Rodfather Redux – A Sit Down With Andy Brizio
Sure, Southern California gets all the ink, but Northern California has written a few chapters of hot rod history as well. Just ask acknowledged hot rod legend Andy Brizio — aka the Rodfather — one of the most influential Nor-Cal rodders of all time.
Born in 1932 to Italian immigrants in San Francisco’s Mission District, Brizio boasts a ‘Frisco pedigree as pure as fresh sourdough bread and a crowded cable car. He lived the usual California lifestyle, which meant an interest in cars fueled by the era’s cheap gasoline and car-crazy climate. During high school, he moonlighted as a milkman, squeezing out enough cash to pick up a 1941 Plymouth and a 1931 Ford 3-window coupe. Soon enough, Brizio found himself clutching the starter’s flag at nearby Half Moon Bay dragstrip, where he dropped the green on such legends as Don Garlits, The Snake and T.V. Tommy Ivo.
While Brizio never developed an interest in racing himself, the challenge of building hot rods burned inside him like a simmering pot of marinara. In the early 1960s, he started his own street rod building business, “Andy’s,” next door to his former employer Champion Speed Shop in South San Francisco. In 1963, Andy found time to marry the former Sue Coontz, a dynamo in her own right who sold t-shirts and patches out of the back of their station wagon at Half Moon Bay (a portent of things to come).
The “Rodfather’s” first innovative product was the “Instant T,” a ready-to-build kit for assembling a traditional T-bucket roadster. A complete Instant T chassis set owners back a mere $595. Later, a complete kit, with a fiberglass body, fetched $795. A few years later, he teamed up with Kent Fuller to develop a chassis for a VW-powered T-bucket pickup, the little German flat-4 hidden beneath the bed’s tonneau cover. Through it all, Brizio’s son, Roy, was at his side, absorbing the craft of building hot rods.
Brizio’s rodding repertoire included more than T-buckets. One of his more renowned creations was a wildly painted Model T C-Cab, which he drove in 1970 to the first Rod & Custom Street Rod Nationals in Peoria, Ill., one of the 600-plus cars that trekked to that historic event. (The C-Cab was eventually sold to John Bonham of Led Zeppelin.) But it was one of his instant T’s that cemented his hot rod hero bona fides when the car — aided by a sensational graphic paint design applied by Art Himsl — won America’s Most Beautiful Roadster trophy at the Oakland Roadster Show.
Eventually, Andy tired of building hot rods for a living. He handed the business off to Roy, who is now one of America’s most accomplished rod builders — and a hot rod hero as well. But Andy wasn’t done with the industry, far from it. His reputation and personality fueled the popularity of Andy’s Picnic, an event that grew from just a few friends to one of California’s largest street rod happenings. Andy’s final picnic in 1999 drew more than 2,000 cars to the Vallejo Fairgrounds.
In the early 1980s, the “Rodfather” and Sue decided to rev-up their t-shirt business, a venture that has been wildly successful. Andy’s Tee Shirts were the dominant supplier in the hot rod industry (and much more), with eye-catching designs and quality materials. If you wore a Goodguys event shirt from 1987 through 2014, it came from Andy’s Tees.
As Andy focused on the apparel business, he sold off all his hot rods. Unacceptable! What’s a Rodfather without a hot rod? So, Roy, with a little help from Boyd Coddington and John Buttera, secretly put together an outrageous purple-and-flamed ’32 highboy, which was presented to Andy at the 1990 picnic.
Goodguys and Andy have been linked at the tie-rod since the beginning, with Gary Meadors and Brizio — both products of the Bay Area — enjoying a decades-long friendship. In 1997, Meadors invited (or was it challenged?) Andy to drive the ’32 to every Goodguys national events, adding more than 30,000 miles to the odometer.
“You know, Meadors started Goodguys the same year I started Andy’s Tees,” Andy, now 83, remembered. “Neither of us had any idea how big this thing would get. Gary’s passing was a big blow to me. Unbelievable. But I believe we both lived life to the fullest.”
Living life to the fullest, sentiments any hot rodders would be wise to live by.