By Raiza Giorgi

It’s fitting that after more than 30 years in the automotive repair industry that Richard and Mary Nohr will drive off into the sunset when they close Nohr’s Auto Haus in Buellton. 

 “We want to travel a lot and drive to new places. We love being on the road and just cruising together,” Mary Nohr said. 

The Nohrs have been a staple in the Santa Ynez Valley, where they have been known as one of the few repair shops that specialize in German and European cars. 

“We have so many amazing customers and we will really miss seeing them, but it’s time to start a new adventure,” Richard Nohr said. 

The Nohrs came to the valley more than 35 years ago, originally as mechanics for a private jet based in Santa Barbara. 

“We were looking for a place in Santa Barbara and decided to take a day drive and ended up on the pass (San Marcos Pass). When we came into the valley we saw a ‘For Sale’ sign on a house in Solvang and just turned in to look, and we’ve lived there ever since,” Richard Nohr said. 

Mary Nohr grew up on a farm in Wisconsin and knew from an early age that she wanted to be a mechanic. She became one of the first women to be licensed as an airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic. 

“I have always been mechanically inclined. I love being able to get my hands dirty and fix it myself,” she said. 

Richard Nohr was born in Germany and came to Sacramento by way of Brazil in 1957 as a young child with his family. He loved taking things apart and putting them back together. 

The couple met while working at the Napa Airport. Richard remembers when Mary started working there, because he had never seen a woman mechanic before. 

Mary Nohr is one of the few female mechanics in the area and she hopes that more women get into the business.
Photo by Daniel Driefuss

“I remember when she physically took an engine out of an aircraft all by herself and being very impressed. She isn’t afraid of putting muscle into her work, and I admired that,” he said. 

He also really liked that she loved riding motorcycles. 

The couple married in 1980 and ended up in the valley in 1981. After the jet left the Santa Barbara Airport for good, the couple ended up working at Vandenberg Air Force Base as mechanics on Titan rockets. After the space shuttle Challenger blew up in January 1986, Mary Nohr was laid off and started working for a mechanic in Solvang. Soon the Nohrs decided they wanted to work together again and so they bought the business from Mary’s boss and opened Nohr’s Auto Haus in Santa Ynez. After several years they decided to move to Buellton, and the business has been located ever since behind the Napa shop off Highway 246. 

“We decided to specialize in Mercedes and then incorporated BMW, Porsche and Volvos as well. It just seemed fitting as we had the knowledge and tools,” Richard Nohr said. 

Working on European models was a little harder in those days as there were no troubleshooting warnings like a “check engine” light, and there were no computers to plug in to see what area needed attention, they noted.

The Nohrs do the work themselves. They never had any employees, and they say they love working together. 

“We are lucky because there are a lot of husband and wife teams that don’t work well together. Somehow, we just figured out a good pattern and we enjoy being together,” Mary Nohr said. 

Mary Nohr has hosted clinics through the years for women who wanted to know about their cars.
Photo contributed

There aren’t many women mechanics on the Central Coast, but Mary Nohr said that she hopes more women get into the field. 

“There should be more women mechanics because I think women have a different way of solving problems, and this trade is in high demand. They can bring real brain power to the industry,” she said. 

Richard Nohr added that he believes that women are better at troubleshooting. He and Mary often discuss how to look at a problem, and she helps him see things differently. 

Aside from working on cars, Mary Nohr is a self-taught artist. She works in stained glass and also does etched glass and fused glass. In their shop Mary displays and sells her artwork and creates custom pieces for some of her clients. 

The couple also loves autocross, which is a timed competition in which the drivers navigate a defined course. 

“We race each other to see who can get the better time in the same vehicle. I think we are pretty even at the moment,” Richard Nohr said. 

The Nohrs are planning on Nov. 30 being their last day at the shop.