Business

Jayko Performance owner bought his first car when he was 13

Jay Kurth, owner-operator, works on running wires while installing a new engine in a Subaru Forester at Jayko Performance in Marion on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Jay Kurth, owner-operator, works on running wires while installing a new engine in a Subaru Forester at Jayko Performance in Marion on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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MARION — Jay Kurth would like to do more routine automotive maintenance.

“I’d love to have a bit more struts, brakes (replacements),” Kurth said. “It seems the majority of what I get is a month-and-a-half-long process. A lot of cash outlay, and then you get paid. Not a quick moneymaker, that’s for sure.”

Kurth, 39, estimates 65 percent of Jayko Performance’s work is “heavy duty — engine swaps, engine builds. The other 35 percent is normal repairs.”

Then there’s the automotive detective cases.

“I had one about a month ago,” Kurth said. “He decided to do a whole bunch of upgrades. The car was towed here and dropped off.

“I had three Rubbermaid tubs full of parts and I had to figure out how to put it all back together.”

Such mysteries don’t help Kurth’s cash flow, but they’ve helped establish Jayko’s word-of-mouth reputation.

It started in his dad’s garage. John Kurth, who died in 2009, worked in LeFebure Corp.’s paint shop. The Cedar Rapids plant that made cash-handling systems for banks was shuttered after the company was merged out of existence in 1998.

“My dad did custom cars and motorcycles,” Kurth recalled. “It was kind of his side project. At night and on weekends, he built a lot of people a lot of cars.

“That’s how the addiction grew. I was always working with him.”

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Kurth was 13 when he bought his first car, a wrecked 1982 Ford Mustang he and his father rebuilt. That led to more Mustangs, including a first-generation 1964 model.

“My ’64 was basically broken in half, sitting in a field,” Kurth said. “We drug it home and I learned a lot of welding and stuff on that car.”

That in turn led to work in the service departments of local dealerships.

“I bounced around a bit,” Kurth said. “I worked for McGrath, I worked for the Mickey family from late ’06 until we got shut down by Chrysler in ’09.”

That was two years after Kurth’s daughter Shelby — not named for the famed racer, car builder and Ford tuner Carroll Shelby, Kurth is quick to point out — was born with Down syndrome.

Kurth credits his boss at the Mickey Chrysler dealership for accommodating Shelby’s needs. He and wife Kim also have a 16-year-old daughter, Jillian.

“When Chrysler shut us down, it was going to be hard to go into another shop and say, ‘I need to leave at this time Mondays, Wednesdays I’m going to be late,’” he recalled. “I had enough people hounding me to do side work, and that’s totally how it came about — so I could get her to appointments and take care of her.”

Jayko was launched in 2009, first on Eighth Avenue in Marion. Kurth moved to his current location on 51st Street in April.

In addition to routine maintenance and upgrades, he repairs cars for local used-car dealers and performs inspections for those considering a daily driver and for long-distance customers considering a classic.

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“If someone’s looking at buying a used car, they bring it in and I’ll take a look at it,” Kurth said. “A couple people found me through Facebook, and they’re looking at a classic car and they’re in Colorado. I’ll go the car and look it over.”

A recent visitor noted several Subarus in the shop in various states of various states of assembly.

“I’ve had Subarus and I’ve been repairing them probably 10 or 12 years now, and so I’ve just kind of become the guru,” Kurth said. “I have them brought here from the Quad Cities, Des Moines, all over Iowa. People travel to have me work on them.”

Kurth plans to grow his Subaru business.

“I’m going through the steps to get my dealer’s license,” he said. When “people don’t want to fix their Subarus, I’ll buy them and fix them up and resell them. There’s a little niche there — affordable cars for people that are going to last.”

That could lead to some full-time employees for Jayko, so far mostly a one-man operation.

“I have one friend that comes in and helps as needed, and I’ve got a kid that comes in and that does detailing for me,” he said.

Meanwhile, those time-consuming mysteries may not be the most profitable use of his time, but they’re some of Kurth’s favorites.

“For me, the good ones are when they’ve had a car maybe at two or three other shops and it hasn’t been resolved,” he said.

That car that was towed in from the Quad Cities, where it had sat for a year, for example.

“It had a misfire and it had been looked at, a bunch of parts had been replaced,” he said. “Nobody could figure it out, and in 10 minutes I realized that two of the coils were swapped on it. Really basic, but so many people had had their hands in it and nobody had ever bothered to take the time. It was ‘here we go,’ and it was fine. They were a little ticked that it hadn’t been found sooner elsewhere, but they were happy.”

l Know a business that has been in operation for more than a year we should consider for a “My Biz”? Let us know at michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

AT A GLANCE

l Owner: Jay Kurth

l Business: Jayko Performance

l Address: 605 51st St. Marion

l Phone: (319) 551-1283

l Website: jaykoper4mance.com

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