Commercial Progress Report

Street Smart

by Lisa Hanchey

Harold Bilich keeps Acadiana's exotic cars running smoothly.

Harold Bilich keeps Acadiana's exotic cars running smoothly. By Lisa Hanchey

Monday, April 15, 2013

Photo by Robin May

Mika and Harold Bilich

When Harold Bilich was just 12 years old, he started tinkering around at his uncle's garage in Crowley, discovering that he had a natural aptitude for auto mechanics. "I used no books, nothing," he says. "I just figured it out." At 16, he got his first Volkswagen, doing the mechanics himself. Following graduation, he moved to Lafayette in late 1970 where he worked on Volkswagens at Der Volks Haus, later called Mini Motors, on Camille Street. The business raced a Porsche, sparking Bilich's interest in the sporty vehicle.

Forty-three years later, Bilich has come full circle and opened his own shop, Harold's Werkstatt, at 106 Camille St., across the street from the original Der Volks House.

Bilich has extensive experience in the foreign car field. In 1975, he moved to Houston to work at a Porsche dealership, and after that business shut down a year later, he answered an ad in the newspaper for a Porsche mechanic in Mexico City. While there he met three Germans who owned Volkswagen and Porsche dealerships and followed one of them back to Houston to work on Porsches.

In 1976, Bilich participated in a four-week training program at Porsche Werk I in Stuttgart, Germany. "I'm a truly Porsche-factory-trained technician," he says. His training paid off - in 1990, he won the regional Porsche Technician Challenge, traveling to Reno, Nev., for the finals.

In 1982 Bilich moved back to Lafayette to work at Giles Automotive. Eight years later he moved to New Hampshire to work for Volkswagen, where he served as district service manager for 14 VW dealerships.

He later became a transmissions product support engineer for the carmaker, and during this time had a very close working relationship with the transmission engineers in Wolfsburg, Germany, helping to resolve many transmission, electrical, software and mechanical issues. That led to him being asked in 1999 by the director of Volkswagen AG transmission research and development in Wolfsburg to be its liaison for the North American market.

In 2006, Bilich also assumed the position of after sales manager for Volkswagen's $1.5 million, 1001-horsepower, 252-mph French-made sports car, Bugatti. He was trained at the Bugatti factory in Molsheim, France, and the Bugatti Research and Development Department in Wolfsburg. "I have driven many Bugattis, and even got one up to 205 miles per hour at Volkswagen test track at Ehra-Lessien," he says. After 17 years with Volkswagen, he decided it was time for a change and accepted a job with a defense contractor in South Carolina.

After the company was bought out five years later, Bilich started reassessing his options. By that time, two of his children were married and living in Lafayette. So, he and Mika, his wife of 40 years, decided to return home.

At the urging of supporters, particularly long time friend Frank Camalo, Bilich opened his own high-end mechanics shop, Harold's Werkstatt, on Jan. 15. He leased the space at Stan's Auto Center's former location on Camille Street. "It's like riding a bike," he says. "You never lose it."

With the help of Mika, their two daughters, Tanya and Heidi, and sons-in-law Chuck Duhon and Paul Dressler, Bilich totally transformed the shop into a spit-shined showplace. The family cleaned the garage and, after much scrubbing and power washing, painted the garage floor painted with several coats, giving it a glossy, spotless appearance. With its comfortable couch and plush high-backed chairs, the lobby looks more like a living room than an auto shop waiting area.

Harold's specializes in Porsche and other exotic cars. "If someone comes in with a Ferrari and has a water leak, they can try here first, rather than paying $1,300 to have it loaded on a trailer and hauled to Houston to get it checked out," he says.

Because of the type of cars he services, Bilich always keeps the autos parked inside the garage. While awaiting service, the cars remain under cover. Also inside are Bilich's own 2008 Porsche Carrera S and a restored Volkswagen Beetle. "That car has been written up in Hot VWs magazine," he says proudly.

Harold's shop is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, but Bilich firmly believes in adapting his hours to his customers' needs. He also works on other German and Italian automobiles.

"I share a love and passion for all things Porsche with my clients, and it is my pleasure to offer great service and my 40 years of expertise," he says. "So, whether you drive a brand new 911 or Cayenne, or a 50-year-old 356, I can expertly service and repair your car."