NORMAN — In 1963, Louis and Tootsie Boyd sold their house in Del City, liquidated their assets and opened an auto machine shop in Norman. Boyd’s Auto Machine has been building performance engines for drag racing, sprint car racing and off-shore boat racing ever since.
Now, 50 years later, they have customers from across the United States.
“We’re meticulous about our engines,” Louis Boyd said. “Longevity is very important to us. We don’t want to see an engine until the end of the season.”
Quality of craftsmanship is not the only factor that has propelled the couple to decades of success.
“Louis still has that curiosity,” Tootsie Boyd said. “We feel like we are pioneers in the state. When we got the engine dyno, it was the first one.”
The couple said they are lucky to have customers with money who are willing to turn Louis loose to “build what he wants to build.”
One customer dubbed Louis the “Guru of Speed.” Most customers just call him a friend.
“Louis has a very close relationship with all of his customers,” Tootsie said. “And he’s been a father figure to employees.”
Boyd’s Auto Machine first opened in 1963 at 127 E. Gray St., across from Norman’s city hall and police and fire departments. The city’s operations were housed in a two-story, red brick building.
“We were in a one-story brick building on the north side of the street,” Tootsie said.
The couple had met when Tootsie was still in high school.
“His sister was one of my best friends,” she said. “He was street racing. He had the fastest car in Hartshorne, Okla.”
Despite those early racing days, Louis warns that street racing can be dangerous. Cars were slower back then and there were fewer people.
“We don’t condone street racing,” he said. “That’s what the drag strips are for.”
The need for speed came with caution.
“He never raced with me in the car,” Tootsie said. “If my parents would have known about his street racing, they would not have let me date him.”
Jim smiled, remembering.
“I had a ’47 Ford,” he said. “I had modified it.”
Later, the willingness to take a risk translated into his business ventures.
“I was a car nut,” he said. “I was mechanically inclined.”
That inclination has made him one of the most respected manufacturers of performance engines in the nation. But in the early days, things were tough for the young family.
“I was working for another shop in Oklahoma City and racing as a hobby,” he said.
The Boyds had four kids and one on the way when Louis came home and told Tootsie he had committed to buying $25,000 worth of equipment.
“That was a huge amount of money, and it was five times the value of our house,” Louis said.
He had paid $200 down on the equipment, and the company allowed him to take the equipment on credit.
“The salesman somehow had enough confidence in me, he thought I could run the business,” Louis said.
But there was a lot more to running a business than building engines. Record keeping, taxes and permits meant challenges for the young couple.
The couple had a friend who lived in Norman and thought it would be a nice place to live and operate the business.
“We sold our house, we sold everything we could turn into cash to start the business,” Louis said.
They thought if they lived in Norman, their children would be more likely to attend college. With the University of Oklahoma in town, the could live at home and go to school. Several of the Boyd’s children eventually did just that.
Boyd’s Auto Machine remained on Gray Street for 11 years before moving to its present location, 1202 N. Flood Ave. In the back of the shop, Louis has a console he uses to test his engines.
“A lot of research and development happens here,” Tootsie said.
“We still feel like we’re competing,” Louis said. “All the guys in the shop are very competitive and some of the guys have raced.”
That competitive nature is an incentive to provide quality products for their customers.
“A lot of our customers have won races,” Tootsie said. “We win when they win.”
To retain that competitive edge in business, the Boyds remain forward thinking.
“We just bought a new piece of equipment while we were in Seattle,” she said. “I guess it will be the first in the state.”
Louis is a pilot and currently owns a sailboat. He bought the 30-foot sailboat because Tootsie doesn’t like high-speed boats unless one of their customers is racing and she’s on the shore.
Several family members have worked for the Boyds. Tootsie retired 10 years ago after 40 years in the business and now devotes much of her time to oil painting.
In addition to raising five kids and doing the books for the business, Tootsie stayed busy with projects of her own, like remodeling.
“I came home one night and she had knocked a wall down,” Louis said.
He told her if she was going to tear up the house, she should put in central heat and air.
“I bought her tools,” he said. “I bought her a miter saw for Christmas.”
Whatever the project, “can’t” does not seem to be in their vocabulary.
“We can tackle anything together,” Tootsie said.