In 1989, I had the opportunity to display one of three ever built 1959 Scagleitti Corvettes at the Pebble Beach Concous D’Ellegance. Next to my car was one of two 1968 Bizzarrini Spider SI’s. This particular car was perhaps one of the most beautiful sports cars ever built and its owner, Mark Sassack, from Detroit, and I talked much about its history and value. Mark showed me some written offers he had received from serious collectors well over $3 million. It was then that I had the idea that if Bizzarrini were to build one more car in the twilight of his career, it could have great significance in collector automotive arena. Little did I know how that purpose would later change later in my life.
Through my participation with the great Pebble Beach events and my friendship with a British friend, Ian Webb, I met was introduced to Ing. Giotto Bizzarrini. I showed a super car concept and sketches that I had conceived over the previous year to him and he seemed very interested.
At that meeting, I asked Ingeneri if he would consider joint venturing such a project. Without hesitation, he agreed to the basic concept. We continued to look at the sketches of the preliminary design and we spent a considerable amount of time discussing details and refinements of those drawings. He asked if I could build a scale model of the car and bring it to Italy to show him for his further development and computerized aerodynamic testing.
With the help of Ian Webb and Bruce MacIntosh ( McClaren F-1 project ) as our translator, we met Bizzarrini in his hometown of Livorno, Italy. Much time was spent discussing the model, the project and the real work began.
Back home, I took a crashed 1990 Ferrari Testarossa, removed the entire body, re-engineered the chassis and built a platform for our new concept car in a roadster form. I was insistent that the project would be built in the USA and we would use the Bizzarini final concept and make only changes as necessary for final details. An agreement was signed with Bizzarrini that included a design and consulting fee and rights to use, “Designo di Bizzarrini” name with the project and basically anything else. I later learned the marketing value of Bizzarrini’s name, especially in Europe.
I started looking for a project manager or someone that could build this show piece. Soon thereafter, I met Luis Romo, under rather strange coincidence at a park one mile from my house. His van had a dead battery and we helped get it started. We asked each other what we did for a living. I told him that I had inherited an inventive nature never to be satisfied with compromised production-run cars and always had to design and build things to suit that desire. My current project was a joint venture with Ing. Gioto Bizzarrini to build a new super car. Romo, coincidentally, was a world-class prototype builder and greatly admired Bizzarrini’s work. Luis was curious about how I ever got Bizzarrini to do something with me and I said, “I asked him”.
Luis showed me photographs of his previous projects and I was greatly impressed. He had been Project Manager for Metal Crafters ( The design studio used by Chrysler Corporation to build many all their show cars ) and built the prototypes for the Dodge Viper, Mazda Miata and many other significant projects.
We decided to build the project at my home in my race car shop. In a few months, Luis had translated the Bizzarrini information and drawings and not only built a 1/5 scale model but the full size car in clay. It took a few extra weeks to work out the bugs from the scale model to the full size car, but when we had a second viewing of the full size clay car, Luis and I almost cried because we thought it was so beautiful. Luis was very talented and had included details at the presentation with paper lights, grills and windows that looked real from any distance beyond 20 feet. We could not believe what we had.
Full Sized Clay Car- Second Viewing
Luis worked on the car for long hours during the day and when I would come home from work at night, we would spend hours discussing details. One night, Luis left a clay carving knife on the nose of the car. I had been wondering how we could create the Bizzarrini intake nostrils into a design 30 years later. I took the knife and simply carved a shape on one side of the clay nose. We both liked it and that became the 2001 Bizzarrini nostril.
The rear of the car was no further that 4 feet from the back of the garage and we did not have the opportunity to get the proper perspective of this completely unique rear end view until we move the car outside for viewing. One night I saw the carving knife again and we created another unique feature in the prototype’s design. This time I carved a shape on an area above and to the rear of the rear tires that became the rear side marker lights.
Luis is very talented, creative and smart. I never saw one portion on the car that he could not build, make tooling and have the finished product look like a professional component. In Detroit, prototypes are drawn and teams build them according to a set of plans. I know that Luis loved having a little design flexibility to experiment with areas of the car that were not detailed. We worked well together. He was very committed to building what I wanted and not his own interpretation.
Money was immensely tight in the early 1990s due to a severe economic recession. Funding the car at the proper level was very difficult during these times and took much of the fun out of the project. I’m sure that what we did and the way we did it cost million less that could be done by the design studios.
