Earl L. Sprecher Sr., 74, auto repair shop owner

February 01, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Earl L. Sprecher Sr., a co-founder of Bill & Earl's Automotive Inc., which began in the back yard of an Overlea home and grew to become one of the largest automatic transmission repair businesses in the nation, died of kidney failure Wednesday at Stella Maris Hospice. The longtime Fallston resident was 74.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Springwood Avenue, Mr. Sprecher dropped out of Hamilton Junior High after completing the eighth grade to go to work.

Too young to join the military, he took a job during the 1940s at a gas station on Belair Road.

"He later was a mechanic at Miller Motors, which in those days sold Hudsons," said a brother, Dana Edward Sprecher of Carney, general manager of Bill & Earl's. "Bill Clark, who owned a Gulf station on Glenarm Avenue [and] who had been an Army automotive instructor during the war, also taught him a great deal," he said.

When automatic transmissions began to replace standard transmissions after the war, Mr. Sprecher's neighbor, Bill Hiss, suggested they start a transmission-repair business. Beginning in a small garage on Springwood Avenue, they eventually took over a Gulf station on Belair Road.

"Earl bought a used Army jeep for $300 for road calls, and they were in business," said Dana Sprecher.

As automatic transmissions became more popular, the business grew. Since 1956, Bill & Earl's Automotive Inc. has operated from the same building in the 7100 block Belair Road. In addition to serving retail customers, its industrial division handles heavy equipment, school buses and truck repairs.

At one time, the business had branch operations in Cumberland, Frederick, Westminster, Dundalk and Glen Burnie.

The partners eventually divided the business, with Mr. Sprecher owning and operating Bill & Earl's, and Mr. Hiss assuming ownership of Better Engineering, the company's division that made industrial washers for cleaning automotive parts.

Mr. Sprecher was also a gifted automotive diagnostician. "He could diagnose what was wrong with a car from its sound. When he road-tested a car, he could tell what was wrong with it 90 percent of the time without ever having to put it on the lift," Dana Sprecher said.

J. Ralph Medley, founder and owner of Joppa Automatic Transmission Specialists, began his career at Bill & Earl's.

"I started out there in the early 1960s and learned everything I know from Bill & Earl's. In his day, Earl was the best transmission man in Maryland. He knew transmissions like the back of his hand," Mr. Medley said. "He was the best. He's the reason I'm in business today."

Mr. Sprecher was also a willing and patient teacher. "When he taught, he never belittled anyone," his brother said. "And he made it clear that you learned from mistakes."

"I always considered him a friend and never a boss," Mr. Medley said. "He was a very intelligent man who never minded pitching in and helping with the work. He never got upset. Whatever he did, he did right."

Gloria Custis has been a secretary and bookkeeper at the business for several decades.

"He was an extremely friendly and generous man. I've been here 30 years, and I've never heard anyone say a bad word about him," she said.

Even though Mr. Sprecher retired in 1997, he remained a consultant to the business that is now operated by his son, Earl L. Sprecher Jr. of Fallston.

In his youth, he enjoyed water skiing. "But his real hobby was the automotive profession. He just loved it," his brother said.

In 1975, Mr. Sprecher married the former Jacqueline Moore, who survives him.

An earlier marriage to Virginia Burton ended in divorce.

He was a member of Epiphany Lutheran Church.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Lassahn Funeral Home, 7401 Belair Road.

Mr. Sprecher is also survived by a daughter, Peggy Heath of Hereford; another brother, Paul Sprecher of England; a sister, Grace Crue of Harewood Park; and five grandchildren.

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