Passion fuels parts business
Branda purchased first Mustang in 1970
The names Tony Branda and Shelby Mustang have been connected for a long time.
Branda, 70, who owns Tony D. Branda Shelby and Mustang Parts, 1434 E. Pleasant Valley Blvd., said he first became interested in cars at the age of 13 or 14.
He has always been interested in Fords.
“Dad (Dominic) had Fords, I would go to Jack Beasley Ford on Margaret Avenue and look around and dream,” Branda said.
Branda graduated from Altoona Area High School in 1967 and was drafted into the Army. He was sent to Germany rather than Vietnam, as the war was raging at the time.
When he came home after two years in the Army he worked at his father’s restaurant, Doc’s Steak House. In 1975 his father opened Branda’s Ravioli Co. However his father passed away at the age of 55 in 1977 after a bout with cancer.
In the meantime, Branda had developed a huge interest in Mustangs, in particular Shelby Mustangs.
The Ford Mustang was first manufactured in 1964 and the Shelby Mustang in 1965.
According to Wikipedia, the Shelby Mustang is a high performance variant of the Ford Mustang which was built by Shelby American from 1965 to 1968, and from 1969 to 1970 by Ford. Following the introduction of the fifth generation Ford Mustang in 2005, the Shelby nameplate was revived as a new high-performance model, this time designed and built by Ford.
“The Shelby is a glorified Mustang, modified for performance and looks. They did stand out. It was like a higher grade of Mustang, They were more expensive and there was very limited production,” Branda said. “They had the sound, performance and look — the whole package.”
Branda bought his first Mustang in 1970.
“It was a 1970 Boss 302. I got it from Jack Beasley, it was grabber orange. It had all of the options, cost $3,400. I still have it today,” Branda said.
His interest in Mustangs led him into the parts business.
“I was interested in Carroll Shelby, I read about him and decided to get into the Mustang parts business. I got married in 1973 and had $78 left over from wedding gifts, from that is how I started the business,” Branda said. “This started out as a hobby and became a full-fledged business. I went to car shows in Harrisburg and Carlisle and people were interested (in parts), they were buying things, I needed to jump into this. I did it for five years myself before I hired my first employee.”
The business officially opened in October 1975 next to the Greenwood Steak House. Branda moved the business to 703 Hartzell Ave., today’s site of Begin With Us. In 1978, he bought the present property and built the first part of the building. He has expanded six times.
“We sell parts to restorers of Mustangs and Shelbys to keep their cars on the road. I am not selling cars. I am not a dealer. We are licensed by the Carroll Shelby Company and with Ford Motor Co.,” Branda said.
Branda said he works with manufacturers.
“We buy reproduced parts and sell them, some are made in the United States and others made offshore. I have a huge inventory of parts for both. I could rebuild well over 100 Shelbys with the inventory I have,” Branda said.
What he sells has changed over the years.
“When I started it was mainly trim and detailing items, small stuff. Now we replace complete floors, doors, fenders and engine parts,” Branda said.
Branda said sometimes he buys cars to get parts to sell.
“We also have places that manufacture parts for us. We get loads in from Canada and there are Pennsylvania foundries that we use. We try to buy in the United States,” Branda said.
He has customers all over the world.
“My customers are anybody who is interested in Shelbys and Mustangs, it is such a fascinating hobby. You can spend a lot of money on it; people are collectors,” Branda said. “We’ve sold parts to people anywhere in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Germany. I’ve even done a few things in Saudi Arabia.”
Branda also takes great pride in his collection of 24 Mustangs and Shelby Mustangs.
“In the summer I take them out for some exercise. They value from $25,000 and up, I have one of the first Cobras ever made. I have bought and sold well over 100 of them (Shelby),” Branda said.
Branda said the Shelbys are a big part of his life.
“Shelbys are my first love after my wife,” Branda said.
Branda said the key to his success has been being honest and true to his customers.
“I don’t look at them as numbers, I treat them as a friend not as a number. There are people (parts businesses) larger than I am, and to them people are numbers. We are small, I like it that way. We can talk to people one-on-one, we are small enough we have the time to talk to the people. It (the business) has been great, it has given me everything I’ve ever wanted in my life,” Branda said.
Barry Smith of Roaring Spring, a Mustang advocate, has been doing business with Branda since the early days of Branda’s business.
“Tony is well established in the market and a quality individual. We like to keep business local, Tony is quite a historian and one of the high-end marketing people that sells parts for the vintage Mustangs. He is very well known in the industry,” Smith said.
Ryan Horchen, owner of H&H Performance DuBois, has been doing business with Branda for more than ten years.
“Tony has great quality parts and he treats me well. A lot of things I get from Tony I can’t get from other people. He makes things happen. I am often working on deadline and when I need things he makes it happen for me,” Horchen said.
Branda has no immediate plans to retire.
“I love what I am doing, I enjoy it. When I hunt for parts, I enjoy it, it is like a deer hunter,” Branda said.
He said he hopes his son Tony II, 35, who has worked with him for several years, will eventually take over the business.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.