In November of 1992 Brian Jackson ( Barrett-Jackson Auctions, Scottsdale, Arizona ) called and wanted information about the car. We sent photos and Brian called me back immediately and asked if we could bring the car to the January, 1993 Barrett-Jackson Auction for display in the “Big Tent” where all the high dollar cars were to be displayed. I said that I would love too display it if we could finish the car. Brian featured the car as the premier car of the event in his marketing literature. A week before the event, the car was not painted, nor assembled. Five very dedicated people spent an average of 20 hours per day getting the car ready for the event. Luis and I did not sleep for three days.
Destiny also prevailed during this very hectic period to complete the car. Five days before the event, my wife, Linda, gave birth to our son, Travis. I was torn between helping her and trying to keep my promise to Brian to complete the car, not to mention getting no sleep.
The car was not completed but you couldn’t tell. Against some very conflicting issues, I left my wife and took the car to Scottsdale, Arizona. The car was the hit of the show and I was the least popular husband in California. Every person that attended saw the BZ 2001. All the magazines wanted to feature it in an article. The event sponsor, The Robb Report, did the first article. Before the year was over, we had coverage on seven continents and over 60 publications. If nothing else, Luis and I became automotive marketing experts to the general public.
Luis and I continued with the project and in April of 1993, we invited Ing. Bizzarrini to come to the USA and introduce the car to the world at the Long Beach Grand Prix. He came and was a guest of the Ferrari Club and several other festivities. The Los Angeles Times did a cover story for the Business Section and created an immense amount of interest. During that weekend, a wife of a Ferrari Club dentist told the L.A. Times reporter, “ This car is orgasmic. All you have to do is rub against it and it will do the rest.”
At the same event, my wife Linda noticed the reaction of the crowd on Pine Avenue to the BZ 2001. She said, “This is the only car I have ever seen that would have more people stare at it than a Playboy centerfold.”
The BZ 2001 Bizzarrini / Watkins / Romo Prototype
The prototype included a full carbon fibre body. Various manufactures participated in the project as sponsors and solved many engineering problems throughout the car. Tilton Industries build a very light weight carbon clutch and flywheel package that greatly increased acceleration. Penski Shocks designed an excellent set of shocks. The Alcon brake system was phenomenal and Goodyear was very supportive with their high performance tires. The BZ 2001 featured perhaps the most comfortable auto seats ever made which were modified from an Obus Forme seat cushion that Luis discovered at a SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
Our design studio was opened in 1994 by Luis and me in order to complete the prototype and make tooling to duplicate the project. My agreement with Bizzarrini allowed me to use the name, “Designo di Bizzarrini”, therefore, we soon incorporated under the name, “World Super Cars, Designo di Bizzarrini”.
Luis and I spent a great deal of time investigating how we could put the car into production. This is certainly a harsh world and you have no idea how hard it is to put a car into production until you just start looking at the certification, financing and marketing problems. Here is an object that sits on a table seven feet wide by sixteen feet long and has ten times the complications of any real estate projects I have ever done. If you don’t believe how hard it is, just count how many small automotive manufacturers have stayed in business in the last century. This fact alone basically makes the arena to secure investor money impossible. Funding was never ever easy for the project. Over three years, my inventory of 28 collector cars was sold to fund the project. In other words, I traded many cars to fund one dream. I feel that no car ever built had a styling advantage over the BZ 2001. Furthermore, with that advantage and the fact that we were in a severe recession in California, it was impossible to sell cars or raise money to build them at that time.
The answer to the question whether I would ever do this again is that I would build the prototype, but I would not waste the energy and resources to try to put it into production unless I had a partner that would fund it. However, I do believe that it is possible to build race cars with the right product.
During 1993, an insider working on the acquisition of Lamborghini from Chrysler Corporation, had introduced us to the Indonesians that eventually bought Lamborghini. They appeared to be very interested in buying the design rights to the BZ 2001 to make a V-10 concept to compete with Ferrari V-8s. There appeared to be a reason to put the elements together of the Lamborghini V-12 motor creator ( Bizzarrini ) and a car of the day with his design input. The Indonesians bought Lamborghini and when the Lotus people were brought in to run Lamborghini, the BZ 2001 / Lambohghini concept died. I believe the reason was completely do to the, “ain’t invented here,” mentality.
