In the heart of Silicon Valley, the epicenter of high tech, is a business that is decidedly more “old school.” Tucked away in Redwood City, is Rich Bontempi’s High Performance House, one of the largest shops selling original Porsche parts in the country, Rich has been a seller on CPX since we launched.
On a trip to the Bay Area last week, I had a chance to drop in on Rich and spend some time with him while checking out his facility. Although the place looks unassuming from the street, inside it is a treasure trove of rare items that will have any Porschephile drooling. Bontempi’s shop is packed with items recovered from cars that unfortunately didn’t make it, but which are giving parts so other Porsches can live on.
High Performance House sits in a commercial area not far from Highway 101 on a street filled with car-oriented businesses. The three-story main building is set back from the street behind a fence and gate. In the courtyard out front are numerous cars in various states of dismantling, all under white tarps. (Perhaps out of respect for the dead?)
After distractedly making my way to the office, I was greeted by Rich -- one of those bigger-than-life guys with a ready laugh. His surname translates to “good times” and that seems pretty fitting. I got a tour of the office, which doubles as Rich's trophy room. You see, Rich’s path to High Performance House started behind the wheel of a race car.
As a kid, he broke into motorsports in go-karts, which naturally led to bigger things as he came of age. He was first a drag racer and drove Mopar exclusively, a brand to which he is loyal to this day. (Rich owns a top-notch Dodge Viper!) Then he got into SCCA racing and his weapon of choice became a Porsche 914. He won a lot of races -- having stopped counting when the total got to triple digits -- partly because he was a talented driver, but also because he had a knack for race preparation.
“I’d go out to the road racing track on the weekend and would clean up. The other guys who had 914s asked me about my car and I’d tell them what I had done to it. The next week, their cars would be in my shop getting work. It was great being able to do something I enjoyed, and then turn it into a business,” said Rich.
High Performance House opened for business in the Bicentennial Year of 1976, so it’s been going strong for 46 years. It started out as a small shop not far from its current location. Later on, Rich bought the property on which it now sits. He had a three-story commercial structure built to work on cars and store the parts supply. Eventually, the business outgrew that structure and it became necessary to add a second shop.
Luis is Rich’s right-hand man who has been working at HPH for 29 years. He’s a mechanic and does a lot of the disassembly work. He gave me a tour of the 23,000-square-foot building which, after walking through it, seemed about five times bigger than it looks! Every nook and cranny is crammed with parts.
There was a “wall of wheels” with more sets of Fuchs than you shake a stick at. If you need something, HPH probably has ten of them. The shop started by focusing on 914s. It also covers air-cooled 911s, 912s, as well as the front-engined Porsches of the '80s and '90s such as the 928, 944, and 924.
One of my favorite areas was a “library” of 911, 912, and 914 hoods. Each standing up, they collectively created a rainbow of every paint code in the Porsche inventory. It was something to see! The building is well organized with everything in its place. When an order comes in, the HPH team can pull it quickly and get it on its way.
“I have the biggest collection of 914 parts anywhere,” Rich said. Not only does he have reclaimed items, but he also does limited production parts for race cars. For instance, he sells custom-designed fiberglass fenders to fit oversized race wheels.
Since 2008, the shop has shifted to mostly selling parts. When I asked him how he came to amass this enormous inventory, his answer was simple, “Parts find me.” His customers will pass along any delinquent Porsches they see in the world. With his reputation in the 914 community, folks reach out to him first when they hear of one that would be a good fit.
Occasionally, parts come from other sources too. When a local Porsche dealership was closing, he cleaned out some excess parts. When a shop had its inventory seized, Rich went to the auction and purchased the items for pennies on the dollar. These instances were exceptions, as most of his parts come from cars left to sit too long that are now beyond repair.
Rich has been at it for close to five decades now, but still has a glint in his eye. “I love what I’m doing and each day goes by quickly!” However, since he's in his 70s, he is also keeping an eye out for someone to take over the business to keep these parts in circulation long into the future.
If you call HPH, Rich picks up the phone and handles the customer orders. Luis oversees the parts and pulls the orders.
Unfortunately, I had a tight timeline, but promised Rich that next time I'm in town, I'll eagerly accept his invitation for ribeye and a bottle of Silver Oak!
For more information: High Performance House, 2431 Spring Street, Redwood City, CA 94063, (650) 364-6234, www.highperformancehouse.com. Check out HPH's Store on CPX!