When I was a boy I remember the ads in beautiful black and white. In print or on television Earl Scheib was a big believer in the power of advertising. A slender man with a big toothy grin, brylcream slick hair calling out in high pitched, midwestern twang, "I'll paint any car, any color for $29.95! No ups, no extras." That man was Earl Scheib.

Painting cars isn't cheap. The right way to do it is simple. Strip off all the chrome bits. All of them, and clear out everything you can. Pull every window, window gasket and trim piece. The best way to do it is really to remove everything but that only happens at the factory or during a truly expensive frame-up restoration. You sand down the body, fix all the little dings, clean it up, prime it then add layer after layer of high quality paint. Buff it till it shines then reassemble.

That was not the Earl Scheib way.

The middle way is you pull the easy chrome bits. Then you sand it, fix what is bad, sand it, clean again. The windshield and difficult stuff stays in but you do cover and carefully tape off the rest. The prep work is critical, because it's what ensures the paint stays on the car over time. Then you get a good painter to put on thick layer of paint, put the easy bits back on, buff it out and you're done.

That too was not the Earl Scheib way. At least not for $29.95. You see Earl Scheib did it cheap. He founded a chain of bodyshops in 1937 and with the post-war economic boom his body shops spread across the whole country. He offered one day body service. Think about the labor involved in the Right Way, and ask yourself is that even possible a one-day job particularly if you have to replace bumpers fenders, patch rust etc, paint and dry the car?

The Earl Sheib way was simple you roll the car in and quickly cover and tape off the big stuff. Windshield, grill, lights, etc. The little stuff you ignore, things like the impressed label that says "Ford". Sand where you have to and spray the car. And the paint? It might or might not be good paint. Good paint alone cost more than $29.95 even back in the sixties. But if you took a whole lot of leftovers, and dumped them in a vat to paint one car. You gave the car a quick spray, bake it dry, peel the tape and done. At least that was what everyone believed at my local body shop. In fact Earl was the only body shop in the country to manufacture his own paint. Even so, for $29.95 you didn't get much. The original paint was easily visible once you opened the doors. The quick tape job meant that overspray covered a fair bit of your chrome and lots of small chrome pieces were now colored. For $29.95 Earl Scheib gave you a truly shitty paint job.

But there are people who need a truly shitty paint job and fast body work. Say someone who'd just applied fifty pounds of Bondo to the old rust heap and wanted to get an extra hundred or two out of the old heap. People whose car had been keyed and needed something that looked decent from a fair distance. People who need evidence destroyed.

Earl Scheib was about sales. Managers who didn't increase sales for three months in a row got fired. Period. Low standards of training and high pressure made high employee turnover the norm for Earl Scheib. But you had a chance at sales. The el cheapo price got people in the door. People who might be upsold to something approaching the middle grade paint job. Or at least into paying for a color that nearly matched the original. It also got people into the body shop where real money could be made. Earl Scheib was the Crazy Eddie of auto body. He sold fast and cheap for the person who couldn't afford to do things right. And he was pretty successful. While the entry level paint job crept up in price over the years (the last number I remember was $69.95) it was still less than most other body shops. At his peak Scheib had over a hundred affiliates operating across the United States. But Earl died in 1992, and the last Earl Schieb closed its doors on July 16, 2010. Perhaps because insurance became mandatory in most states as people who can't afford auto insurance can't afford any body work at today's prices. Some of the franchisees remained open. Probably they employ higher standards, or they wouldn't have made it. They use Earl's name, which they were allowed to do after the national company folded. Earl still enjoys name recognition, and the survivors make it clear they are not part of the defunct national company.

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