Female mechanic opens exotic garage
The following article is from Pickens County Progress.
Ashley Waller is the owner and technician at Elite European, an automotive repair facility in Jasper that specializes in luxury Italian, German and English cars including exotic brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini. Before moving back to Pickens County from California, Waller apprenticed and then worked for several years at Ferrari Beverly Hills and other high-end dealers.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Dallas, Texas. My family moved to Virginia then to Tennessee all before I was in third grade. We moved to Georgia in 1989, to Kennesaw. We were there until 1997 when we moved to Big Canoe. I graduated high school up here in 99. I did joint enrollment my senior year at Pickens Tech for drafting.
How did you get into auto mechanics?
I’ve always liked cars I just didn’t know anything about the mechanics. I moved to California in 2005 and I was waiting to get my residency status so I could finish my Bachelors in Business Management that I had started at Kennesaw State. While I was there I decided to take a yearlong basic automotive class at WyoTech in Long Beach. The whole point going to WyoTech was not to get a job in the field. I just wanted to know something about my own vehicle so I didn’t get swindled at the dealership, but I fell in love with it. I graduated, came out and got a job at Firestone where I did tires, brakes, alignment, and oil changes on a variety of vehicles.
What happened after Firestone?
I guess it was about six months after that I got the apprenticeship position at Ferrari Beverly Hills.
Did you apply for the apprenticeship?
I did. I saw an ad on Craigslist for a body shop technician for Ferrari Beverly Hills. I decided since I learned automotive repair at WyoTech I could learn body work as well. I graduated at the top of my class at WyoTech. On paper it looks good, so why wouldn’t they give me a shot? I got a call back and was told I was more geared towards service and passed my resume along to the service side. That was in November. In April I got a phone call offering me the position. When I got the call we all sat down and said, go big or go home. I moved the rest of my stuff out to California and started putting down some roots. I stayed with Ferrari Beverly Hills for three years. I was an apprentice for a year and a half under a master technician. Six out of seven guys were master technicians. I was surrounded by absolute brilliance up there. Some of the best technicians I’ve ever worked with.
What was your first time working on a Ferrari like?
I was internally shaking. I was so nervous because this is a very expensive automobile. I looked around the shop and there were probably 20 of them in there. All I could think of was ‘Holy moly. These are the big leagues.’ It was where most technicians dream of getting to and I felt extremely blessed to be there. It was best foot forward for me! Come to find out I was the only female, so when we went to training some of my Ferrari certificates actually say ‘Mr. Ashley Waller’ because they had never had a female through there and never changed the template. That was okay. It’s the Italian way.
Yes, the auto industry is definitely male-dominated. What challenges have you faced as a female?
I enjoy working with men. I’ve had my challenges that most women face and I’ve overcome them. I do think women have to work two, three times as hard as most men to be considered equal. Right after I graduated I went to the Santa Monica Ford dealership. I handed the service manager my resume, he appeared to have read it, and told me they were not hiring for a receptionist at this time. That is annoying, but not enough to keep me from doing this. The majority of the men are very accepting. They don’t feel like toes are getting stepped on. They see I’m passionate about the same things they are, I just happen to be female.
Why did you choose Jasper as the location for your business?
I moved here to be closer to my parents. My mom got a 2015 Mercedes-Benz, her first European car and she has to go all the way to Alpharetta for service. There are a lot more people up here and they are forced to go to Alpharetta, Marietta or even Tennessee to the dealer. That’s a lot of travel time on top of the money you’re spending. You can get the same service with us minus warranty work, which I can’t do legally. My prices are lower, I’m more convenient and you still get the same A+ service and treatment you would at the dealer. For people south, there’s less traffic going north. They could come up here and hang out. It gives them another option.
What do you want to accomplish down the road?
I’m already planning on where to put the next set of bays because I’m going to need more lifts I think. I have two now. It’s Michael Miller and myself. He’s my 40-year Mercedes master technician. He is well versed in everything, but especially German and English vehicles. Between the two of us and the material we both have because we have dealer training we have quite the arsenal of information.
What’s your favorite car to work on?
The mid-engine Ferrari. It’s unique. It’s not put together by machines. It’s put together by people. There’s really time taken to make sure that bumper is on the car straight. Knowing that someone else has been there and spent time putting it together you feel obligated to make sure it looks just as perfect as it did the day that it left the factory.
You have to go on road tests with these cars. Do you get nervous?
You road test every vehicle that comes through your stall. I would say yes you’re always a little nervous, but some of that wears off. Being very observant of other vehicles is huge because people are not used to seeing a Ferrari. As they’re driving by to get a picture they’re getting closer and closer to this vehicle. You’re like “Stop you’re about to hit the car!” It can be stressful.
Do you like driving as much as you like working on the cars?
Absolutely. The road test is sort of your attaboy, but it’s also very necessary to get the vehicle up to operating temperature. It’s a necessity but a perk of the position.
What are some of your hobbies?
I like to ride motorcycles, Harley-Davidsons. I also enjoy target shooting.
Are you married? Kids?
Nope and nope. I have two beautiful nieces in Kennesaw. I don’t think I could have better kids on my own so why try. I’ve got two dogs that keep me busy at home. I would like to volunteer at one of the local shelters in town.
What are some of your guilty pleasures?
Espresso and coffee and fresh, good sushi!