For the past 40 years, Bob Ajello of Bel Air has operated a car repair and rental center on Taylor Avenue in Towson. During that time, Ajello and his mechanics have repaired thousands of vehicles.
But for half of those four decades, one car — a 1941 Hudson Commodore 8 — has remained untouched (except for the rats that seem to have taken up residence in the back seat).
With the broken headlights, flattened tires and rusted body (not to mention the rat droppings), the 71-year-old sedan is as conspicuous among the modern vehicles in the crammed lot as the 70-year-old Ajello is among the younger mechanics in his garage.
Unlike the broken, weather-beaten hulk of metal, however, Ajello is still going strong.
“I’m working on being retired,” said Ajello, a Bel Air resident.
It helps that he’s had his wife, Florence, by his side for a half century.
The decrepit Hudson Commodore, situated at the front of the lot just west of Loch Raven Boulevard, may not be the best advertisement for a repair shop. But it’s a testament to the couple's dedication to their customers.
The vehicle arrived at Ajello’s Service Center 20 years ago, when a customer and friend of his needed a place to temporarily store the vintage car. Ajello said he is still “just holding it,” despite the many years it has been sitting on his lot.
Though the vehicle was in good shape when it first arrived, decades of exposure have turned it into the brown ruin it is today. Its four white walled tires are cracked and deflated. A missing front grill reveals the loose parts dangling limply from the engine. Only the Hudson’s chrome trim seems to have retained any of its original polish.
The car's chances for restoration are slim.
“It’s never going to be fixed.” Ajello said.
Any effort at restoration might cost Ajello $60,000, due to the rarity of replacement parts for the classic car.
And there seems to be little chance that the Hudson will be going anywhere soon. The car’s owner is very sick, according to Ajello, and it is unlikely that he will ever return to claim it.
Still, it occupies a valuable space on the mechanic’s lot, kept there by a promise made to a friend.
It's clear that Ajello doesn’t mind holding on to a few things.
Shelves in his shop’s front office proudly display his collection of toy vehicles, many of which, like the Hudson, no longer work like they used to. But even after 40 years in business together, Bob Ajello and his wife still come to work six days a week, showing few signs of slowing down.
Nor does the stream of questions from customers asking about the Hudson. Florence said that the distinctive wreck of the Commodore 8 is a regular topic of conversation in the shop’s front office, where clients strike up small talk while waiting for her husband to finish with their cars.
The recession has changed the car repair business over the past few years, she said. People are buying fewer new vehicles and waiting longer to bring their cars in for maintenance, creating the need for more extensive repairs when they do.
Although it’s unlikely anyone will wait as long as the owner of the Hudson.