Old Car Ingenuity Generates Royal Thanks
When Randy Rundle first learned to drive in a 1948 Chevrolet pickup, he had no idea that would eventually lead to his current livelihood.
From his early driving days, he gained firsthand knowledge of 6-volt electrical systems and the problems associated with them such as hard starting, yellowish dim headlights and dead batteries.
“They all had electrical problems and would never start when you wanted them to,” Randy recalls. “I went to all the mechanics in the area and asked them how to fix it. I got lots of ideas but no permanent solutions.”
Eventually he created his own solution with the invention of a 6-volt alternator. He explains he used modern technology in reverse to create the product without compromising the originality of the old cars. There were more than a few that doubted “that applying modern technology backwards” would work.
“After it worked I sold quite a few locally,” Randy says. “But I realized if it was going to be a business I would have to expand my market.”
Randy officially started Fifth Avenue Antique Auto Parts in 1987. Advertisements in national car magazines were $2,000 a month way beyond his budget, so Randy decided in 1989 to try to get involved in the Great American Race, which involves driving pre-1940s cars across the United States every year.
“I figured the race would help establish the Fifth Avenue name,” Randy says. “I started going down the list of entrants and making calls. I told racers I would give them one of my 6-volt alternators in exchange for advertising and endorsement at the end of the race if they were satisfied that it worked.”
A racer in Seattle, Washington, decided to give the alternator a try on his 1936 Cord. It did well that year, placing in the top 10, which opened more doors for Randy. Another Great Racer, Howard Sharp, of New York installed one of Randy’s alternators in 1991. The 1929 Dodge car won the Great American Race in 1993. Randy credits his involvement in the Great Race for increasing his market.
“Local antique car owners saw my alternators on the Great Race cars, which proved they worked. They then wanted to buy an alternator for their own car,” Randy says. “I now consult on about 12 to 15 new Great Race entrants each year, helping them get ready for the race.
Randy also solved other problems with overheating and the cooling systems. Along the way, he has written dozens of technical articles for various antique car publications. He as also published four books on antique vehicle related subjects.
Fifth Avenue’s work has even gained Hollywood’s attention. Columbia pictures purchased and installed a pair of 6-volt alternators on the two 1947 Pontiacs used in the movie “Devil in a Blue Dress.” The most recent movie assignment was the 1997 Warner Bros movie “LA Confidential” in which the fleet of six early 1950s police cars all feature 6-volt alternators from Fifth Avenue.
Randy also completed a project for to the Royal Minister of Transportation for the Queen of England. For the 40th anniversary celebration of the Pan-American games, the queen requested using the original 1954 Cadillac Series 62 convertible that had once belonged to the royal family. It needed some work to solve the same reliability problems common to all 6-volt antique vehicles.
“This guy called with a thick British accent and I thought it was a joke at first because I have friends who like to do that,” Randy recalls. “I told him if he really was the Royal Minister of Transportation he needed to fax something on Royal stationery. I had to call and apologize.”
The project was successful and Randy received an official thank-you letter from Queen Elizabeth along with copies of video footage from the royal archives showing the car in the original parade ceremony 40 years ago and now it its current state during the 40th anniversary celebration.
Fifth Avenue has now sent alternators to customers in all 50 states and around the world, all a result of what started as Randy’s hobby in high school.
His business has also expanded from solely antique cars and now the 6-volt alternators have been installed on all types of antique vehicles including fire trucks, forklifts, boats, and antique farm machinery just to name a few.
“It’s neat to see all the different things people collect,” Randy says.
While the business has been extremely successful in recent years, Randy recalls the early challenges of advertising and marketing.
“I never would have guessed it would be just as difficult to market the product as invent it,” Randy says. “When the product doesn’t exist you have to create the market and think outside the box a little.”
According to Randy, operating a business in rural Kansas has advantages.
“We have a few advantages over city living in that we have a lower cost of living and we know everybody and things are handier,” Randy says. “In Clay Center for example I have the post office, a printing company, hardware store, insurance agent, and my tax account all within a six block area, all within easy walking distance.
His best advice for potential entrepreneurs is to find a niche.
“Do your homework and make sure there’s a need for what you’re doing,” Randy says. “Most importantly, make sure it’s unique enough you won’t have to compete with the Wal-Mart’s of the world.” It is very rewarding personally, to invent something and see what you have invented become successful not only locally, but worldwide. When you have satisfied customers call on a daily basis, you know you have done your job well.”
For more information, visit www.fifthaveinternetgarage.com.