Costa Auto Repair Closes Its Doors on Narberth After 50 Years

Costa Auto Repair has been a Narberth staple since 1974. On Friday, March 29, it closed its doors for the last time.

Dick Costa used to see his clients as customers. Yet at some point over the last half century, something changed, and the stream of patrons who came to Costa Auto Repair became friends.

Standing on the corner of Montgomery and Brookhurst Avenues since 1974, this neighborhood staple became more than an auto repair shop. For Costa and his employees, it was a family. For the people who lived in the area and had their cars serviced there throughout their whole lives, it was nearer a social club than an auto shop.

Costa Auto Repair shut its doors for the last time on Friday, March 29. During the last week of business, a torrent of well-wishers and former customers came to say goodbye, bringing gifts and home-baked treats for the imminent retirement of the man who lent his name to the shop at 845 Montgomery Avenue.

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“A lady brought a bunch of cookies in, almost crying, ‘What am I going to do every time I have an emergency? You guys are always able to bail me out,'” Costa recalls. “She was broken-hearted.”

He explains how few customers would call in before arriving. “They would just show up,” he says. “All the guys knows who’s who and [that] you take care of them. Pay us later, don’t worry, it’s no charge.”

Costa has a warmth to him that’s not apparent in many people of younger generations. With a quiet wisdom and an open mind, he’s equally comfortable telling stories as he is under the hood of a Volkswagen. Costa has lived through so much change, both in world history and in his industry. Had someone his age today entered Costa Auto Repair in its 1973 rookie year, it’s possible they could have fought in the trenches during World War I.

At that time, a 19-year-old Costa had just dropped out of West Chester University, since the academic life just didn’t suit him. His hobby was fixing and reselling Volkswagens, so he decided to expand on that. 

The interior of Costa Auto Repair, where Dick spent over three-quarters of his life.
The interior of Costa Auto Repair, where Dick spent over three-quarters of his life.

Costa rented a small garage in Havertown for just $50 a month and then opened another storefront in Narberth less than a year later. Just 20 years old, he found himself the owner of two successful auto shops, a true success story for the college dropout.

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For the 50 years that followed, besides the technology, not much changed.

The advent of computers represented a turning point in the auto industry. When Costa Auto Repair first opened, a car was just a car. You’d analyze a problem, fix or replace a part and the vehicle was ready to hit the road again. That’s not so in 2024.

Nearly every modern car has a central computer which allows one to diagnose specific problems, but also it means issues are harder to fix. In fact, cars are so sophisticated now that you might have to go to the dealer for a simple repair.

“You can do everything right, you put it in, turn the car on and it doesn’t work. You have to get back to [the dealer], have them program it and then it grinds,” Costa says. “There was more art to it back in the ’70s. Back in the day you better know pretty much everything to know where the problem is.”

Because of those limitations, Costa tended to focus on Volkswagens, Hondas, Toyotas and other casual foreign cars. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been a fair share of unique autos brought into the shop, though.

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One of Costa’s favorites was a modified Volvo. Though it looked and functioned like a normal car, when one of his employees hit the four-way flashers, a series of secret compartments popped out by the driver’s knees beneath the steering wheel and next to the exhaust.

Confused, Costa called the customer who had dropped the car off, saying, “We don’t know what this is. Something’s weird about this car. We can’t work on it. We’re going to have to send it back to the dealer.”

The client, a local court judge, told Costa not to worry. The car was confiscated from a narcotics dealer who had modified the vehicle as a drug runner. That same judge even came back to the shop just before it closed to thank Costa for helping him out, and to say goodbye.

The garage at Costa Auto Repair is characteristically Main Line.
The garage at Costa Auto Repair is characteristically Main Line.

Though Costa is obviously excited about his impending retirement, saying goodbye is the hardest part. Costa Auto Repair has been a home for him and his work family for more than three-quarters of his life. Leaving now is like letting go a part of his soul.

Though there’s plenty of golf, quality time with his grandkids and visits to Florida in his future, the satisfaction of helping out his friends, not customers, is something that can’t be replaced.

Back in the ’80s, Costa was out on the Main Line with his brothers and he ran into a long-time customer. One of them asked, “‘How do you know this guy?'” Costa responded, “‘Oh he’s a customer.'”

The “customer” turned around, looked at Costa and corrected him, saying, “I’m your friend.”

“I never made that mistake again,” Costa says.

Related: Margaret Kuo’s Says Goodbye to the Wayne Community

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