Transitions: New London's Shamrock Motors survives, evolves
I've always enjoyed my visits to Shamrock Motors — maybe the closest thing New London has to a shrine for car enthusiasts — as much for the smart conversation as the mechanical ministrations.
Owner Simon Potter is a brilliant mechanic, and I can say that after some 40 years of consultation about all manner of failings of whatever bargain used car I drove or had towed his way.
But he can navigate an engaging conversation as well as he can expertly explore under the valve covers of the most intricate engines. You wouldn't likely just talk about your own car.
I knew that whenever I left the counter in the dusty, cluttered Shamrock office, where an oily alternator unearthed from some old MG might sit next to your handwritten bill, the next customer in the door would end up engaging in a similar mix of business — parts availability or brake pad wear — along with a healthy dose of politics or musings on life beyond cars.
I can't speak for other customers, but our politics usually aligned. Potter closed the shop for two days after Donald Trump was elected, grieving.
He is hardly shy but certainly reserved and thoughtful, and you could see on his face Saturday afternoon the discomfort of being the center of attention, as he was greeted by dozens of faithful, longtime customers assembled by his wife, Pamela, for a surprise party in his honor.
It was a combination celebration, marking his 70th birthday, his 39th wedding anniversary and his retirement, the final lap of a decadeslong run under many thousands of hoods and chatting with countless customers/friends behind the counter at Shamrock Motors.
He carried on a long tradition of keeping New Londoners' cars on the road, taking over from the late David Greiner, who first turned the business, a former Pontiac showroom on lower Montauk Avenue, into an institution.
Potter worked on and collected a lot of extraordinary cars, and there was almost always some sort of exotic car in his shop. But he kept a lot of simple Toyotas and Volkswagens on the road, odometers clocking hundreds of thousands of miles.
The good news is that Saturday marked not only the end of the Simon Potter era at Shamrock, but the beginning of a new one.
His two sons, Booth and Leete, both partnered and finished with their undergraduate stints at the University of Massachusetts and Ithaca College, made their way back to Connecticut for the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown in 2020.
They joined their father and started working with him at Shamrock during that time, continuing an interest in cars they both learned from him at an early age, tinkering in the corners of dad's shop.
But what started as a temporary pandemic interlude has become more permanent, and the two young Potters have signed on to take over the business.
At about the same time his sons grew interested, Potter found a buyer for the property, which had been listed for sale, as he plotted retirement.
But, by good fortune, the buyer turned out to be Dave Beckwith, a Fishers Island contractor who mostly wanted the Shamrock buildings that are not part of the car repair shop for construction storage convenient to the island ferry.
Booth and Leete could stay on in their father's shop and keep working on his customers' cars.
This is a good outcome for New London, since Beckwith seems committed to preserving the iconic Shamrock showroom building on Montauk.
It's a wonderful solution for the Potter family.
Simon first met Pamela in that showroom when, passing on his motorcycle, he stopped to admire an old Lotus sports car perched in the window. Pamela, then working for Greiner, came out to ask what he needed.
The rest, as we many loyal customers who turned out Saturday, partly for another chance to chat with Simon, is history.
Thankfully, it's a story still being written.
The hoods remain up in the shop at Shamrock Motors.
This is the opinion of David Collins.