DEARBORN – Customers of Shamrock Automotive in Dearborn all know “Scotty,” co-owner of this automotive repair shop at 2040 S. Telegraph.
However, it is unlikely that many know how Robert Sutherland got his nickname or his rugged Clint Eastwood persona from the movie Grand Torino.
“Before I was Scotty, I was ‘little’ Scotty,” Sutherland said. “My dad was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and I inherited his nickname, because his given name was so long.”
Scotty Senior was a tool and die maker who worked for Ford Motor Co. in Scotland and transferred to Michigan in 1936.
Born in Detroit as his parent’s only child, Sutherland graduated from Mackenzie High School at the height of the Vietnam draft.
“I joined the Navy instead of the Army thinking it might keep me out of Vietnam,” said Sutherland, who attended the Navy’s aviation school to become an airman and jet mechanic.
His Navy service did not keep him out of the war. Instead, he spent three tours Vietnam, and still readily recalls his length of service — three years, nine months and 18 days.
Returning to Michigan after his service, Sutherland used his engine training to work as an auto mechanic at a Dearborn dealership before joining Ford’s turbine engine program.
“We built all sorts of turbine engines for trucks, boats and other industrial engines that were being made to replace diesel engines,” Sutherland said. “We even built a big generator that powered the midway at the Michigan State Fairgrounds.”
Later he worked in Ford’s Scientific Research garage, where the original Batmobile was modeled from a Lincoln Futura concept car.
Before Sutherland retired from Ford in 2006 with 34 years experience, other assignments included building semi-trailer trucks, emission testing vehicles for the EPA, and developing manufacturing and testing equipment for the factories.
Apart from his work at Ford, there is another side of “Scotty” — the builder of street rods and hot rods, the national car show judge, and the business owner.
In the 1970s, Sutherland started working out of his garage at home to earn extra money and rebuilt a 1929 Model A Ford that he showed at an event in Oklahoma. By the mid ’70s, he started judging car shows and receiving calls from producers for car shows in Terra Haute, Ind., and across the country.
Sutherland soon built a name for himself and was frequently contacted by “Super Chevy,” “Super Ford,” “Popular Hot Rodding” and other well-known industry publications.
Today, he is one of eight judges for the annual Detroit Autorama Ridler award, a prestigious award that is given to the best vehicle shown for the first time. Each year, Sutherland also travels to Pomona, Calif., to serve as a judge for the Amber Award — “the world’s most beautiful roadster.”
“The best part of judging car shows is meeting people who have common interests,” said Sutherland, who claims not to be a people person. “I tell the owners who show their cars not to be disappointed if they don’t win. After all, people paid to see their cars.”
The story of “the business owner” completes Scotty’s rugged profile and tells the backstory about Shamrock Automotive.
In the 1980s, Sutherland partnered with three other men to form Jankar Engineering in Dearborn Heights. He was the mechanic while the others worked on body, trimming and engineering.
A few years later, Sutherland ventured out on his own and rented a building at Telegraph and Warren. Called Scotty’s Service, it expanded to 18 employees.
“It just got too big,” he said.
In 1998, Sutherland formed a partnership with Patrick Togher to launch Shamrock Automotive. Togher, an Irish farm boy who trained as an auto mechanic in London before moving to Michigan, was experienced in working on foreign-made cars.
Shamrock’s first home was a rented building on Ann Arbor Trail in Dearborn Heights. In 2006, the shop moved to its current location on South Telegraph. They purchased the building from the owner of Frank’s garage, who wanted to retire.
Sutherland assures everyone that he’s not ready to retire as Shamrock Automotive celebrates its 20th anniversary.
“We’re looking forward to the next 20 years,” Sutherland said.
From his profile, who would expect less?
For more information about Shamrock Automotive, call 313-274-1717. It will likely be his wife, Donna, who answers the phone.
A full-service garage, Shamrock Automotive’s master mechanics and ASE-certified technicians diagnose and repair all makes and models of cars and trucks, including foreign and domestic.
Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Source: Margaux & Associates, LLC