Steve Ames, 78, of Marlborough, New Hampshire, passed away on Dec. 20. After graduating from Columbia University with an engineering degree, he went into the National Guard. His next job was with a large paper company in Maine. Corporate life didn’t agree with him, so he ran a machine shop and drag raced from 1961 to 1975. In search of speed equipment, he went to a swap meet and noticed people selling the kind of parts he threw away.
Ames started visiting car dealerships east of the Mississippi in search of vintage NOS (new old stock) car parts. He first sold older Chevy parts, but found that niche to be overly competitive. As a result, he decided to specialize in Pontiac parts. He would sleep in his pickup truck and eat cold sandwiches and bring huge loads of parts back home.
An eye-opening experience was Ames’ first visit to the second Carlisle Flea Marketeers fall show in 1976. That’s where his Pontiac parts started selling well and convinced him to start a company called Ames Performance Engineering, as well as two offshoots known as Ames Autmotive Enterprises and Ames Performance Classics.
Ames’ first catalog of GTO parts was released in 1983, The following year he did a Firebird parts catalog. In 1985 he stopped selling NOS items and focused entirely on new or repro parts. Ames eventually sold the retail side of his company but continued to develop new products and sell parts on the wholesale level. He also started the annual Ames Performance Pontiac Tri-Power Nationals held in Norwalk, Ohio, every August.
The Ames Automotive foundation, a non-profit, was started with the goal of helping future generations recognize and appreciate how well these vehicles were made and how important the American assembly line concept has been in solidifying the USA as the world leader of industry. Many of the cars in the collection are ultra-rare Pontiacs.
However, not all vehicles in the collection were cars. In 2013, Ames purchased a truck at the famous Van Der Brink Lambrecht Chevrolet Auction in Pierce, Nebraska, that made headlines. He paid $140,000 for a low-milage 1958 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier.
Ames attended the founding meeting of SEMA’s Automotive Restoration Market Organization (ARMO). In 2007, he was named ARMO’s Person of the Year. His parts won multiple “Best New Product” awards.
Despite all the awards and accolades he earned, Steve Ames remained a “regular guy” who felt he had the great fortune of turning his hobby into a very successful business. After leaving the company, he resided with his wife Joan in their Marlborough home.