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A Touch of Nostalgia with Roy Brizio
As rodding enthusiasts will know, Roy Brizio operates one of the biggest and most respected hot rod shops in the US and has built and continues to build exquisite hot rods for customers at the higher end of the market from his San Francisco shop. Today, Roy Brizio Street Rods operates with a staff of 14, and debuted no fewer than eight new cars at the recent GNRS in Pomona. We caught up with Roy to ask him the secret of his success.
How many years have you been involved with street rodding now?
It will be 30 years this year, at least in terms of how long I’ve had my business, but, of course, I grew up with hot rodding and the lifestyle that goes with it. At the age of one, I attended the Oakland Roadster Show.
Bearing in mind how long the Brizio name has been involved with street rodding, you must have seen some changes over the year. What do you think of the current state of the hobby?
It’s very professional nowadays. Luckily, I came into this as a hobby, which then became a business, and through the years, as it’s grown, I’ve been able make a living for myself. Originally, I thought it would be a great hobby to keep me going for a few years until I got a real job, but thankfully, I never needed one. The way it’s grown has been a blessing.
Did you inherit the business from your father?
No, I started my own business. I decided early on to go out on my own, and that’s what I did – and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it.
John Mumford had two Brizio-built cars on show at the GNRS, one of which was this traditional style '33 Ford Coupe complete with wide whitewalls and matching white interior
So business is booming?
We are very busy, and the business itself just keeps growing year on year. We’ve found a niche for what we do, which is building very straightforward hot rods. We are not trying to win the Oakland Roadster Show or the Ridler Award – we’re building straightforward cars that our customers can drive down the freeway. That seems to be our customer base – people who want traditional-looking cars. Personally, I like the idea that an old Ford still looks like an old Ford. I’m not high on hi-tech. We all went through the hi-tech era for a while. We all had customers who wanted it, and we did it, but my real love is the nostalgia stuff.
The nostalgia wave has been running for several years now, and shows no sign of abating. Why do you think that is?
I don’t think you can ever go wrong with a nostalgia car. You can look back at resto rods that were built in the ’70s and ’80s, and they are still popular today. It seems that anything nostalgia is still popular.
Do you see any new trends emerging?
I think there are always going to be the guys out there who will do the one-off stuff. The work Chip Foose and Troy Trepanier are doing is unbelievable, and I can only applaud them for what they achieve. They just keep raising the bar on cars, which is fantastic, and great to see, but I think there are more people out there who simply want to go out and drive their cars. It’s great that everyone is doing their thing, as it keeps it all going.
Chuck Thornton's '34 Roadster - another show debutee
How many cars do you have here at GNRS?
We have 12 cars on display here for which we’re responsible, and all eight cars being displayed on our stand are brand new. The gold car is a ’55 Chevy, and it’s our first attempt at a Tri-5 Chevy. It’s my own car, which we fitted to an Art Morrison chassis. We’re doing a project with Rod & Custom magazine, and together, we’ll take it across the country on the Americruise this summer. We have customers who own not only ’32 and ’40 Fords, but also ’55 Chevys, ’69 Camaros, and other vehicles, and we often get asked to do these later model cars. We’ve never looked at them before, because we’re so busy with the old Fords, but we thought, “Hey, let’s just do one and see how it works out.” In fact, I really love the way it’s turned out. I had Thom Taylor do a rendering, and told him exactly how I wanted it to look. The finished car looks just like Thom’s drawing. It’s a mild custom – nothing trick – just very straightforward, the same way we build our hot rods.
Roy picked a Corvette theme for his '55 Chevy custom and had those large diameter '62 Vette-influenced wheels machined up to suit
The restyled grille bars and smoothed hood add to the visual impact of the classic '55 shape
The removal of the licence plate and its mounting cleans up the trunk lid. The one-piece rear bumper adds to the smoothed out look
'Vette steering wheel and engine-turned aluminium dash panel contrasts against the black dials
The Ford Victoria next to it belongs to Eric Clapton. That’s the third car we’ve built for him. He’s driven it about 100 miles, but he’s on a world tour right now. Come March, and he’ll start driving it more often. His other cars are kept in Ohio and the south of France, but this one will also stay in the US. Jeff Beck is a long-time customer of ours too, and we’ve also done three cars for him. He’s been a customer for 25 years, and a he’s also a very good friend. In addition, we’ve done many cars for baseball player, Reggie Jackson. He’s probably my longest-standing customer. We started doing work for him in 1978, and we’re still building cars for him today. In fact, we are just finishing a ’41 Willys Coupe, and starting a ’55 Chevy Convertible.
Eric Clapton's 1932 Victoria is one subtle hot rod - apart from the 515hp 402cu.in. Roush motor!
What do you think the future holds for hot rodding?
It’s very popular today, and I think a lot of that has to do with the repro bodies that are readily available. They have enabled the hobby to grow. Being able to buy reproduction parts, be they American Stamping frame rails or Bob Drake reproduction Ford components, has also had a significant effect, and kept the hobby growing. Without those companies, I don’t think the hobby would be anywhere near where it is today. In addition, there’s no doubt that street rod events, car shows and television have all played a significant part in the growth. They’ve brought a lot more awareness to street rodding. We’re building cars for customers who may have had muscle cars, or Ferraris, or Mercedes, and now they want a hot rod. I often find myself wondering how many more years hot rodding will carry on for, but it just keeps growing.
John Mumford's other Brizio-built car - a retro-influenced '32 Ford 3-window Coupe
Do you think we’re likely to see a Brizio TV programme?
That I don’t know, but I doubt it. I’m not really interested in doing one. You know we’ve already been involved in a one-hour show with the TLC channel. We built a ’32 Roadster with Vic Edelbrock, and it was a lot of fun to do, but quite honestly, my heart is in building hot rods more than anything else. The customers we do this for love what we do, and by the same token, we appreciate their business and being able to have the opportunity to build these great cars for them. I think as long as I stay focused on taking care of them, we’ll have plenty to do.
Don Triolo's equally subtle '32 Victoria was also making its debut on the Brizio Street Rods stand
So-Cal Speed Shop sells its own brand parts. Is this something you have ever considered?
If we could go back 25 years, then I think we should have developed a product line, but perhaps if I’d concentrated on parts manufacture, we might not be doing what we’re doing today. When I look back, I’m happy with what we’ve accomplished and the path we’ve taken. We’ve had a lot of fun, and made history with some of the cars we’ve built. It’s great to look back on a car you built perhaps 20 years ago, and think to yourself, “We had a great time building that car.” It brings back so many memories – but it also makes you wonder where those 20 years went. I love the nostalgia side of rodding, and I think we made the right choice with the business. The future will take care of itself, so let’s see what happens.
Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk
Paulette Zaragosa's nostalgic looking 1933 Victoria rides on Buick wires and hides a Corvette LS6 motor and independent suspension. The grille has been sectioned and '35 Ford headlights substituted.