In 1993, Pirelli approached us to be their sponsor display at the Concours Italiana at the Quail Lodge in Carmel, California. There were hundreds of cars on display, including a great lineup from very significant Italian designers from the 1960s. The BZ 2001 received the top award with five out of five judges voting for it, however, the trophy had to be given to another entrant because we were the sponsor’s car and were not eligible. Luis and I were heartbroken.
In 1994 at the San Diego Auto Show, we were guests of the San Diego Auto Museum and displayed the BZ 2001 on the second floor in a very secondary location. At that event was the Chrysler Atlantic concept car, which I consider Tom Gayles most beautiful concept car. The BZ 2001 was voted by the public as “People’s Choice”, with more votes than all other cars combined.
On the trip to see Bizzarrini in Italy, my wife, Linda, and I conceived our son, Tyler. Tyler was born about the time the project went into the construction. The son of Ing. Bizzarrini, Guiseppe and his wife, had a baby. Luis Romo and his wife had a daughter during the construction. Linda and I had another son, Travis, on the eve of the world premier on the BZ 2001. Isn’t God wonderful in the ways he inspires us and helps us all in our lives?
Ing. Giotto Bizzarrini and Luis Romo on Tour
In 1994, Bizzarrini returned to California and spent five weeks with us in order to design and build the Bizzarrini Chassis for the BZ 2001 proprietary car with our own chassis, body design and V-8 motor. This was a hectic period in that Bizzarrini left his medication at home and his mood swings were very challenging to endure. Quite often, he demanded that we take him to the airport so he could go home. One day, a very talented English only speaking fabricator misunderstood Bizzarrini’s Italian only instructions regarding the installation of the motor mount for our 600 HP V-8 motor. We spent almost three hours listening to Bizzarrini complain and I came up with a proposal for Ing. to consider. “We can either take you to the airport and you can go home, or, we will relocate the motor mount to the proper position and hear no more complaints for the duration of your visit.”
Bizzarrini decided to stay and he finished his chassis. Luis spoke Italian and he and Ing. became very close friends. I believe that they still correspond to this day.
Bizzarrini may been accused of having a difficult personality to work with, but I, and I think history, will remember him as a man of extreme intelligence, a great understanding of vehicle aerodynamics and one of the most significant automotive engineers of Italy.
I will remember Ing. Bizzarrini and the BZ 2001 project as a mystery. I think a small team of California car guys had a dream and made a team to make it happen. This is very similar to what I do in my profession as a real estate developer. Of the thousands of people that saw the BZ 2001, I don’t ever remember hearing one person ever say that it wasn’t beautiful. Far more often than not, most said in one way or the other that the BZ 2001 was one of the most beautiful cars that they had ever seen.
Mark Vaughn, Senior Editor of AutoWeek, was one of the only media people to drive the BZ 2001. At the time of his brief road venture with the BZ 2001, the car was not finished, nor anywhere near so for anyone to drive. Mark was writing a feature and insisted on driving it. We told him that the hood latches were not installed and many details needed to be completed. Anyway, he drove me around my neighborhood and soon he had to hit the brakes hard to avoid another car. The front hood, with no locking mechanism installed, flew open like a clam-shell and dug into the pavement. It scraped the paint off not to mention a major embarrassment. Of course, his introduction of the article had to mention the debacle.
We went back to my house and parked the car outside of the garage. Mark, Luis and I talked for at least an hour while we were all staring at the rear of the BZ 2001. Mark does get credit, however, for stating the most memorable statement about the car, which is something like this:
“I have been to the design studios of Chrysler, General Motors and Ford where many people and millions of dollars are spent on prototypes. None of those companies have ever built a car that makes you feel like this car when you stand in front of it- you built it at your house and only five guys have ever touched it.”
Since the completion of the original BZ 2001 prototype, much time and energy has been spent completing the car that I believe will be the real collector car, the next BZ 2001
Years later, while reading Rick Warren’s, The Purpose Driven Life, I realized that the immense joy and agony of the BZ 2001 Project was not intended for me to capitalize on the obvious gift God had given me to make ‘Toys”. I realized that I could use this passion and the gifts I had been given to help others less fortunate in their lives as well as raising awareness from the celebrity of these vehicles to create awareness and, perhaps, funding for charities and great causes.