owner.
He says it keeps him familiar with the folks he does work for and is a record of what has been done for the vehicle. And if the car owner wants to sell the vehicle, he has the complete hard copy to pass on to the next owner.
Blittersdorf runs the business with Josh Sciarra. It’s just the two of them. Blittersdorf said that’s enough staff because he doesn’t want to get backed up with a lot of orders sitting around waiting to be done.
As for the shop, the appearance is daunting.
Almost every inch is covered with machines, tools and equipment.
Repairs to a vehicle that the layman would ask, “How can this or that be done?” are often handled by the shop’s devices.
When Blittersdorf was asked how he and his assistant hoist all those heavy mechanisms within cars and the tools they need to repair them, he demonstrated his supply of lifts and levers he has collected that hook up to do some of the tough lifting and turning work.
Some of those other tools can grind; some can smooth; some can push parts into place; some even accompany their tasks by spewing lightweight oil to calm the friction.
Outside of the daily work of serving customers, Blittersdorf’s other activities form a neat complement to his love of cars and their operation.
He has for years overseen the car show at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival, and he promotes the event by tagging a special car or car owner (or both) on the invitation card. He said he has made the car show attractive to its audience and participants because he knows what classic car owners want to see and how they like it laid out.
He also goes to car shows and enjoys the company of those who share his passion.
What drives Blittersdorf and his passion for his life and work?
Those who know him well are aware that he’s more that a car repair guy.
He is an accomplished musician who earned a load of music letters during his high school career. He was a member of the chorus, the band and the orchestra and held elective leadership posts in those organizations. During his late adolescence he played with the Kennett Symphony Orchestra as well.
To this day he has the heart and mind of a musician, and he even has an old player piano against the wall at the office.
“It still plays if you are willing to pump the pedal,” he said.
Likewise, the pleasure he derives from his work is like the pleasure a musician gets from a fine concert and the appreciation he gives to his audience.
He was asked what the best job, the greatest thrill or the best vehicle warms his heart the most. Was it some elegant antique limousine or a Steve McQueen “Bullitt” Mustang he restored?
No, he said.
He told the story of a woman in the community who brought in her 1967 Mustang that had been in storage. It still had a stable body, but it looked old and weary.
He worked on it and said when he was finished, it looked like it just came out of the showroom.
When the woman came to pick it up, she was so delighted she shed tears of joy.
That’s the kind of thing that drives him, he said.
Conversely, when he was asked if there were any moments of trouble, dismay or trouble, he said, “Not really. It’s life.”
Blittersdorf said every time he uses his skills to enhance or fix a vehicle and he sees the delight in the owner’s eyes, that is what makes his world.
“Since the late 1960s, I have machined and build thousands of engines. The greatest satisfaction is seeing all these mere parts come to life and see it perform in a classic or race car,” he said.
He has many people he wants to thank, including teachers and his parents. “I feel I owe these people my respect to carry on their honor as they live in us always.” he said. “We are who we are because of the people in our lives.”
Blittersdorf has a small room in his shop in which he has placed pictures and memorabilia of people who have taught him important lessons and enhanced his life. He listed some of them:
“I thank my parents—the best anyone could have,” he said. “They pushed me and guided me and supported me in my life and my interests. It made me realize I could accomplish more than I thought possible.
“Bill Blittersdorf gave me my first job and taught me all he could. I’m very grateful to have met him. My piano teacher, a professor at West Chester University, Dr. Antonowich, helped me learn and be the best I could be. John Buschiazzo, a teacher at ATC and owner of a shop in Toughkenamon, was a great friend and inspiration. Unfortunately, he passed at the age of 33.”
Most of all, Blittersdorf said, he is grateful to his wife and his beloved hometown.
“I also thank my wife, Charlene of almost 30 years for supporting me,” he said. “My best as well to all of Kennett Square for the support and memories.”
What lies in the future of Bitz Automotive?
Blittersdorf said he has pretty much what he wants right now, and he has no plans of retiring or leaving.
“They’ll have to drag me out,” he said.