By Ashley Reyes
The SEMA Automotive Restoration Market Organization (ARMO) named American Autowire as the council’s latest member spotlight company.
In a recent interview with SEMA, Dave McKelvey, American Autowire VP of sales/marketing/R&D, shares information about the company’s history and upcoming projects.
SEMA: Tell us the story of your business. How did you start?
Dave McKelvey: Our founders, Michael Manning and Frank Colonna, were looking for something for their personal vehicles that didn't exist: A wiring harness to convert a non-console gauge first-gen Camaro to console gauges. They made the harness themselves, and then found that others were looking for the same type of product.
They started making these harnesses in a basement after they got home from their day jobs and would sell them at Carlisle and other swap meets. Eventually, they made the right connections to acquire obsolete tooling and licensing rights to blueprints to be able to reproduce a number of other GM wiring harnesses, which eventually became the Factory Fit product line of GM reproduction wiring harnesses. They had a small facility in Berlin, New Jersey, where they added a second product line made up of aftermarket wiring systems and accessories—their Street Rod Division.
That line of products took off, and they eventually outgrew the facility in Berlin. They moved to a facility in Bellmawr, New Jersey, where they occupied a portion of the building they are in today. Eventually, the Highway Series, Classic Update Series, and other wiring systems were designed and added to their catalogs. As the business continued to grow beyond their expectations, they brought Jim Cardona on as the Chief Operating Officer, and the three of them run the company to this day. We are busting at the seams in our 30,000-plus-sq.-ft. facility, and we are looking to expand our campus in 2022. We're also celebrating 35 years in business in 2022!
SEMA: What was your breakthrough moment?
DM: There were a couple, but the first and most prominent had to be when Michael and Frank launched the Factory Fit product line back in the ’80s. This is what really catapulted them to a position to quit their day jobs and focus solely on M Parker Autoworks, which was the name of the company before American Autowire.
SEMA: Tell us about your business now in 2022 and what projects are you working on?
DM: We are still growing at a rapid rate. Almost all of our facility is used for manufacturing, and we're looking to expand our footprint. As we've expanded into the Jeep/off-road segment, we're looking to add to our product offering with a Jeep XJ complete wiring system during the first half of 2022. We're very proud of the fact that we continue to be recognized as the wiring manufacturer of choice for our quality and how comprehensive our products are.
SEMA: Tell us about a particular project, product or build you are proud of.
DM: Our Highway 22 Universal Wiring System (now, the Highway 22 Plus) has been our flagship product for many years. Among professional builders and backyard builders alike, it is the go-to wiring system for any custom build. The other that I would mention is our entire Classic Update Series of year/make/model specific modernized wiring systems. They are the most complete wiring solution of their kind, and nothing else compares to them.
SEMA: What advice do you have for young professionals contemplating a career in the automotive aftermarket, particularly in the restoration segment?
DM: Get a mentor! You can read all you want (which I would still do), but the knowledge you can acquire from a lifelong car enthusiast will not always be in books. Also, keep in mind that being a part of our industry does not only mean you'll be spinning wrenches or shaping metal. Our industry needs accountants, sales and marketing professionals, human resources, etc. So even if your career path is in finance, but you're a hot rodder after work, you can combine them both with your career!
Fill out an ARMO member spotlight form to highlight how your company is contributing to the specialty-equipment industry. Selected candidates are eligible to be featured on ARMO’s social media, SEMA eNews and future ARMO member updates.