Eight years ago, Lee Doane bought Foreign Auto Clinic from former owner Tom Ryser, but Doane’s history with the shop at 1240 Peace Portal Drive dates back much further.
Doane started working at the auto shop in 1984, shortly after Ryser opened it the year before. Doane is the shop’s sole employee and jack-of-all-trades who runs the shop, works on foreign and domestic cars and sells the occasional car. Working as both service writer and mechanic allows Doane to give better recommendations and feedback to his clients, compared to bigger service shops where the mechanic never sees the customer.
Three to four cars are currently for sale, Doane said.
Doane has always been mechanically inclined, which is why he’s worked at the shop for its longevity. The uptick in electronic repairs has been the biggest change the shop’s seen over the years.
“I’m trying to keep it as an old school repair shop where you can come, have a cup of coffee and talk about your personal problems,” Doane said. “Most of the customers have a story to tell.”
The stories Doane hears range from historical tales to military experiences, he said.
At one time there were eight repair shops in Blaine, Doane said, but it’s now a dwindling specialty. Doane’s shop and Alley Auto Parts at 365 D Street are the last old school repair shops left, he said.
Dozens of toy cars and trucks line the windowsill of his office. A “Therapy in session, gone ridin’” sign hangs above the door, and a blue Texaco Motor Oil sign is placed below that. Half of these knick-knacks have been gifted over 30 years, Doane said.
The most sentimental gift he’s received? A ’73 Buick Riviera. Doane worked on the car before the owner moved to Pennsylvania, and when the owner passed away, their partner gave Doane the car. Long-term customers are the ones who turn into friends, he said.
“Once they saw I started collecting, they started donating more,” Doane said.
About 30 cars are in the shop at any given time, and Doane works on approximately 250 cars per year. His personal collection of automobiles and motorcycles nears 50, all of which are housed around Whatcom County. Throughout his career, Doane said he’s owned over 400 cars, trucks and motorcycles – but he stopped counting at 400. He eventually sells the cars, saying that he’s never had a favorite because the cars all blend together over the years.
Older American muscle cars are Doane’s favorite to work on. Mopar, a parts unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that also designs customized vehicles, is Doane’s top pick of muscle cars.
Mechanics who work on older cars are becoming more of a rarity, Doane said, due to the finicky behavior of these cars and their growing scarcity. Nonetheless, Doane said he still sees Blaine residents come through his doors intrigued by the selections and looking for collectibles.
“It’s a small-town shop that serves the local community,” Doane said.
1973 Plymouth Duster (Not for Sale)
The ’73 Plymouth Duster has been in the auto shop for eight months. The quasi-race car has a big motor, a 360 V8 engine and 450 horsepower. The Plymouth, which was originally sold for around $3,000, now has 86,000 miles on it. Low miles, little rust and its light weight are its best features. The car’s rarity helps it stand out while the four-speed transmission makes it more fun to drive, Doane said. Minor engine work, a new set of piston rings and a final tune are the biggest repairs for the car. The car is best fit for someone who is a collector or wants a muscle car.
1960 Plymouth Sport Suburban Wagon (Not for Sale)
A customer from New York bought the ’60 Plymouth Suburban in Canada and plans to drive it nearly 3,000 miles back to where the customer lives. The car that has over 200,000 miles was originally bought for around $2,800. The wagon’s distinctive features are its tailfins. Other features include a 318 V8 engine and drum brakes. The car is best suited for a Plymouth collector, Doane said.
1962 220S Mercedes (Not for Sale)
Doane has been working on the classic car that’s originally from Nevada for over a year, making it the shop’s longest current customer. The Mercedes is being fixed up so the owner can eventually sell the collector car, which originally sold for around $6,000. Fine tuning with the carburetion and brakework are the biggest concerns of the car with 90,000 miles on it. Small tailfins are distinguishable features on the car. Other features include drum brakes and a six-cylinder with dual carburetors.
1962 Ford Econoline Pickup (For Sale)
Doane is selling his ’62 Ford Econoline pickup for around $6,000. He has owned the car for three years after searching three decades for the right one in decent shape. Before his purchase it was owned by various Whatcom County residents. Ford quit making the cab forward truck, where the seats are in front of the wheel, due to safety concerns from that style. The pickup has 300,000 miles on it, a six-cylinder 144 engine and drum brakes. Its best feature is its rarity and that most of its parts are still original.
1975 BMW R90/6 Motorcycle (Not for Sale)
This bike is one of eight that Doane owns, but the only one Doane keeps in the shop. “For me, it’s less stress. You get out, hit the wind and hear everything around you, as opposed to being in the car,” Doane said. He last took it for a ride a year ago, something he enjoys doing as a day trip to eastern Washington for lunch. Doane’s owned the bike since 1986 when he needed it for a trip to Arizona and bought it two days before departing. Memories like that, and sharing the bike with a friend before he passed away, add sentimental value to it, he said. Doane said preferences vary for everyone but for him, the best features on the bike are the handle and the acceleration. Doane estimates the motorcycle, which now has 59,000 miles on it, once originally sold for $3,000 to $4,500. This is a performance bike rather than being built for road trips. There are newer, faster bikes but Doane said this one has classic BMW style. Other features include drum and disc brakes, a Boxster engine and telescopic forks for the front suspension with a swing-arm suspension in the rear.