BEAUMONT, TEX. -- Donald E. Ervin, who made a name for himself as a builder of banks in the suburbs of Washington, has turned his attention to a different type of challenge: building a chain of auto tune-up franchises into a national presence.

In May, Ervin, the former president of Enterprise Bank of Falls Church (now called Washington Bank) and the investor group he headed bought Precision Tune Inc., a 12-year-old franchiser based in this southeastern Texas city. Ervin became chairman of the company, which he said had earnings last year of about $1 million on revenue of $85 million and has about 400 franchises across the country.

Among Ervin's first major acts will be moving most of the company's operations to Northern Virginia, where it will establish its headquarters on Rte. 28 near Dulles Airport. The move is expected to take place Oct. 15.

Besides getting the 50-year-old Reston resident back home, Ervin said the move to a major metropolitan area underscores his desire to make the company national in scope. He described the potential for the tune-up market as "almost overwhelming. It could even be a global market."

But it is also a market in transition. Ervin's challenge is to upgrade the service offered by Precision Tune outlets from quick, price-competitive tune-ups to the more sophisticated electronic diagnostic service required by newer cars. In trying to make the switch, Ervin faces the same obstacles that confront others in the auto-repair business -- the lack of adequately trained mechanics and the necessity of keeping pace with today's high-technology automobiles.

Industry analysts predict that the growth of computerized, fuel-injected autos will result in a decline in the percentage of servicing done by service stations and small garages, resulting in more business for car dealers and nationwide stores such as Goodyear and Sears. If smaller firms such as Precision Tune are to stay in business, they will have to go with the high-technology tide, analysts say.

"If he {the franchise owner} doesn't extend himself to catch up with the technology, he will be lost," said Ray Bollman, manager of service for Chrysler Corp.

Some observers wonder if Ervin can exert enough discipline over his independent franchise owners to bring the chain up to speed with the new technology. But those who know him from his banking days in suburban Washington are confident that Ervin will once again succeed.

Ervin began his banking career 27 years ago, eventually becoming president of Enterprise Bank. He was known as an aggressive and determined executive.

Michael Horwatt, managing partner of the Northern Virginia law firm of Dickstein, Shapiro and Morin, recalled that he and Ervin were on opposite sides of negotiations between a troubled company and its creditors several years ago. Ervin's bank was in a position that was inferior to the other lenders, "but he figured out a negotiating strategy that forced other bankers to let him out, and out first," Horwatt said. "He played brinkmanship. It was a question of who would blink first. He figured they {the other creditors} would yield, and they did."

Between 1972 -- when Enterprise Bank was founded as Town and Country Bank and Trust -- and 1986, Ervin built up the assets of the state-chartered bank to more than $40 million. It was sold to Washington Bancorporation in July 1986 in a stock swap worth $9 million.

Ervin, who had helped create three other small banks in the area, said he had been investigating opportunities in the franchise field for some time before the sale of the bank, saying that "the fun had gone out" of banking.

Ervin said he is bound by the sales contract from revealing the price of Precision Tune, but industry sources estimated the price at $16 million to $19 million. Ervin said the investor group consists of himself and "three or four" Washington area businessmen who want to remain anonymous and who are not involved in running the business.

Ervin said that a minority interest is held by General Electric Credit Corp. (he declined to say how much) and that company founder Bill Childs retained a small percentage.

Ervin agrees with the "modernize or perish" outlook for the specialty tune-up business and claims his company is further along than its competitors on the road to technological competence. In October, he said, Precision Tune will open a training center near its new headquarters to teach advanced diagnostic work. A similar center will open early next year in Houston, company officials said.

The company will pay for the centers, equipment and materials, and training costs, said Mark Daniels, director of training and research and development. As part of the upgrade, franchise owners will be faced with the expense of sending a mechanic to the center, spending a minimum of $6,000 for new electronic diagnostic equipment, and paying higher wages to well-trained diagnostic specialists whose skills are in short supply.

Some are likely to resist such costs, but Daniels said Precision Tune is willing to get tough with outlets that do not modernize. "They would be out of compliance with their franchise agreement," he said.

About a third of Precision Tune franchises now have at least one mechanic who is fully certified by the company to do diagnostic work. But a company memorandum written in May noted that "too few have made the commitment to acquiring the necessary skills to maintain a competitive edge and take care of the customer."

Ervin said he is eager to expand Precision Tune into key areas of the country, such as New England and California, where the company has no significant presence. He has created a corporate vice presidency for franchise development and has his immediate sights set on Boston and St. Louis.

Precision Tune is strongest in the Southeast, in the Washington-Baltimore area and in the Chicago area and parts of the Mideast. Two stores in the D.C. area -- at Laurel and Fairfax -- lead the chain in sales, according to Ervin. Ervin also said Precision Tune may acquire other firms, noting that at least one deal is "hot on the fire.