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For nearly five decades, Dave Meyer’s toiled beneath the hoods
of American hot rods.
In a service garage on the corner of Felton Street and El Cajon Boulevard, the grease-stained hands of a veteran mechanic rest on the exterior of a hobbled 1978 Corvette.
The aging American hot rod is ailing and making a troubling knocking sound. The repeated “thunk” is enough to make any proud car owner a bit petrified.
But this engine is in good hands — those of a 63-year-old Vietnam veteran who’s been doing surgery on American engines for close to five decades.
Dave Meyer, the man with the wrench in his hands, loves everything about Corvettes. He loves the deep rumbling engines and the sleek curves. He loves the way it feels to sit behind the wheel. And more than anything, he loves the country they’re built in.
That, more than anything, is what drew me into Meyer’s shop, as I continued to survey El Cajon Boulevard for its most colorful characters.
All around his store are small testaments to his patriotism, from the certificates he’s received for his work with veterans, to the sign painted on the side of the building, which reflects on the hoods of the gleaming vehicles.
His namesake Corvette specialty business is part dealership, part service shop and part hangout for friends and car lovers.
His clientele consists largely of current or former servicemen. Fighter pilots and other adrenaline junkies love Corvettes, he says.
And Meyer’s own journey to owning a Corvette dealership is like an iconic American tale.
Meyer began working on cars with his father before he was old enough to get a driver’s license.
After returning from his duty as an engineman on a minesweeper off the coast of Vietnam, he soon decided to start his own shop.
He was 29 years old, had been working on engines for other people for almost 15 years, and decided it was time to pursue the American Dream of owning a business.
He started Dave Meyer Corvette Specialty in 1977 in La Mesa.
Business didn’t boom immediately, but Meyer knew how he wanted to brand his shop right away. A friend who worked in graphic design helped him design a logo. The color scheme was all red, white and blue — patriotic tones for this, the quintessential American hot rod.
Twenty years ago, he moved his business to El Cajon Boulevard, where his gleaming showroom is hard to miss. Not long after arriving, a 17-year-old Hoover High student came through Meyer’s door looking for a job.
Kenny Hyde shared Meyer’s love for American cars, particularly Chevrolets. Meyer hired him to do everything from sweep the floors to learn a bit about the engines. Today, he’s lead mechanic, and Meyer’s had the chance to watch him grow up.
“I have three daughters and if I had a son I’d want him to be just like Kenny,” Meyer says. “He’s just a really squared away nice young man with good values and he takes care of pretty much all the people in his family.”
Both men relish toiling in a garage all day. And after all these years, Meyer still loves the cars, in all makes, models and colors.
“It always puts a smile on your face to go drive a Corvette,” he says.
Meyer’s American Dream hasn’t always been so idyllic. Like so many businesses, he’s struggled to weather the recession. And he’s done so while selling and servicing a luxury item.
“It’s been tough,” he says. “There’s been days where the phone hadn’t rung and you call yourself on the other line to see if the phone still works.”
He survived, he says, by employing new marketing techniques. He passes out business cards at car shows and started a website for his business — recognition that as America changes, so must he.
I’m a photojournalist for voiceofsandiego.org and this year, I’m exploring El Cajon Boulevard through a photo series we’re calling Tales From the Boulevard. We’ll turn an eye to the people that make this place tick.
If you know of an interesting story that I should tell through my lens, don’t hesitate to call me at 619-550-5664, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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