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Illi’s Auto Service – General Repairs Ann Arbor, Michigan

Illi’s Auto Service began operations in 1946 and still is in business today in the same building located at 401 West Huron St. in Ann Arbor, MI. This set of images was taken for use in an advertisement placed in the Ann Arbor News on December 28, 1959, and may have been used to show off Illi’s new 1960 Chevrolet pick up truck equipped with a towing boom. The Marathon gasoline pumps and the chimney are gone and a Ford has replaced the Chevrolets, although Illi’s Auto Service is visible in this 2018 Google street view image.

Please share with us what you find of interest in these photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor District Library.

13 responses to “Illi’s Auto Service – General Repairs Ann Arbor, Michigan

  1. This business was started by Erwin G. Illi (1904-1974). The company was originally located at 106 S. 1st Street, Ann Arbor, until about 1957. Prior to opening the firm, he had worked at Huron Motor Sales, as their service manager, which sold Chevrolet, GMC, and Olds vehicles as well as Gramm trailers. This may have been the reason for selecting Chevy trucks. In his city directory listings Illi always mentioned he was a former Huron Motor Sales employee until that firm went out of business.

    The site shown here had been a Drake’s Refinery Station (gasoline/service station) for only one year prior to Illi moving his business here. Drake’s was a small Lansing, Michigan refinery. It’s possible that the brick building and garages were all built for Drake’s as prior to this the property had been a wholesale beer company (Brewery Products Co.).

    After his son Ron (1932-2012) graduated high school, Ron became a full-time employee and the company’s eventual owner. In addition to Illi’s, Ron later also owned and operated the Auto Parts & Machine Shop in Ann Arbor.

    • Hi Dennis, the Ford is a 1955 F100 milk truck, that may or may not have just come in “on the new hook”. The star in the grill indicated it was a 6 cylinder.

  2. Compared to the “new” truck, the “Advanced Design” ( which I think is a ’53, 3100 designation, yet 2 piece windshield) doesn’t look too advanced anymore. The wheels on the new truck look pretty big, I read, the Apache 20 could be had with 17.5″ rims( which I believe these are) or 19.5″, both tubeless. Considering the size of cars around that time, even the new truck looks a bit under rated.

  3. The muffler installation sign is for Walker Exhaust Systems. They got started as a manufacturing firm in 1908, and got into the automotive world in 1912 building “tire savers,” which were jacks for lifting a car off its tires while it was in winter storage. They began making mufflers in the 1930s, patenting the louvered tube. A few years after this photograph, they’d start making catalytic converters. The company is still operating today.

  4. I looked this place up on Google Earth and saw this place as it is today. It is so nice to see that it is there. To me , it ‘s like almost going back in time if that makes any sense to anyone. So many place that we see in photografs are no longer in place, gone to history.

  5. This brought back a lot of memories. Ray Roberts bought Illi’s in the 70’s and ran it until he passed away. Ray was one of a kind. He was an incredibly knowledgeable mechanic that you could trust implicitly.

    Ray was also a fanatic about neatness. He always wore a brown lab coat when he worked, kept the building, grounds and tow trucks spotless and sealed the driveway and painted the building pretty much every year. Ray ran Illi’s until a aggressive cancer took him very quickly (in the 90’s, as I recall).

    Ray was 100% a Blue Oval guy all the way. I took my Shelby and Pantera to him for service and he loved working on those cars. Ray’s wife (who worked in the office at Illi’s) bought him a 427 Cobra replica for his birthday (I’m guessing that Ray had a little input on that). Ray absolutely beamed when he drove that car.

    I’ll never forget taking one of my cars in for service one day when Ray told me his cancer diagnosis. He was gone within a few months. When I went to the funeral home to pay my respects, there at the front of the room were Ray’s ashes in an urn in the shape of a 427 Cobra. Ray would have loved it.

    One of Ray’s mechanics, Larry bought Illi’s from Ray’s widow, still runs it as an honest, highly competent garage and I still take my cars there for service from time to time. Larry still keeps the place spotless and sealcoats the driveway and paints the building almost yearly.

    It’s a great business with a wonderful history. It’s so nice that the tradition of solid, honest auto repair continues on in this location.

  6. Nice trucks, nice building, nice picture. I have two questions. In the first picture,there is an opening in the building down low between the front bumpers on the Chevy trucks. Is that a door for the guard dog or a coal chute? The building does have a large chimney. Also straight up the front of the building on the fancy cement work, is that a surveillance camera? I don’t think it’s a crow. Nice DELCO sign on the building behind the 1960 Chevy.

    • I think what you question to be a camera or a crow is actually a light to illuminate some feature of the exterior of the building. As for the wall opening…if there is a basement, then yes it could be a coal chute.

  7. Just to note…Ray GAVE the shop to Larry in his will, Larry didn’t buy it. Ray was an amazing person, and so is Larry. Honestly don’t know many people as good as those two.

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