Jerral Mayes and his son Jerral (J.R.) Mayes love repairing cars.
“I’ve always enjoyed fixing things. And with the car, there’s always something to fix,” the senior Mayes says.
Adds J.R., “I like to see how things work. Even as a child, I would always take my toys apart. Repairing cars is fun. They’re always challenging. And I like the challenge.”
The father-son team owns Autoplex on Wilmington Island, an automotive repair and service shop that lays claim to being the oldest business on the island.
Its customers come from Talahi, Wilmington, Tybee, Oatland and Whitemarsh islands as well as The Landings, downtown and sometimes Pooler. Its six employees hold certifications in all of the eight standard repairs (like transmission, brake work and engine repair) and advanced diagnostics.
“I have one certified General Motors master technician. I have one certified transmission specialist and one Porsche master certified. Also we have two that are BMW and Mercedes certified,” J.R. said. “It’s a big deal to be able to do the European cars.”
In addition, Autoplex has earned a national certification called Automotive Service Excellence.
Jerral Mayes started the business in June 1971. His father had a trucking business and Mayes had repaired the trucks. Also, as a high school senior, he started doing repairs on airplane engines at Hutchinson County Airport in Texas. And when he served in Vietnam as an Army helicopter pilot, he learned how to make repairs on helicopters.
After the war, Mayes said, “I needed to make a living. I knew how to work on cars, helicopters and airplanes. So I thought, why don’t I start a repair business myself?”
His first shop was in space leased from Exxon at Montgomery Crossroads and Abercorn. But he had to move from that location.
“The oil company took the location back so they could make a convenience store. So I started a new station at 95 and 204,” Mayes said.
In 1979, he moved his shop to Wilmington Island. At first, he leased the land and service station from Exxon. Then, in 1982, he bought it.
“We called it Autoplex,” for ‘automotive complex, he said. “And it’s a very complex business when you work on cars.”
J.R. started working in the Autoplex as a child.
“I would sweep the floor and stuff like that,” he said. “I actually started working there when I was 13, doing oil changes and tire repairs and working as a mechanic’s helper. And I worked there when I was in college.“
J.R. spent two years at Armstrong State College, but Armstrong did not have a business program at that time.
“So I finished my core courses and started work here full time in 1992,” he said. “I was a mechanic and service advisor. I repaired the cars. I talked to the customers. I found the parts needed for the repairs.”
Jerral Mayes was glad to have his son in business with him.
“It was very beneficial,” he said. “There’s an old saying: ‘If I give you a fish, I feed you a meal. If I teach you to fish, I feed you for a lifetime.’..I gave him the means to provide for his family all the days of his life.”
The repair business is successful now. Still, the Mayes team has plans to grow Autoplex.
“We have room for expansion, In two to five years, we’ll have more service space, more technicians,” J.R. said.
Added his father: “We’re sitting on two acres of land.”
Jerral Mayes is semi-retired, but “I come see my son at work two days a week. I still do the books and if they have a problem with a vehicle, I can help with that.”
He also sells cars.
This is not a major part of the business, the senior Mayes said, but when old friends died, “I started selling their cars.”
He also has a pet project to work on — restoring a 1929 double A Ford delivery truck.
“It had only one owner. It was sold in Detroit. We’re fixing it up for ourselves. We’ll probably just park it out front and maybe drive it on the island. Play with it,” he said.