It’s generally acknowledged that the phrase “German engineering” is equated with high-tech, high performance, precision machines. And to maintain these machines takes precise, talented technicians. Delving into the minutiae of these cars takes special aptitude, something Steve Brotherton shared with a German expatriate named Walter Bodendorf.
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The two met while working at a Mercedes Benz dealership in Florida. Their shared passion for Teutonic technology led them in 1978 to start Continental Imports near downtown Gainesville, the largest city in North Central Florida.
Independent import shops at this time and place would have been terribly scarce, but word of mouth soon put the partners on the map. Others didn’t fare so well. A BMW/Porsche shop down the street had to close its doors, but one of the owners, Alan Rhodes, brought his considerable experience with the Bavarian brand to Continental. By 1985 they were running two stores, but in 1990 the opportunity arose to buy a five-acre location, so they consolidated their operations within an 18,000-square foot shop, still retaining a Main Street address.
During this period their reputation had grown to the point of attracting the attention of Bosch. The German appliance and auto parts behemoth was in the process of setting up the Bosch Service Center program throughout the U.S. Being judged one of the top 10 shops in the Southeast, Continental Imports was one of only a handful of facilities certified at the time. Through this Bosch network, they were able to extend their 2 year warranty on service and repairs (except on engine and transmission units) nationwide. Continental is also an authorized dealer for Dinan Engineering, which makes aftermarket speed parts for BMW.
Sadly Walter Bodendorf passed away about six years ago (his widow Hannelore is now co-owner as well as office manager), but the business continues to thrive, now including nearly all the German makes, Scandinavian and British marques, as well as some Japanese cars. To cover all of these different brands requires training--a lot of training. Core to the shop’s success are the in-house courses Brotherton conducts.
“As an Industry Advisor at Santa Fe College and Loften Center,” the graduate engineer explains, “I am involved with training curriculum and training participation. We have four past graduates of the College’s cooperative education program working currently.”
Supplementing Brotherton’s shop syllabus are classes sponsored by longtime affiliates, including Bosch, the International Automotive Technicians Network (iATN), Independent BMW Service Professionals (BIMRS), Luxury Motor Vehicle Industries (LMVind), and Euro diagnostics.