Best Mechanic

It's not quite accurate to call Lenny Copp a mechanic, even though he has spent much of his life under the hood. He has worked with plenty of mechanics over the years as owner of West Coast Classic Restoration, a world-renowned VW-restoration garage that has lured celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld to Fullerton and made Copp quite a celebrity in such locales as France and Japan. Copp vividly remembers the first time he encountered a VW: In 1958, while living on a farm in New Hampshire, his cousin rolled up in the strangest-looking car he'd ever seen, a black VW Beetle. That sparked a lifelong interest that has made him one of the most respected restorers of vintage Volkswagens in the world. Copp acquired his mechanic's license when he was 23 in 1972 and opened his first VW garage in 1980. But after struggling with a drug problem, he relocated to California in order to join Phoenix House, a noted rehab program. He became a counselor at Phoenix House while working on the distinctive German cars on the side. He opened his own garage in 1986, and after restoring a 1963 Beetle sunroof and meeting a Japanese car collector at a car show, he realized the huge interest in vintage VWs in that country. Copp and his staff have restored scores of original Beetles and buses—from an incredibly rare 1951 Rometsch Coupe to the first generation of VW buses, the Barndoor—to their original factory condition, down to the exact paint used after they rolled off the assembly line. Though the number of cars was only about 100, each was hugely time-intensive (it can take more than two years to completely revamp a vehicle) and expensive: Jobs can run more than $50,000. He has attracted clients from around the world, many of whom have taken their cars back to their own countries to win awards. Car clubs in Japan and France have feted him, and in 2003, VW Trends gave him a lifetime-achievement award. Luxury car collecting has taken a huge hit in the economic downtown, and Copp and his staff are phasing out of restoration and focusing more on upholstery and simple mechanical repairs these days. But on any given day in his 3,500-square-foot garage, you can take a gander at 20 to 30 Beetles and vans in various stages of repair.

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