Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It was a very good year... ( Part 1 )

Indeed it was. As I stated in yesterdays post, this really is the time of year for reflection and inventory and I've been doing my share of it. While relaxing with family back in Buffalo, I had some time to look back on '08 and quickly realized that as far as gearhead experiences are concerned it has indeed been one of the best years I can remember, if not the best. As I've stated many times, my job is a great one for taking in the occasional off-site adventure and I'm beyond grateful for that. The opportunity for great car-guy experiences are available in nearly every town if you're willing to get up and going, go off campus, find some wheels, and see what's around. Sometimes you get very lucky and end up in a town where a friend or acquaintance resides and your adventure is ready-made. Today's post falls in that column. Here's something you'll hear me say a lot, "thanks to my dear friend Tommy Sparks, I had the pleasure of..." Really, a lot, and this is one of those.

     Thanks to Tommy I've met the hot rod builder Roy Brizio on several occasions and every time we talk he extends an invitation to his shop whenever I'm in his town. Of course this is way too good an offer to pass up, so when I saw a tour date coming up in San Francisco this past summer, I put "Brizio" in bold letters on my calendar over the date and counted the days until I could tour one of the premier hot rod shops in the country. 

    I had seen many cars that were built in the Brizio shop and was familiar with Roy's Dad Andy who had made the Brizio name famous for building high quality, tasteful cars, and supporting the Bay area hot rod community for many years. Of course we all know how over the past several years Roy has taken this reputation and expanded it one hundred fold. What I wasn't ready for was seeing the Brizio operation in person. What struck me from the downbeat was how passionate Roy is, just as a fan of hot rodding. When talking with him you would never know the level he's playing at. His appreciation for the sport/hobby's history is through the roof and, I think because of that, he shows no signs of ego whatsoever. You have to be impressed with that considering his accomplishments. 

   One of the mistakes I made the day I went to visit the Brizio shop was not taking Roy up on his offer to come pick me up. I felt it was already more than enough that he was willing to give of his time on a work day and I'm always a little on edge about being a possible "time bandit". 
So I declined and said I'd just run over in my rental car. Little did I know that he was not talking about giving me a lift in his shop truck, he was going to shuttle me in a super bitchin' Gold '55 Chevy 2-door post that he backed out in the lot and had ready to go. I should have known this would be the case considering who I'm dealing with, and was informed of this when I pulled up, saw the car, and immediately started commenting on it. 

   The Brizio shop is located in a tidy, nondescript building, in an equally tidy older neighborhood in south SF. Other than a few eye catching rides in the employee parking lot ( a perfectly subtle early oval window bug that knocked me out for example ) and the small Brizio sign out front, this is a property that could go largely unnoticed. Maybe that's the point. I would  find out that this is right in step with Roy and the rest of the guys in the shop in that they really give you a "we let the work speak for itself" feeling. These guys couldn't be more laid back about what they do and seem to almost look at their exceptionally high standard of work as- just the way it is. 

   When walking into the shop through the big main door, the first thing I'm introduced to is possibly the best piece of hot rod wall art that I've ever seen. A complete early '60s Chevy powered front engined rail mounted on its side looking at you from about 8 feet up. This is not only a real car but it is a real car with history. It turns out that Roy used to see this car run back in the day at the great Bay area strips like Half Moon Bay etc.  He not only recently located and restored this car to period correct cosmetic and running condition, but reunited it with its original owner/builder and took turns making smoking passes down the quarter mile. A complete photo history surrounds the car on the wall. Remember, this was the first thing I saw! 

    If memory serves, I believe 18 cars were under construction the day I toured the shop. There were several period perfect '32 Fords going together representing every era and style of hot rod, a few other '30s Fords of varying makes, body styles and models, and even a few full bodied customs. Two of note were the '50 Ford and 5-window Chevy truck being built for long time Brizio customer Eric Clapton. Both are being built with modern drivetrains and will be serious performing machines. I was pleased to hear from Roy that Clapton is an all around serious and educated hot rodder who is involved with the design and concept of every step of the build. Another long time Brizio customer, and world class builder in his own right, is Jeff Beck... a guy who is in the top of my hero list. As a guitar player and fan, I couldn't help commenting to Roy how important these guys have been to me. He responded that they're just hot rodders like the rest of us. I'll take his word for it. 

    One of my favorite things when walking around a seasoned shop is to look in the nooks and crannies for parts in waiting. The Brizio shop did not let me down. Just for starters, how about original sets of Ardun heads?, all kinds of period speed equipment, 97s, intakes, flathead blocks, period superchargers, '32 Ford parts for days. In fact, I saw every conceivable early Ford part essential to a period correct build stacked by the dozens upon dozens. Original frames, K-members, grill shells, bodies and body pieces, an original rust free California '40 Ford coupe body on a skid, an un-restored '50s injected Chevy powered sprint car up in the rafters, etc etc. Just too cool. 

    As much as I'd like to go on describing this scene, I know that I can never beat just showing some photos of my time there. They'll speak much clearer. As for Roy and what a good and generous guy he is, in case you didn't know already, I'll leave you with this little story; 

   As I was making my way towards the door Roy asked me,"So what are you working on these days?" ( As if I have an answer to that question considering who's asking ) I tell him that I'm building a pretty straight forward '40s style lakes '29 A-V8 roadster all out of original parts. He then asks what parts, if any, am I lacking. I say mostly just some small stuff, a model A front spring, a couple of Kelsey Hayes bent spoke wheels, a pair of original '39 teardrop tail lights... right then he stops me and says,"Hang on a second." He runs upstairs to one of his parts rooms and comes back down about 3 minutes later with a complete and very well kept set of original '39 tail lights- lenses, surrounds, cups, and some original cloth wiring, all in great shape. He hands it all to me and says,"Here, you can have these. They should clean up OK." Of course I began thanking him and trying to pay him something for them and he stopped me and said,"No no, they're yours... just get your car done." 

   My thanks again to everyone at Brizio's and to Roy Brizio himself...  one of the original Good Guys. 


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