|He materialized out of the paint buffers and overhead hoists of a body shop in Golden Valley. He wore striped Bermuda shorts, brown sandals and a tie tucked into his shirt. He called himself Juergen, which is grossly inadequate. A better name is Rumpelstiltskin.||
|Rumpelstiltskin was a gnome who made magic in fairy tales. He turned flax into gold. I don't know if Rumpelstiltskin spent any time in Munich, Germany. I know he didn't hang out in Golden Valley or St. Louis Park. The Rumpelstiltskin in residence in Golden Valley and St. Louis Park is Juergen Holzer, a 45-year-old German who carries a little black box containing enchanted tools. Holzer doesn't do flax. He does dents.||My car is now eight months old. It is not a Mercedes, but it is a good and well-tuned car, and I admire it. Somebody put a dent the size of a silver dollar in the lower front door two months ago, and in the right rear door there were a half dozen miscellaneous welts, dents and nicks, whose origins I'm too chivalrous to identify. They depressed me. I expressed my dreads to the manager of the place where I service my car. “They're going to tell me they have to strip this car and charge me $550, I said.|
|Almost nobody in the hemisphere does automobile dents in the same league with Juergen Holzer. I watched him for 35 minutes Wednesday and I was tempted to call the Minnesota Orchestra's Edo de Waart. This man doesn't need a floor mat. He needs a podium. One way to measure artistry in a body shop is on style. It's not the way I measure it. I'm more pragmatic. I do it on cash saved. |
I didn't get much time to admire Rumpelstiltskin's style. Within a few hours after he worked the dents and nicks out of my car, without removing a door or a hinge, he was on a plane for the West Coast, carrying his black bag to Orange County in California. There, scores of automobiles, most of them bearing the patrician skins of Mercedes and Porsche, await his racing fingers and tiny mallets. Once a month he makes his calls, the international master dentman from Munich. In Hawaii, they're in mourning because he won't travel there in the summer.
If they vant me in Havaii, he said amiably, “they vill vait until vinter.
Mitout a doubt, they vill.
To most American car owners, the body shop is the House of Horrors of the automobile culture. Most of us walk in as lambs. If you prefer the language of the hunting blinds, how about sitting ducks? The reputation isn't entirely deserved. There are good and honorable body shops, mediocre body shops, Hall of Fame body shops and then there are shark harbors. A car owner who gets creased or bent today waits for the estimate with the exuberance of a horse thief standing in front of a hanging judge. Yes, yes, it's only three inches long, a voice will say. But the door has to come off for starters. And the litany begins. By the time the computer finishes the fourth page of the printout, the bill is somewhere around a thousand clams. I didn't say we're getting mugged. I said it's part of the culture: Catalog prices, labor costs, service minimums, matching paint, figure in the GNP, the RBI and the Dow Jones averages, add the deductible, and they have us in the nutcracker.
The last time I went into a body shop, for work not much more extensive than what I game Rumpelstiltskin, they started with an estimate of $1,001 as the irreducible minimum and came down to $570 as soon as the insurance company got tough. So what do we know about estimate or insurance company-body shop games?
I know a guy who will do it in half an hour for less than half of that, he said.|
What I'm telling you next is not a commercial. I'm not qualified to give them technically and I'm not suited to give them temperamentally. There are other highly skilled technicians like him, but I confess I haven't met them. Beyond this, Holzer doesn't need your business and he doesn't need mine. He runs a one-man corporation called Juergen's Dent Kraft, which he doesn't advertise because he doesn't have to. His phone is filled with solicitations. A colleague of his - he rents space at the Collision Center in Golden Valley - described a scene in one of the richest car dealerships in Orange County, where one after another, expensive cars were lined up, "Benzes as far as the eye could see," for Rumpelstiltskin's magic black bag.
He learned his craft with BMW in Munich and came to live in St. Louis Park seven years ago because he has relatives here. There are no mechanical secrets in what he does. His primary instruments are thin rods or pry bars, of different lengths and shapes. He will slip one of them inside the door panel, gently pushing out on the metal, and tapping the outside with a small polished steel hammer. The technique is not unlike the masseuse's. He kneads and rubs and taps. All of this assumes no paint damage. If you have that, he has to add some more steps, but the paint on my dents was virginal.
"Why aren't you scratching the paint?" I asked. "The hammers are polished smooth," he said. "And you need, well, technique. It's not only the instruments. A couple of these little hammers, should I tell you the truth?"
I told him to go for it.
“You could get them at Menard's. Not these thin rods, though. I made those. I carry them where I go, like a doctor's instruments. I'm not an artist. Artists can make things out of nothing. I repair. I'm like a doctor or dentist. I get a big satisfaction, seeing customers react. I don't have to put them in bankruptcy. I can be reasonable about charging. I go to eight other cities at different times. I can't handle all the work. I'll have to start training others and turn into a capitalist.”
People around the shop enjoy him vastly. He is droll and unaffected and yet totally disciplined. Fat cats in California want to talk about his work and hover around, but he discourages it. “I'm German. If I'm working I fill up the hour with work.”
Now with my car, he filled up 35 minutes with work. Both doors. All dents. When he finished, I couldn't have found a blemish with a German lens. He gave me a bill for $140. I paid it cordially.
I asked if he ever heard of Rumpelstiltskin.
He said flax is awfully hard to fix a car door with.