Passion for cars leads to American Dream
Tony LaCorte, owner of Leading Edge Automotive, talks about how he has stayed in business at the shop October 18, 2012. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 26, 2012 6:11AM
In many ways Tony LaCorte is what people think of when they talk about the American dream.
In 1974 he emigrated from Sicily — a town near Palermo — settled in Morton Grove, worked two jobs, built a successful auto repair business and put his two children through college.
“They say this is a great country, and it’s true,” LaCorte said. “It’s been really good to me.”
LaCorte, 55, trained as a mechanic in Sicily, owns Leading Edge Automotive, a local shop that fixes any make of car, foreign or domestic.
LaCorte said that since opening in 1985 he has built up trust among his customers, who come from nearby suburbs as well as far north Mundelein.
He does little advertising, relying instead of word-of-mouth. His shop was listed in 2006 by Chicago Magazine as one of the top 44 auto repair businesses in the Chicago area, a story he has laminated and mounted on the wall of his office.
LaCorte came to the United States – sponsored by an aunt – with little but his knowledge of cars and a willingness to work hard.
“When I came here I had nothing,” LaCorte said. “My cousin bought me a wallet, put $50 in it and I was on my own.”
“All my relations lived her and I was looking for opportunity,” LaCorte said. “I came here for one reason, to work.”
He settled in Morton Grove and worked days at an auto dealer and nights at Villa Toscano, a local restaurant, washing dishes.
For a long time he commuted by public transportation to a garage in Oak Park.
“I used to take three buses and two trains to get there,” he said. “I had to get up at 4 a.m. to get there on time.”
He worked at a Fiat dealer on Dempster for about 10 years and eventually an auto shop owner on Ferris Avenue let LaCorte use his garage to repair cars. He bought the shop six years later.
Since then Leading Edge Automotive has become a familiar business in Morton Grove. It’s currently located on Waukegan Road, a little north of Dempster Street on a stretch that’s mostly been abandoned by other businesses.
LaCorte said he has always enjoyed working on cars, trying to puzzle out what’s wrong and how to fix it.
“It’s my passion. It’s a satisfaction,” LaCorte said.
Though he admits it’s not nearly as much fun now with so much of a vehicle’s systems computerized.
“I like the old fashioned way. I did it by ear.”
He takes some pride in a 1977 Fiat Spider that he completely rebuilt. It’s he kind of car that inspires his passion, with old-fashioned parts like a carburetor.
“I love this business. I always loved to be in Morton Grove,” LaCorte said. “More than anything else I love this country. I feel more American than Italian.”