Why Pro Detailer Larry Kosilla Quit Wall Street to Wash Cars

·6 min read
Photo credit: Mike D’Ambrosio | Machineswithsouls
Photo credit: Mike D’Ambrosio | Machineswithsouls

At 23, Larry Kosilla was already on the path to a six-figure Wall Street job. He worked on the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange, reconciling multi-million-dollar natural gas trades as an assistant to a trader at Fly Trading. He had the college degree, the analytical brain, and the launchpad gig to set him up for a lifetime career. That year, he decided to throw it all away.

Welcome to The Professionals, a bi-weekly Road & Track column where we talk to the fascinating people behind some of the automotive industry’s most fascinating jobs.

Photo credit: Courtesy of AMMO NYC
Photo credit: Courtesy of AMMO NYC

“You could tell my heart wasn’t in it,” Kosilla told Road & Track.“I wanted to wash cars, but I had this draw [...]I went to these fancy schools, I got all these crazy degrees, I’m supposed to be the doctor, the trader, whatever. And, oh yeah, by the way, you make a lot of money to get to play with cars. But at that point I remember saying to myself, ‘do I really just want to own a bunch of cars, or do I want to work with them?’”

Framed like that, the answer was obvious. Kosilla quit his sought-after job to go work for Cooper Classics, a vintage car sales firm in lower Manhattan. He drove classic cars to movie sets and occasionally picked up his buddy Matt Farah for joyrides. A great life for a gearhead. But when a high-end client asked Kosilla what he dreamed of doing, he didn’t hesitate.

Photo credit: Mike D’Ambrosio | Machineswithsouls
Photo credit: Mike D’Ambrosio | Machineswithsouls

“I want to be the best car detailer,” Kosilla recalls saying. “And that wasn’t, like, a thing. I felt mortified to say that because it was like saying, you’re a doctor but you want to be selling surf lessons on the beach.”

Kosilla had no delusions about this dream. He knew car detailing wasn’t a prestigious job. High-powered bankers would toss their keys to professional detailers without even a passing glance. Kosilla, though, saw art in cleaning. Whether it was toilet bowls or touring cars, he wanted them spotless. And all else being equal, Kosilla says he’d rather shine latrines than fill out spreadsheets.

Kosilla expected the Cooper Classics client wouldn’t understand his dream. Instead, she changed his life.

“She said, ‘that’s awesome. I have a guy for you.’”

The executive connected Kosilla with Tad Hyde, a well-established advertising copywriter decades his senior who was also trying to get into the automotive space. The connection was natural. Kosilla saw a depth and art in car detailing, and an opportunity to elevate it beyond the corner car wash. Hyde could bring that message directly to an audience that cared deeply about cars. Together, they purchased a car wash in Rye, New York and got to work.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Larry Kosilla
Photo credit: Courtesy of Larry Kosilla

Kosilla upped the car wash’s prices and pitched himself to discerning high-end customers. The car wash became a hangout for doctors, lawyers, and Wall Street types with a genuine love for cars. Eventually, he brought on Farah and the duo started a members-only car club under the same banner, with rallies and meets to stoke enthusiasm. After some success, Kosilla told Farah they needed to try YouTube. A $5000 camera helicopter rental and a great driving video started them both down the automotive media path, leading Farah to create The Smoking Tire and Kosilla to eventually build AMMO NYC.

Today, Kosilla has more than 1.8 million YouTube subscribers, and he’s proud of that number. Because even among automotive nerds, in-depth detailing videos sounded like a hard sell. JF Musial, an automotive video and TV producer, didn’t think there was enough of an audience. He only agreed to produce a detailing show once Kosilla offered to bankroll the first season. The results were stunning. View counts were a third of what the big-name shows like Chris Harris on Cars achieved, but retention was a hardly believable 104 percent. Not only were people watching Larry’s lengthy videos start-to-finish, they were rewinding and rewatching to catch all the information.

That passionate viewer base is key to what Kosilla does today. Those are the people who watch his most detailed, informative, innovative videos. Deep cleans of disgusting cars will always get more views, but the technical, scientific stuff is what really drives Kosilla. That led him to create the Ammo Training Academy, a series with Kevin Brown, whom Kosilla calls the godfather of automotive detailing. In Training Academy videos, Kosilla and Brown explain the science and chemistry behind different detailing products, how different cleaning and restoration processes affect paint, and what’s actually happening on the microscopic level. The series is a leviathan, with hours of footage and dozens of key insights. It is also among Kosilla’s least commercially successful creations.

Photo credit: Mike D’Ambrosio | Machineswithsouls
Photo credit: Mike D’Ambrosio | Machineswithsouls

“I could shampoo a dirty car that’s disgusting and has dog poo in the back seat any day of the weekand zillions of people will watch it,” Kosilla told Road & Track. “But I’m not exactly sure it’s helping or teaching, as opposed to the voyeurism of it. I wanted to make something that was a really hardcore encyclopedia.”

Where the typical AMMO NYC deep-clean video might get over a million views in a week, the average Training Academy tutorial got around 50,000. “Technically, [Training Academy] lost me the most amount of subscribers on my channel of any series I’ve ever done. It cost me the most on paper,” Kosilla said. “In reality, it was the most positive thing I ever did. Because working one-on-one with Kevin—really understanding what’s going on, not regurgitating something that somebody else said, testing things and finding out on camera in real time, was freaking amazing to me. It just shattered the way that I thought about detailing cars.”

That deep understanding, that curiosity about the granular details of of car care, is what has made Kosilla a success. It’s why he’s trusted to detail hyper-expensive exotics, ultra-rare classics, even military aircraft. The nerdy deep-dives might not make Kosilla a ton of money, but if money was his primary goal, he never would have quit trading commodities.

For Kosilla, it’s always been about passion. And the biggest lesson he learned along the way has nothing to do with the art of detailing cars.

“I always say, you can’t fake enthusiasm,” Kosilla said. “As soon as you fake enthusiasm, it’s very apparent. Especially in today’s world with social media, where everybody can see everything. The instant you fake it, you’ve lost. So go find the thing that you’re not faking and be proud of whatever it is.”

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