Ed Tretwold: The Chairman’s Work Is Done

by Iva Kestrankova

Ed Tretwold retires after 51 years of operating Coast Import Auto Supply.

In November 1990, the ARA’s periodical, Automotive Retailer, published a profile with the title A Chairman’s Work Is Never Done, about thenchairman of the ARA’s British Columbia Auto Recyclers division, Ed Tretwold. Fast forward 21 years and Ed has sold the business and called it a career.

For over five decades, he served as a manager at Coast Import Auto Supply alongside his partner Richard “Dick” Johns. Their iconic auto recycling business was best known for its impressive inventory of both classic and newer European car parts. As it turned out over the years, specializing in imports—mostly Jaguars, Land Rovers, and Miatas—was a smart move. Both partners kept their fingers on the pulse of what their customers needed. “We started out with English cars, then we went into European, and then when the Japanese came along, we did some selected models too,” said Ed.

For car customizers and restorers, Coast Import was the go-to retailer for hard-to-find vintage parts. The warehouse adjacent to the one-acre yard once had it all—carburetors, bumpers, grilles, headlights, taillights, steering wheels, doors—all impeccably organized and cataloged.

The partnership between Ed and Richard dates back to the early 1960s, when Ed worked for his father’s wrecking yard, Pat’s British Auto Wrecking. When Pat’s inventory was sold to Coast Import Auto Wrecking Ltd., Ed went with the business, and that is how the partnership with Richard began.

In 1970, both associates moved to Mitchell Island in Richmond, where they operated the business as Coast Import Auto Supply for the next 50 years. When Richard passed away at the age of 85 last May, Ed decided it was time to close the doors forever. And so he did, on June 10, 2021.

Having spent his entire working life in the auto dismantling and used parts business, Ed experienced all the good, the bad, and the ugly of the industry. Among the many challenges that auto recyclers had to overcome, achieving a better public image and stronger position in the marketplace, as well as coping with the ever-changing auto repair environment that directly affected the business was a constant battle over the years.

Ed has never been indifferent to industry problems, and rather than being an observer, he proved to be a man of action. When Coast Import Auto Supply, then Coast Import Auto Wrecking, joined the Automotive Retailers Association in 1963, it soon became one of the most proactive members. In 1981, Ed joined the executive of the Used Auto and Truck Parts division, and stayed as a member of the executive committee ever since. He served as vice chairman of the division for seven years, and when it changed its name to British Columbia Auto Recyclers (BCAR) in 1989, Ed became the division’s chairman.

Seeing the membership as a way to achieve common goals as an industry, Ed managed to bring auto recyclers from all corners of the province together at a time when the membership in the division had hit an all-time low. He not only helped rebuild a strong membership foundation, but also maintained good relationships within the industry.

One example is his long-time involvement in organizing the ARA’s golf tournaments, held in conjunction with the Annual General Meeting. For many recyclers, especially for those outside the Lower Mainland, this annual meet and greet offers one of the best opportunities to network in person. “Golfing is about socializing with people that you work with every day,” said Ed, a passionate golfer himself. The success of these industry events was demonstrated by strong turnouts, with suppliers attending also.

Ed built positive relationships with his customers too. His extensive knowledge of European car parts and honest practices secured Coast Import a repeat clientele. “I sold to shops that wouldn’t buy anything used, but they bought from Coast Import because they trusted us,” said Ed. “I was always fair. If there was anything wrong with a part, I told them exactly what was wrong and sent them pictures. This built trust.”

Over the years, Ed and Richard built a well-established business and garnered a reputation as knowledgeable experts, advising customers on the right parts for their vintage and classic cars. Looking back, Ed finds the key to their success simple, yet complicated: “The whole secret is buying [wrecked cars] at a reasonable price, so you can make profit [on selling parts],” he said, adding that with the price of land on the rise, staying profitable is a challenge for many auto recyclers, particularly those who must rent their properties.

Although now officially retired, Ed plans to stay in touch with his industry partners and friends. He is also very anxious to resume golfing, once his knees allow him to play again. In the meantime, he will be enjoying the golfer’s camaraderie from the comfort of a golf cart.

On behalf of all division members, the ARA thanks Ed for his many years of active engagement and great devotion to industry and wishes him many successful ventures in the next chapter of his life.