The 1966 Mercedes-Benz 200 Diesel converted to electric isn’t the only project of its kind for the guys at German Autohaus in Newhall.
A visit to the auto repair shop on 9th Street offers views of sculptures made from car parts, a rainbow tie-dye VW bug and, if you’re shown to a garage at the back of the yard, a rare 1950 Czechoslovakian Tatra auto restoration project that seems to make German Autohaus owner Joseph Jasik a bit uneasy, as he recalls those vehicles from his childhood in communist Czechoslovakia belonging to secret police who’d take people off the street, throw them inside and drive them away, never to be seen again.
Jasik’s latest project is the Mercedes he and automotive engineer Mark Romprey converted to electric by more or less placing the body of the Benz over a 2018 Kia Soul EV. Easier said than done.
“It was 75 horsepower,” Jasik told The Signal from behind his desk at his shop, “and now it’s three times more.”
A look at the vehicle reveals that the conversion was no simple task. The front interior, for example, with its modern-day Kia steering wheel and dashboard — cut and fitted to the Benz exterior — smacks right up against Mercedes door panels from yesteryear with manual window-crank handles.
Jasik, a Valencia resident, began the project with Romprey in 2020 just before the pandemic. Romprey said he and Jasik weren’t working nonstop on the car, but would chip away at it between paying jobs over the past two years. The automotive engineer also said it wasn’t the big things that took all the time — like fitting the wider, yet shorter Kia chassis inside the Benz body — but rather the little things, which required more ingenuity.
One issue was the radiator. It wouldn’t fit under the hood. And so, Jasik and Romprey put it in the trunk. Evidently an electric car still needs a radiator. But it’s that kind of challenge that Romprey and Jasik enjoy.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Jasik came to America later in life to escape communism. He said communists took everything from him, including his dad at one point.
“They put him to jail for six years,” he said in his thick Slovak accent. “So, my mother — with four kids — they put us in the front of the house. Four kids with mother — ‘You go by your own.’ And communists moved into our house.”
Jasik said his family moved in with his grandparents, but the communists took their milk, their flour and other goods. Cars such as the one he currently has in a garage at his shop — the Tatra — actually seemed to scar him for life.
“You saw that car come down the street,” he said, “grab your neighbor. No one would ever see you again.”
Jasik certainly did not have a positive view of communism. He said he was finished with his country when, following a trip to America, communists took him in for questioning, concerned he’d spread American ideals. He moved here when he was about 40 years old.
“We came to America with suitcases in our hands,” said Jasik’s 49-year-old son, Steve. Steve was just 9 at the time. He, too, is proof that a love for automobiles is in the blood. He’s a third-generation car lover. Jasik said it started with his father, who had an auto dealership back home in the 1930s and ’40s.
Before he came to America, Jasik got a degree in mathematical physics. He also taught future auto mechanics their trade and even managed a repair shop there. But he doesn’t quite describe what he does as just auto repair.
“I am artist,” Jasik said. “My son, too.”
Jasik’s son said he has his own projects. An “autoholic,” which is a name he self-applied, he’s got car projects, art projects that utilize car parts, and non-fungible token (NFT) projects. He’s quite the antique collector, too. A quick ride in his 1934 Mercedes-Benz 500K/1976 Camaro conversion to a nearby storage unit offered a look at a car with two front ends and no back end (one front goes one way and the other front goes the other way). He’s also got 36 actual light fixtures that lined Hollywood’s Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1960s.
“I want to sell them to the city,” he said. “They should light up Main Street.”
Jasik’s son, who occasionally helps out at German Autohaus, said his dad’s been in business in Newhall since 1983. He added that, at 80 years old, his dad still works 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and he’s run 198 half marathons in the last 10 years.
The 1966 Mercedes-Benz/Kia conversion was just about completed when the guys spoke with The Signal last week. Some upholstery work was still needed, and while there are those who might ask why the vehicle isn’t repainted, Jasik will tell you it’s because he didn’t want to alter the original look of the car too much. The vehicle, which was used by military personnel and shows off a Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton tag on its front bumper, retains its first paint job. Jasik said he did add a clear coat, though, as a way to protect the body.
Jasik said the car has a 200-mile range per six-hour charge. He values it at $150,000.
And as the guys at the shop prepared their latest car project for an upcoming show, new projects are already lined up.
“All of us car guys have another project,” Jasik said.
And with that, he pointed out in the yard what might come next. Not one. Not two. Many. Those projects, however, will have to be stories for another time.