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Costa Mesa auto shop has all the details on creating a vehicular masterpiece

The auto detailing shop began with the belief that beauty can transform lives.

Tucked behind a palm tree-lined driveway in Costa Mesa is a space that looks like a gleaming museum, but it boasts a stellar fleet of classic Mercedes, Porsches, Ferraris and other vintage gems.

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It is the home of Doctor Detail, a fully personalized, hands-on auto service shop that is the brainchild of Darren McKendry, a car aficionado who sees cars as art — moving art.

He offers the usual cleaning, restoration and finishing of any car detailing business, but it's far from ordinary.

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Here, visitors are offered cappuccinos.

Modern art-style portraits of James Dean and Steve McQueen hang on white walls, adding to the look of a salon for autos.

Artfully positioned books are placed near an arrangement of orchids on a glass table.

"It should look like a gallery," McKendry said one morning as his pet poodle perched herself on a leather chair. "That is what detail is all about."

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A car is an aesthetic, he explained, and one can get inside of it, enjoy the beauty of the machine and appreciate the journey it takes one on.

Taking care of a car's appearance doesn't qualify as vanity but rather smart vehicle ownership, McKendry said. He added that a vehicle serviced at Doctor Detail should look like it's never seen the road.

"See that?" he asked as he pointed to an employee working on a Porsche 911. "He's changing the calipers so they look brand new."

The owner of the specialty boutique is particularly proud of its new car protection option —ceramic polymer coatings, also known as nano coatings.

The cutting-edge cosmetic technology, which developed in Asia, was created to protect cars from harsh elements, scratches and wash marks. The service can run from $1,200 to $5,000, depending on a client's needs, and the coating typically lasts up to three years.

A car's lights, grille and bumpers are removed to get at any accumulated dirt, grease or pine needles. The care service can take 10 to 100 manhours, but the layer will then work as a barrier, protecting the paint from environmental effects.

Nano coatings, McKendry explained, adds a layer that will always be harder than the finish of the vehicle itself.

Aside from offering high-performance coatings, Doctor Detail also performs engine and undercarriage steam cleaning. It has an upholstery shop and a paint and body facility that handles minor dents, bumper refinishing and collision repair.

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It's a dedication to the art of preserving classic and vintage cars that McKendry and his staff of 12 employees share, but the shop caters to modern models too, and not solely luxury automobiles, he said.

"We want to take care of everybody's car," said McKendry, who has preserved cars for 37 years, gathering knowledge by reading rather than from formal automotive training. "One guy's Corolla is another guy's Ferrari. It's important to him and it's important to us."

McKendry's appreciation for automobiles developed in his early teens.

Once he learned his parents planned on passing down to him the Mustang driven by his older sister and brother, he knew he needed a job.

When he was 13, he placed an advertisement in the PennySaver offering to wax cars for $5. He started polishing neighbors' cars, but people who didn't know him thought he sounded too young on the phone to entrust their cars to his care.

So he asked his father to take him to clients' homes. He'd arrive at assignments with a vacuum in one hand and a milk crate holding cleaning products in the other. Over time, he earned a good reputation — so good that one customer advised him to charge double.

The hard work paid off. At 16, he bought his first car, a Datsun 240Z, for $3,000.

But his parents worried.

They knew their son aspired to pursue this business of polishing cars, but they wanted him to obtain his college degree.

After graduating from Corona del Mar High in 1978, McKendry enrolled at Orange Coast College, but he often wondered if higher education had any value to him. His business was growing, he had a car and he paid for his own apartment.

That nagging question was answered when he went to his economics class and the teacher announced a pop quiz. He wasn't prepared, so he walked out and never looked back.

"I knew then I got to turn into a man and go for it," McKendry said. "I want the younger generation to know that you got to believe in your craft and enjoy what you do. With that, everything else will turn out just fine."

He started working out of his house, got a little workspace in Corona del Mar and, three years later, opened Doctor Detail in Costa Mesa.

The building off Placentia Avenue with its eye-catching facade of floor-to-ceiling windows and wood panels has since become well-regarded for its architectural design.

So much so that McKendry rents out the space for weddings, private parties and memorials.

"I never thought that would happen," he said with a smile. "It's been a great success."

For more information, call (949) 650-0204 or visit doctordetail.com.

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Kathleen Luppi, kathleen.luppi@latimes.com

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi

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