Peek inside the shop of America’s foremost hot rodder
South San Francisco is an industrial stepchild to its glittering bay-side relative to the north. So you'll forgive most drivers for zipping along Railroad Avenue without giving the squat bunker of a building at number 505 a second thought. Too bad, though. For hot rod enthusiasts, this place is the White House, Disneyland and Mecca all rolled into one.
Push open the door to Roy Brizio Street Rods and the chrome is blinding. And that's just in the small parts department. What awaits beyond the shop's main doors is a feast of retro chic.
"Come on back," says Brizio, 55, who got his passion for American machines from the '30s, '40s and '50s from his father, Andy "The Rodfather" Brizio. For the past 35 years, Roy has carried the family hot rod torch, turning out some of the most revered examples of American automotive art. Beyond making cars for the nation's foremost collectors, the soft-spoken craftsman has become a trusted confidant of car guy-celebrities such as Reggie Jackson, Jimmie Vaughan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and, perhaps his closest famous friend, Jeff Beck, who on his 2000 album You Had It Coming included the original tune, "Roy's Toy."
Today the shop is humming with activity as Brizio and his close-knit staff put the final touches on half a dozen cars destined for the Grand National Roadster Show, the ne plus ultra rodder gathering slated for Jan. 27 in Pomona, Calif. Typical of Brizio projects, most of these cars have been in his shop for the better part of two years; while price tags vary based on the level of detail, Brizio says final bills range from $175,000 to $350,000. Although each car looks like it would be at home in museum, Brizio says winning awards isn't really what his customers are about.
"For most of the people I work with, they want to be at the Roadster show not to win but because it's like a coming out party for the car, where friends and relatives can ooh and aah about it," he says with a chuckle. "Then the cars usually come back to me, and we put around 300 miles on each one to make sure every kink is ironed out. Because my customers drive their cars."
So for the moment, all the work is about making each car sparkle. Brizio strolls up to the first car in the line-up and runs a weathered hand over its smooth green fender. It's a 1933 Ford Five-Window Coupe and, of course, it has a story. The current owner, who is in his 60s, fell in love with the car as a 16-year-old growing up in Oregon. As the decades passed, he kept an eye on the low-slung machine. When its owner passed away, he asked Brizio to approach the family to make an offer.