Earlier News - How it all began
It's a measure of Roy Brizio's single-minded focus that when Reggie Jackson walked into Brizio's shop in 1979 he didn't have a clue who the slugger was. Yes, that Reggie Jackson. Oakland Athletic and New York Yankee Reggie Jackson. Hall of Fame Reggie Jackson. Mr. October Reggie Jackson.
"I was thinking he was some kind of athlete," Brizio remembers.
Ironically, while Brizio was unfamiliar with Jackson, Reggie knew all about Brizio. He was some kind of car builder. Only 23 at the time, Brizio had already established himself as an up-and-coming hot rod builder, and it was suggested to Jackson- a hopeless car buff- that Brizio could perhaps help Jackson put together a car in three months for a car show.
"I remember telling Reggie we couldn't do a car from scratch in that amount of time," recalls Brizio, "but I'd see what we could do. Luckily, I found a customer who was looking to sell a partially constructed '32 roadster, and we managed to get the car completed on time."
Brizio's feat was a portent of thing to come. You see, by the mid-1990's, Brizio had emerged as one of hot rodding's preeminent figures, his nine person shop in South San Francisco building some to the hottest hot rods anywhere. Today, Brizio is to hot rods what Rolex is to watches- a trusted "brand" that exudes quality and style.
In retrospect, it isn't much of a surprise that Brizio turned out this way, not when you consider his background. As they say, the wrench doesn't fall far from the toolbox. Roy's father, Andy, operated a successful hot rod business in the 1960s, capitalizing on the popularity of the T-Bucket. Andy also ran Champion Speed Shop in South San Francisco, peddling performance parts to speed junkies. Within this horsepower-charged environment- Roy hung out at Dad's shop and worked at Champion's parts counter- he learned to love hot rods.
Roy's life almost spun out of control in 1976 when his father sold both businesses and started a tee shirt silk-screening company. Faced with working at the speed shop for a stranger, Roy decided to do what he really wanted: start his own shop and build hot rods. So, at the tender age of 21, Brizio opened the doors to Roy Brizio Street Rods.
While young and inexperienced, the amount of talent and motivation Brizio brought to the endeavor was way beyond his years. He knew how to build really cool hot rods. More importantly, he really knew how to satisfy customers. When Reggie Jackson showed up, Roy may not have known who he was, but he knew how to fulfill Mr. October's desire for a head-turning, reliable hot rod.
And Jackson's desire was indeed satisfied, so much so that he has become Brizio's longest-standing customer. A total of 11 Jackson cars have rumbled out of Brizio's shop over the years. "It seems like there's always a car for Reggie in the shop," Brizio laughs. Brizio's success with Jackson has resulted in other sports and entertainment celebrities beating a path to his shop. His clients have included rock musician Jeff Beck, race driver Hurley Haywood, baseball star Jack Clark, and blues guitarist Jimmy Vaughn. Corporate clients are also drawn to Brizio's craftsmanship and follow-through. He has crafted seven custom vehicles for Ford's Motor Sports Division, and six for performance parts giant Edelbrock.
Brizio's most recent celebrity customer is rock legend Eric Clapton. Referred to him by Vaughn, Clapton wanted something special to motor around in when he was stateside. The result is a spectacular 1940 Ford Coupe powered by a 600-horsepower blown big-block Chevy. While Clapton's hand may be slow, this car is definitely fast.
Why does Roy Brizio Hot Rods attract celebrity customers? More than likely, the same qualities attract all of Brizio's customer: expert craftsmanship, a true hot rod vision, and a commitment to customer satisfaction. "We build solid, reliable hot rods for people who like to drive their cars," Brizio explains. "We're not interested in building museum pieces that some collector just wants to own and look at. We build 'real' hot rods. The vast majority of our customers are regular enthusiasts who just love hot rods and now have the resources to have one built for them."
Regardless of the customer's status, a Roy Brizio street rod is a considerable investment. The shop turns out an average of seven cars per year, costing an average of $80,000 to $125,000. Each car is built to the customer's specifications. Average building time is six months to a year.
With such a lofty price tag, why doesn't someone just go out an buy a Ferrari or Porsche? Why a hot rod? Brizio says the answer is simple. "When people see a guy drive by in a $!00,000 Porsche Turbo, they think 'rich guy'. When they see a guy cruise by in a '32 Ford highboy, they think, 'cool car'. People have no idea what a hot rod costs, they only know they like what they see."
What Roy likes to see are '32 Fords. While his father was partial to T-buckets, Roy has focused much of his business on the deuce - the quintessential American hot rod. Remember, the Beach Boys sang about the little deuce coupes, not little Buick sedans. "My first hot rod was a '32 coupe," he says "followed by a '32 roadster, and that's all I've had since. Our shop can build any type of hot rod, but '32s are my personal favorite."
If you read Street Rodder, Rod and Custom, or the The Rodder's Journal, it'd be easy to believe that the editors' personal favorite is Brizio. Over the years, literally dozens of Brizio-built hot rods have graced the covers of car magazines. Brizio was even commissioned by Hot Rod Magazine in 1997 to build a modern-day version of the publication's first-issue cover car. Pat Ganahl, a former editor of Hot Rod and the current editor of The Rodder's Journal says Brizio's genius is giving each car a unique personality. "Most shop-built cars look like shop-built cars, there's a sameness about them," Ganahl explains. "But Roy's cars always stand out, which is why they usually end up featured in the magazines."
Brizio never imagined his business and reputation would reach his current level of success. All he wanted to do was make a living building hot rods and having fun along the way. "I was never in it for the money," he explained from his shop, while putting the final touches on Clapton's '40 Ford in preparation for its debut at last year's Goodguys West Coast National in Pleasanton. " I just wanted to be happy. Whatever success I've had is because I simply love these cars, have some really talented guys in the shop and I care so much about what I do."
Or, to use an expression Reggie Jackson would understand, when it comes to building hot rods, Roy Brizio hits a home run every time.
Reprinted with permission