An afternoon with “Uncle Roy” at Brizio Street Rods
Growing up in South San Francisco, Roy Brizio had big shoes to fill. His dad, Andy Brizio was an internationally known figure in the colorful world of 1960s and 70s era American hot rodding. Known as “The Rodfather,” Andy Brizio basically put Northern California, and South San Francisco in particular on the map as hot rod Mecca. Andy’s “Champion Speed Shop” on old Mission Road was a rallying point for go fast guys like Jim McLennan, “Terrible” Ted Gotelli, Tommy “The Greek” Hrones, the Organ Grinders Car Club, Masters & Richter, Kent Fuller and countless others.
In the midst of this hi octane scene, Roy Brizio grew up before their very eyes. By 1977, he opened Roy Brizio Street Rods in the back of his father Andy’s speed shop on Old Mission Road. When it became quite apparent Roy was destined for a life of constructing hi quality rods, he branched out on his own eventually settling into his own South San Francisco hot rod shop, just like dad two decades before. It was there that Brizio put himself on the map. At the 1987 Oakland Roadster Show, he entered a red Ferrari V12-powered 1932 Ford roadster for owner James Ells which promptly took home the biggest prize in hot rodding – America’s Most Beautiful Roadster. It was the breakthrough he needed. Subsequent projects like the scalloped B & M ’32 Ford roadster further cemented his burgeoning legacy. After the scalloped roadster was driven over 20,000 miles by various magazine editors in the summer of 1998, Brizio basically dominated the street rod resurgence. He has made his name with early Ford coupes, roadsters and trucks that are made to drive hundreds of thousands of miles trouble free. He has perfected the art of hot rod construction.
His client list is the envy of any coach builder. Eric Clapton gets his hot rods built here as does Jeff Beck, Reggie Jackson, Neil Young – we could go on for a while.
In 2000, Roy and his 11-man team of craftsmen settled into their new and permanent digs at the corner of Spruce and Railroad in South Frisco. It’s a dream garage churning out an average of 10 hot rods per year. Everything is organized. Each car under the knife gets its own clipboard hung on the wall so the team can stay organized and keep the projects on track. It’s a bitchin’ place with classic memorabilia strewn throughout illuminated by bitchin’ neon signs, and historic regional art such as Jim McLennan’s original Champion Speed Shop dragster mounted on the wall. The day we visited, Eric Clapton’s fresh gunmetal metallic ’32 3-window Ford coupe was parked underneath it.
While the fabrication shop is where hot rod dreams are crafted, the showroom is stocked with hot rod parts, merchandise, books and an old school parts counter manned by longtime employees Dave Cattalini and Paul Higgins. Other employees like Jim Vickery, Dan Hall, Jack Stratton, Lenny Ernani, Paul Kriz and others keep the wheels turning and the hot rods rolling out of the shop on their way to countless road miles.
Brizio’s shop is a folksy place. Every day, visitors, customers, friends and complete strangers stop by to shoot the shit, show off what they’re currently driving and to bend Roy’s ear for a few minutes. When we were visiting, longtime friend Larry Carter pulled up in his ’32 3-window built by Rolling Bones in New York. The entire staff came out to have a look. Neighborhood kids rode by on skateboards and stopped to have a look too. Shortly after that, former Brizio employee Bob Lockwood rolled up in a bad ass 1969 Corvette 427 Stingray dressed in black with classic American five spokes. This scene repeats itself day after day after day.
In the 80s, 90s and even into the new millennium Brizio’s focused about 80% of their time on pre-’49 American hot rods and have built over 300 cars since 1977. In the seventeen years they have been in their current spot they have drifted into other avenues like shoebox Chevy’s, 60s era trucks and even Camaros. But hot rods are still the core of the business.
About the only thing Brizio’s doesn’t do is paint and upholstery. Roy’s brother in law Darryl Hollenbeck of Vintage Color Studio paints over half of the cars Brizio’s builds while Sid Chavers, just down the peninsula in Santa Clara is the shop’s go-to upholstery man. It’s a tried and true system that has had many a rodder in the winner’s circle nationwide. In fact, at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Brizio won first in class with the Jack Calori coupe restoration and took second with the Sam Barris ’50 Mercury restoration Brizio did for friend and client John Mumford. Teamed with Mumford again at the 2013 Grand National Roadster Show they took home another AMBR with a ’27 track nosed Ford roadster.
But Roy and his guys really don’t care much about awards to be honest. They care about their product; American built hot rods that are handmade to be driven and stand the test of time. Trends aren’t spoken here.