By Bryce Abshier
For over 45 years, Clifford’s Garage has been the go-to mechanic shop for many locals in South Marion County. The shop was started by John Clifford, a popular mechanic who served the Belleview area for decades before he passed away in 2020. Today, the garage is kept running strong by John’s grandson, Ryan Clifford, along with his wife Laura. John’s dog, Sadie, still does her part to hold down the fort, too.
The late John Clifford is remembered warmly by those who frequented his garage. Many can retell stories of times they struggled with money and couldn’t afford repairs up front, but John would repair their vehicle anyway and work out a payment plan. He had the reputation of a honest mechanic, who saw the customer as a person first, not just a dollar sign. He also had the reputation of someone who loved dogs. His dog Sadie would sometimes make the trip with him to Waffle House and enjoy a cheeseburger.
In a 2008 interview with the Voice of South Marion, John Clifford told the story of how he ended up in Belleview. After working in law enforcement in New Jersey for 10 years, he decided that he was tired of the cold weather and set out for somewhere warmer. In March of 1977, John drove all across central Florida looking for a viable spot to start his mechanic business and found only two locations. One was on Highway 19 in Ingles and the other was on the corner of Highway 441 and County Road 484 in Belleview, where the Hardee’s restaurant sits today.
At the time, the property in Belleview was home to a Phillips 66 gas station. Clifford would go on to purchase the Belleview property for $53,500. In addition to mechanical work, Clifford’s Garage originally sold gas as well. However, the gas tanks were removed in 1987.
In the 2008 interview, John did not think what he had accomplished in 1977 could be done now. “There is no way a kid could start a business today and be successful,” he explained. “The changes in automobile electronics are mind blowing with the amount of tools and knowledge needed to get the job done.”
In May of 2006, Clifford opened his new garage at 12351 SE 72nd Terrace Rd, Belleview. Both locations were kept open a few years, before the original garage was permanently closed.
John’s grandson Ryan, who now operates the company, spent much of his childhood at the garage. Now 35 years old, Ryan has been doing mechanical work on vehicles since he was 15.
Today, Clifford’s Garage serves as a one-stop garage for all of a vehicle’s mechanical needs. “We try not to turn anything away,” explained Laura Clifford. “It’s good that we have loyal customers,” she added. Not only do they tackle heavy duty mechanical issues, they also handle regular maintenance needs like oil changes, brake replacements and tires.