After graduating from UCSC as a member of the pioneer class, Nate served a cold, inhospitable stint at Yale Graduate School before returning to the warm embrace of Santa Cruz to work for his old Anthropology professor. He met and married his wife, Meg, while the two collaborated on a dictionary for an obscure, previously unwritten South Sea Island language. That collaborative relationship proved to be much more enduring than the one with his old professor, who abruptly took his grant money and the uncompleted dictionary to Australia. This left both Nate and Meg without employment, with a baby, and a less-than-obviously-marketable fluency in a Solomon Island language spoken thousands of miles away by only about 1,000 people!
The realities of having a family to support, and the dubious likelihood that his rather esoteric linguistic skills would lead to gainful employment anywhere in his beloved Santa Cruz, pushed Nate in the direction of mechanical work. He had tinkered with sports cars and motorcycles since early adolescence, and had raced motorcycles all through his college years. An old racing pal was working as the service manager at the local BMW dealership and offered him a job as a technician while Nate and Meg decided what to do with their future.
The tiny BMW dealership began to grow, and Nate, taking advantage of any BMW training available, soon became the senior technician. In 1975, a scant two years later, Santa Cruz Motors had grown up and moved into a much larger, more centrally-located dealership, while, Nate was made Service Manager. In those early days of BMW's growing success, independently owned dealerships competed heavily with one another. There was little or no cooperation between sales, parts or service departments. Nate felt that this worked against the brand, and in 1977 he and a parts manager from another dealership started an International BMW Parts and Service Managers Association in an effort to get dealerships to work together. It was so successful that BMW in Germany began to underwrite it and help it grow.
In 1991, Nate and Meg decided to open an independent repair shop - Nate Smith's Optimal Auto Care. Optimal Auto Care started with one additional employee and some help from their four growing sons. In less that three years Optimal had five technicians, an "official" lot attendant, an office staff, had taken over two of the adjacent shops, and added Audi and Volkswagen to their serviced brands. In 2000, when BMW took on the manufacturing of Mini Cooper, Minis were added to the service family.
In the same spirit that inspired Nate to create the BMW Parts and Service Managers Association years before, Nate became the founding president of an international independent BMW association, organized to provide expert training opportunities for members and their employees and to encourage independent shops all over the world to cooperate with one another. This organization is one of a kind in the auto world and has proven very successful.
Much of the success of Nate Smith's Optimal Auto Care. is directly attributable to the hard work, ongoing training, and professionalism of staff members who take their responsibilities and pride in quality workmanship seriously. When Optimal Auto Care opened its doors nearly thirty years ago,, there were fewer than a dozen different models of BMWs and very limited electronics. Today, there are over 60 different models with a huge number of permutations within each model: hybrid, diesel, turbo, fuel injection, direct injection, and from 4 cylinder to 12 cylinder engines. WW, Audi and Mini have similarly expanded the number of models available. A BMW 7 series from a few years ago already had more sensors on it than an Airbus. Sometimes what appears to be a mechanical failure is the result of outdated software or low voltage causing control unit confusion. All this complexity requires constant technical education for technicians and service advisors, new tools and new computer equipment. Optimal Auto strives to stay on the cutting edge of automotive technology and know-how.
Nate's 11 year old border collie, Cooper, rides shotgun with our longtime Lot Attendant Cheryl. She can't pick up a part or a customer without Cooper at her side. He is quiet and non-effusive but wholly dedicated to his job. He is also a prize winning sheep herder!
Nate's office greeter and official affection dispenser is Gordy, the year old border collie. He has been working at Optimal Auto since he was 7 weeks old and believes everyone comes in to see him. He absolutely loves his job. He even gets the harried delivery drivers to stop and play. Gordy is only a novice sheep herder.