The auto shop miracle worker and his vast menagerie are keeping Costa Mesa drivers coming back

There are certain professions where an honest person is a rare find, including auto repair, where some mechanics are known to do their best and bring your wallet with you.

But in Costa Mesa, savvy vehicle owners have come to trust a local miracle – Joe Miracle, to be precise, owner of Bay Auto Service – whose passion for cars is matched only by his love of antiques, countless of which are on display at the Newport Boulevard Auto Shop.

Customers waiting for a tune-up or oil change are invited to browse vintage signs, Art Deco-style lamps, and hidden treasures in virtually every nook and cranny of the garage, where Miracle first came to work in the early 80’s and bought from former owner Gary Tiveron in 2005.

Bay Auto Service is full of vintage treasures.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

Some pieces reflect phases of Miracle’s collection obsession, which began in 1970 with glass fruit jars and morphed to include stoneware tableware, “tramp art” from the World War I and smoking memorabilia, like an electric metal pot head whose mouth lights up your cigarette when you lift it.

“It keeps expanding – it never stops. Either you like it or you don’t,” says the 70-year-old car whisperer, who considers the objects to be pieces of history. (Fortunately, his wife Robin agrees.)

Other elements of the vast menagerie point to the man himself. A 1968 Daily Pilot article describes how a 16-year-old Miracle participated in a roller-skating marathon that lasted for days and later earned him harsh words from his parents, who wondered where he had gone.

Bay Auto Service is full of vintage treasures, including vintage pedal cars.

Bay Auto Service is full of vintage treasures, including vintage pedal cars.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

Another clip shows 18-year-old Miracle receiving a ‘good guy’ citation and a modest reward from the Costa Mesa Police Department for breaking into and calling a gas station and staying on the scene to watch the scammer until when the law comes.

“I got a big, huge $10,” he recalled with a chuckle, pointing out his mutton chop legs.

Who wouldn’t want a mechanic officially recognized as a good guy? Bay Auto’s nearly 5-star rating on Yelp.com and accompanying reviews provide an answer.

Customers describe how Miracle saved them from shelling out hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs, how its supernatural knowledge of the quirks of a particular make or model benefits customers.

A sign for a Salem, Wisconsin hotel hangs at Bay Auto Service in Costa Mesa.

A sign for a Salem, Wisconsin hotel hangs at Bay Auto Service in Costa Mesa.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

City of Costa Mesa spokesman Tony Dodero became a customer three decades ago when his 1983 Subaru Legacy started sputtering, and a mechanic near his Cypress home recommended a new carburetor at a cost of $300.

On the recommendation of a colleague, he took the car to Miracle, who knew that Subarus had two fuel filters that sometimes worked. The fix? $10.

“The other guy would have charged me $300, tore my whole car up and still wouldn’t fix it,” Dodero recalled. “That’s when I knew I was a customer for life. I can’t even tell you how much it has saved me over the years.

Although Bay Auto’s bays are generally full, including the spot permanently occupied by a 1924 Chevrolet Superior, Miracle remains humble about the secret to its success.

“It’s not magic, it’s very simple – I want to treat you the way I want to be treated,” he said. “If everyone took a step back and treated people the way they want to be treated, the world would be a whole different place.”

Joe Miracle, 70, works Thursday on a 1970 Chevy Impala at his store, Bay Auto Service in Costa Mesa.

Joe Miracle, 70, works Thursday on a 1970 Chevy Impala at his store, Bay Auto Service in Costa Mesa.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

A shameless throwback to a bygone era, Miracle tackles vintage vehicles when others, dependent on diagnostic scanners, might give up. On Wednesday afternoon, for example, he worked on a mint condition 1976 Bronco Sport.

The vehicle was a year away from being exempt from biannual smog checks and was “missing everything”. When his driver arrived, the store owner announced the bad news: he needed a new transmission. Together they looked under the hood as Miracle guided him through the process.

Having a special knowledge of the old beloved Bessies that make their way into his shop does not preclude the owner from being able to repair new vehicles. Late-model Hummers and Cadillacs are just as likely to shut down.

In fact, Miracle himself drives a 2010 Toyota Prius that he completely refurbished after buying it from a customer for $200. Although the woman was terminally ill, a dealer told her he wouldn’t fix the car because it wasn’t worth it and instead sold her a new one.

Joe Miracle, 70, works on a 1970 Chevy Impala at his store, Bay Auto Service in Costa Mesa, Thursday, March 10.

Joe Miracle, 70, works on a 1970 Chevy Impala at his store, Bay Auto Service in Costa Mesa, Thursday, March 10.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

“I read all about it, ripped it up and fixed it,” he said of the hybrid vehicle. “He does so many things. First time I took it on a trip to an antique show, I drove from here to Clovis and back with 8 gallons of gas.

Alongside Miracle is Rob Rizzo, a 48-year-old Costa Mesa resident who started tinkering with cars as a teenager. He’s been with Bay Auto for seven years and prefers working for independent stores because he says they’re generally less seedy.

“What I admire about Joe is that if a customer comes in and is completely convinced that something is wrong with their truck but it’s not that, we’re not going to sell them the part that he thinks he’s the one,” he said. “But the dealers, they’ll take the whole bowl and throw it at the car.

“That’s why customers come back [here],” he added.

And, as long as they do, Miracle will help them. Yet these days, thinking about the long arc of his life, he plans to pare down his collection as he finds himself “becoming an old asshole.”

“I see it like that – I don’t own any of that stuff,” he assumes. “Because I won’t live forever. I’m just saving it for someone else.

Joe Miracle, 70, owner of Bay Auto Service in Costa Mesa, leans against his 1924 Chevy in his store.

Joe Miracle, 70, owner of Bay Auto Service in Costa Mesa, leans against his 1924 Chevy in his store.

(Scott Smeltzer / staff photographer)

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Laura J. Boyer