The Great California Street Rod Civil War

SEMA News—July 2014

HERITAGE

By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archives

The Great California Street Rod Civil War

At the 1973 Street Rod Nationals (or so the story goes), rod builders Andy Brizio and Lil’ John Buttera got into a, shall we say, friendly discussion about which end of the Golden State produced the best street rods. Southern Californian Buttera ribbed Brizio, who was from South San Francisco, about how the Bay Area cars were “average” mechanically but were topped by outstanding paint jobs to make them seem more special. Brizio, in turn, said L.A. turned out trick show cars that couldn’t be driven very far. One thing led to another and (so the story goes) the discussion devolved into a “my new car will be better than your new car” challenge. At the 1973 Street Rod Nationals (or so the story goes), rod builders Andy Brizio and Lil’ John Buttera got into a, shall we say, friendly discussion about which end of the Golden State produced the best street rods. Southern Californian Buttera ribbed Brizio, who was from South San Francisco, about how the Bay Area cars were “average” mechanically but were topped by outstanding paint jobs to make them seem more special. Brizio, in turn, said L.A. turned out trick show cars that couldn’t be driven very far. One thing led to another and (so the story goes) the discussion devolved into a “my new car will be better than your new car” challenge.

Whether this exchange really happened, we don’t know. What we do know is that Hot Rod Editor Terry Cook used it—fictitious or not—to set the stage for a four-part tech series called the Great California Street Rod Civil War. The idea was to pit Brizio against Buttera to see who could build the better car, and showcase the build steps and finished products for the magazine’s readers.

Their approaches couldn’t have been more different. Buttera chose to build a ’27 Model T Tudor, using a real steel T body he bought in Arizona for $600. He fabricated a tubular space frame, built an independent front suspension from scratch and adapted Jaguar independent rearend components for the rear suspension. “John wants his new T to ride like his Cadillac when it goes down the road,” wrote Cook.

Brizio, on the other hand, built a fiberglass ’32 Ford roadster, using as his inspiration a concept illustration called the “Street Roadster of the Future” that had appeared in Hot Rod a couple years before. Not just any fiberglass ’32 would do; Brizio commissioned Steve Archer to splash a brand-new replica using “a cherry Deuce roadster body” that Andy’s son Roy had been working on, said Cook.

Early on, it looked like Buttera would easily finish first. The initial two articles in the series showed photos of the Tudor only; no Brizio roadster in sight. Writing in the second installment, Jim McCraw said, “Andy Brizio is gathering the pieces together for his highboy Deuce, assigning tasks to his staff of craftsmen, and getting ready to explode into action to produce yet another complete car in about five weeks’ time start to finish, the traditional way things are done at Andy’s Instant T. Meanwhile, back in Cerritos, Buttera and his troops have a considerable head start over Brizio.”

And then, things changed. Two issues went by without an update on the Civil War. When it did appear, part 3 was all Brizio, with a note that “Lil’ John started off well but pooped out in the backstretch.” This installment showed off Archer’s fiberglass body pieces, the car’s tubular frame and its power source: chromed twin Mazda RX-2 rotary engines.

The Civil War’s conclusion appeared in the June 1974 issue of the magazine. On its cover was a see-through view of Brizio’s Twin Mazda Instant Deuce, and inside was a photo of some of Brizio’s crew, sitting in the yellow roadster, ribbing Buttera for his still unfinished T.

This photo of Brizio’s roadster is an outtake that was not published in the magazine. It was shot by Hot Rod Photo Editor Mike Brenner at Buttera’s shop in Cerritos. As Roy Brizio remembers it, “These were your typical last-minute deadline photos for the article. They were not staged. My dad had to bring the car to L.A. for the shoot. They then took the car back to San Francisco and finished it, and brought it back to L.A. for the final photos.”

Gripping the firewall to lift off the body are Andy Brizio, with his back to the camera on the driver side, and Buttera, facing the camera on the passenger side. Terry Cook is in the dark shirt at the back of the car.

Andy Brizio recently talked to Dave Wallace at Hot Rod Deluxe magazine about the Civil War and the yellow roadster.

“We finished first, and my yellow car made the cover, but I had to truck it to L.A. for the photoshoot,” he said. “We never did get that roadster running right with the dual Mazda rotaries—a real nightmare. I replaced them right away with a small-block Chevy. That car turned up at our Sutter Creek picnic two years ago, looking pretty much the same.”

 

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