Transcript Business Editor
Fine automobiles and outstanding people have something in common: It takes some history to become a "classic."
Lee Williams operates a business based on this principle, an automotive service and repair shop specializing in high performance vehicles. Owners who love their driving machines ("gearheads," he calls them) recognize service and maintenance have to be first-rate and frequent for maximum performance and extended life, Williams said.
Williams also is a "peoplehead." He is vice president of research and dean of the Graduate College at the University of Oklahoma.
GearHead Tech LLC, a small shop at 3001 North Flood Ave., offers "new technology" services such as higher-end fluid changes. Services include flushing engines, automatic transmissions, power steering systems, air conditioning and cooling systems; major tune-ups, brake service and drive line service; fuel induction cleaning; major engine repairs; custom engine modification and full car restorations.
Besides all that, Williams finds, repairs and sells luxury cars. He said he finds them on the eBay online auction company and flies to where the cars are located. He prefers BMWs.
"There are five in my family, and we all drive BMWs" he said. "I do all the work on the cars myself."
For real gearheads, there are bargains out there to be had, Williams maintains.
"People buy a new BMW for $100,000 or $150,000, drive it for 60,000 miles and then buy a new one," he said. "People who buy these cars maintain them well."
"Real gearheads" stand to benefit from the downside in the long life of a fine automobile, Williams said. Luxury cars depreciate rapidly and many avoid them because they fear maintenance costs will be excessive, he said. "Everyone else is afraid of them." But he said maintenance costs for such cars will be "far less than car payments on an SUV."
Williams said he finds many examples of such cars, has his mechanics go through them to make any necessary repairs, and sells them for less than the price of a new domestic vehicle.
"We can do all the maintenance for you to keep you in a fine car," he said. "Gearheads know this."
Williams, 54, has owned and raced cars and motorcycles for 40 years. "My family did all the car work and house repairs," he said. He bought his first motorcycle at age 15. He now owns seven.
A native of Wales, Williams holds degrees in physics and math and a doctorate in geography from Bristol University in England. His specialty is remote sensing, or satellite images of the earth. His academic years were interrupted by a stint in VOA (Voluntary Service Overseas), the British version of the Peace Corps.
He met his wife, Naila, on the Caribbean island of Antigua. The Williamses are the parents of three: Samantha, an OU senior majoring in communications, Owen-John, an OU graduate student in community counseling and Gareth, a senior at Norman High School.
As a graduate student, he said, he and a classmate "built racing engines in the lab, hid them from the professor and put them in cars." He built and raced Mini Coopers, the small, light cars legendary for their nimble handling characteristics.
In 1976, Williams came to the University of Oklahoma for postdoctorate work. He joined the University of Kansas faculty, but said "After nine years there it was time for a change. OU is outstanding in academics, but small in size and culture. Oklahoma is big enough to give me space to do stuff."
At OU, Williams is responsible for 140 degree programs and 5,000 students. Part of his work involves developing scholarships, grants and contracts.
"The big thing is the big new research campus," he said. "It's so exciting."
He finds the diversity and cross-cultural complexion at OU benefit everyone.
"Our mission at the university is to turn out graduates with a broader world view," he said.
"Companies coming to the OU campus want us to help them with their mission of wealth. As a university, our mission is the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Students with a world view will be successful in building those bridges."
Williams said a friend operated what is now GearHead Tech for several months before he purchased it March 1. The small shop offers personal attention by mechanics qualified to diagnose and repair vehicles to manufacturers' specifications. The shop manager is Roger Dickerson. The chief mechanic, Rudy Garcia, has 25 years' experience repairing high performance luxury cars.
The work covers a broad spectrum. When he bought the shop, Williams said, he "inherited" a 1961 Austin Healey Sprite that had been stored for 20 years. "We rebuilt the car. The engine in that car was the same vintage as in the race cars I built in England." Williams later bought a 1979 MG Midget, stripped it down to the chassis and rebuilt it.
Current work includes machining and installing a custom modified engine in a late model Corvette convertible and dropping a 600 horsepower Chevy shortblock engine into a classic Chevy truck. Williams also is restoring a 1989 Kawasaki motorcycle.
"GearHead Tech has given me a greater understanding and appreciation for the private sector, particularly small businesses," Williams said. "This is actually helping me in my work at OU to bring the private sector and the university together."
Transcript Business Editor