Opportunity, albeit maybe a bit hung over, knocked for Michael Shellady one day in 1987.
“I was working for a fellow in his machine shop and he drank a little bit,” Michael Shellady said one day this past week. “One morning he came in a foul mood and I said something. He said, ‘If you think it’s so easy, why don’t you hang your own sign out?’ I walked out the door.”
Using his own initials for the name, Shellady, 65, opened MAS Automotive and Machine, renting space in a former car dealership along Highway 1. MAS moved to its present location six years later.
“Just in time for the first flood,” he said. “We had about two feet of water in the cul-de-sac in front of the building all summer, but it wasn’t that bad.”
It’s possible Shellady has worked on your car — or at least significant components of it — without your knowledge.
If you took it to another repair shop with a damaged cylinder head, block, crank shaft or connecting rod, chances are that shop sent the engine on to MAS.
He didn’t plan it that way. He’d intended to do the kind of routine maintenance other shops do — oil changes, tune ups, brake replacements and the like.
“I started getting back into the machine shop work because couldn’t get quality work done,” he recalled. “I just started accumulating equipment, and after about 10 years I had a pretty well-equipped machine shop.
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“Slowly the word leaked out, and now I probably do more machine shop work than repairs.”
The expertise comes from experience.
“I took my first job when I was 15 years old, changing spark plugs and oil at a Dodge dealership,” Shellady said. “I swung a hammer as carpenter for a while, I was a plumber for a while.
“Anything mechanical, anything to do with building or driving, that’s my thing.”
Not that Shellady turns down that routine automotive maintenance.
“Everybody’s got to get to the grocery store or the doctor, heaven forbid,” he said. “Without a car, we’re pretty much out of luck.”
The cars have gotten better since he opened shop.
“It’s the durability, design and metallurgy,” he said. “It’s not uncommon to get a couple hundred thousand (miles) out of an engine if you pay even mediocre attention to it. It’s way different, but they still do break.”
Still, heavy-duty machine work remains his specialty.
“All the other shops and the dealerships all feed what I do here,” he said. “I’m known for being able to get problems that somebody else has screwed up, fixed.”
With his eye for bargains, Shellady’s shop doesn’t include state-of-the-art computer-controlled machine tools.
“That’s great if you’re making hundreds of one part,” he said. “I do individual jobs. I’d be done by the time somebody entered all the stuff in the computer.
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“All of my machinery is old, but it’s been refurbished. If you know what you’re doing, you can make some beautiful stuff.”
Some of which has found its way under the hoods of racers across Eastern Iowa.
“I’ve built a lot of stock car engines, a lot of drag race engines,” he said. “I practically grew up at West Liberty Raceway.
“I raced Hawkeye Downs when it was dirt. Usually on Fridays and Saturdays I’d be on the motorcycle, heading out to the racetracks.”
At its peak, MAS employed five workers in addition to Shellady. A semi-retired machinist friend pitches in on some projects these days, but it’s usually just Shelladay and the two shop cats.
“I’ve still got plenty to do,” he said. “I get a lot of antique motors. I get people sending me flathead Fords from all over the country, the in line sixes, the flathead sixes, old Jeep stuff, old tractor motors — it doesn’t make much difference.”
Iowa’s coronavirus precautions haven’t hurt business.
“I’ve gotten extremely busy for some reason,” he said. “I’ve been running around just chasing my tail, just trying to keep up.”
And being good with tools has its non-automotive applications, too.
“I’ve got a hog roaster I’ve made from scratch,” Shellady said.
“On a big race weekend, I’d feed the whole crew. I’ve had people offer to buy it, but I don’t want to sell it. I love a good party.”
Many small businesses in the Corridor are up and running. If you know of a business that might make for a really interesting “My Biz” feature, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AT A GLANCE
• Owner: Michael Shellady
• Business: MAS Automotive and Machine
• Address: 54 Commercial Ct., Iowa City
• Phone: (319) 338-7140
• Website: facebook.com/masautomotiveia