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An interview with the newspaper delivery guy who bought a Ferrari Testa Rossa for eight grand

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Note Bill’s Aston near the top left of the photo. Photos by Bill Chizar and Steve Patience, courtesy S. Scott Callan/Velocity Press.

[Editor’s Note: While chatting with S. Scott Callan, who recently pointed us to his brother’s Bay Area photo safari, the conversation drifted to his interview of Bill Chizar and Ferrari Testa Rossa 0718, which previously merited a mention in another book excerpt here. Chizar’s story may be one of the most remarkable in the latter-day history of the Testa Rossa, given that he bought 0718 for just $8,000, and Scott managed to sit him down for an interview for his book, Metal Memory, The Mystery of 0718, to tell the story. In this excerpt from Metal Memory that Scott has generously allowed us to publish, Chizar discusses how he tracked the car down and went on to restore it prior to putting it back on the track.]

I felt one of the first questions by the previous owners would be about the veracity of the early history as known. Thus these interviews were delayed until some basis in fact had been established. With summer coming on these interviews could be delayed no longer. One of the pivotal interviews would be Bill Chizar. I was aware that Bill was the one who had set about to bring the car back from the dead, or at least from its Corvette conversion following Gordon’s sale of it sans engine to Jack Wilke. Bill’s resurrection of the TR mirrored the renaissance of the vintage competition car movement. 

“Well all dates aside,” Bill began, “It’s hard to remember dates and everything. When I got started in vintage racing a friend of mine had an Aston Martin DB4. And he suggested I get one too. So that was my first car. We rebuilt it, or he rebuilt it and I watched. I raced it at Monterey a few times. And I kept saying ‘you know I’ve always wanted a Testa Rossa Ferrari.’ And I seemed to remember there was one on the West Coast somewhere. I heard the car was in Sacramento, chained up in a carport. So I got some maps out and started driving Sacramento block by block.” 

“Honest to God?” I said in amazement. 

“Yeah,” he said, chuckling. “Needless to say this would have been a fruitless venture, but anyway, somebody found out where it was at and gave me a phone number.” 

“Who owned it at that point?” 

“Gordon Glyer’s cousin, Jim Keller. I guess I could have called Gordon at the time if it had dawned on me, but anyway, all I knew was that the car was chained up in a carport somewhere, and I got the phone number. And I went up and talked to the guy…it was like pulling teeth, like you were trying to buy his kid or something. A Corvette motor had been put in it. Corvette motor and transmission, but it still had the Ferrari rear-end. And he actually had driven it on the street a couple of times, and licensed it. The pink slip said Ferrari, but it had the Chevrolet motor number for an ID number, he didn’t know where the (Ferrari) serial number was.

“It took me the better part of a year to talk him out of it. Once I went up to buy it, after we had an agreed on price, it was eight thousand dollars. I went up to buy it and he asked, ‘How you going to get it home?’ I said, ‘My buddy’s going to drive it.’ We were crazy in those days. And he said ‘no way’. So I had to go back, rent a trailer, and load it on the trailer. Even then, I didn’t think we were going to make the deal. He was really having a hard time letting go of the car. So he and I got drunk. I told my buddy, you will have to drive me home. He said, ‘OK.’ So we just kept drinkin’ there. Drinkin’ and talkin’, the money was sit- ting on the table. God it must have been four hours later, neither one of us, by then, could walk. My buddy was careful he could. Finally he gave me the car. We drove home with it, and I (kept saying), ‘Can’t believe I got it, can’t believe I got it.’ 

“You can’t believe how hard it was. It had nothing to do with money really. But he just felt that, he would never really do it. He wanted it to be put back the way it was, with the original motor and all that, and I said, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do.’ I started out with that idea, and I kept workin’ on him, and it was just like pullin’ teeth. 

Licensed and Corvette powered on the street in front of Bill’s house. Just the way it was driven by Jack Wilke, Wayne Swart and Jim Keller.

“Anyway, I finally got it, and then I got a hold of Steve Patience. I think, no, no…well what happened is I started to rebuild the whole car and took it all apart. Meantime I got divorced while the thing was in eight thousand pieces, or how many pieces there are to the car. We even pealed the body off the frame. Then I bought a short wheelbase motor; motor out of an SWB. And the motor had the six carburetor manifold on it. It really wasn’t that expensive, I don’t think. Stuff was pretty cheap then, I think it was four grand for the motor. 

“I actually ended up getting the original gearbox that was out of the car, number 0718. Forget where I got that. Think I got that from, maybe…what’s his name back East…Joel Finn. Eventually, down the road I got an engine block from Joel Finn. Block, crank and all the other stuff. Everything but the carburetors. Which was fine because I had the carburetors. And let’s see…no exhaust, we had to make the exhaust. 

“Joel Finn was tellin’ me the motor was just in great shape, and all that stuff, number 0750. I’m reading something in one of the Vintage magazines about Joel Finn’s motor number 0750, and how the crank was no good. Of course he said when I bought it, ‘No, crank’s fine, perfect.’ You know…so…the article was right; the crank was no good. Some other parts were not so hot. He… it wasn’t what I thought it was. But the problem was that it was the only game in town. So he kind of like had me. I’ve never had any dealings with Mr. Finn since then. 

“Then I had Griswold do the motor over in Berkeley, and they stuck it to me big time.” 

“Really?” 

“Oh yeah. The only good news was they hired somebody to work over there, and this guy took all the parts, and mixed them up. He took all the distributors and put them all together, took all the pistons, we’re talking about ten, twenty motors. Ferrari motors. He took all the pistons and put ’em one place, and all the rods in another place. Distributors in an other place. I think he was fired (heh, heh). This kid cost him thousands of dollars to figure out what he had done to them. I didn’t have all my parts, but by then they had just really stuck it to me, and Griswold asked me if I had all my parts, and I said, ‘Yeah I had everything there to put it all together.’ Wasn’t true, I did it anyway. So they had to come up with a whole bunch of stuff for me. 

“That’s why Griswold lives in England now; too many people are after him here. He was a beaut’. Nasty business. Anyway, Steve Patience was in my club…” 

“What years are we talking here?” “I can’t even remember.” 

“Early Seventies? Mid-Seventies?” 

“Yeah…let’s see, I drove my Aston Martin in 1972 at the second Monterey Historics. So I think I probably got the car around, maybe 1978, somewhere around there. It took me eight years to restore it. 

“You know I didn’t have any money. I drove a newspaper truck for a living. So, you know I got together with Steve Patience, and what I was doing for a while was, he would work on it when he had time, as he was giving me a pretty good deal on it.” 

“You brought it over to the house here in Pleasanton?” 

“No, I took it to his place in Hayward. He was in Hayward then. I would come over after work. I worked three in the morning to eleven thirty. I would go out and eat lunch, and go over to his place and work on the car. 

In Steve Patience’s shop.

“When we were getting down to where we were going to paint the car. He bondoed the whole car. Then he told me to take it all off, (chuckling)…so he laid about a sixteenth, or a thirty-second of an inch of Bondo over the whole car, and then I would sand it all down. Which would probably take me the better part of a week. I would sand it down until we hit high spots. Then when the whole car was done like that, then he would take a half dolly and a hammer, and he would pound down all the high spots. Then he would glaze the whole car again. 

“I think he did this three times. It drove me nuts. But it was better than paying him to do it. Anyway…from the time I got it, until the time I got it running was somewhere around eight years. 

“I always thought that that was one of the better looking Testa Rossas; it had a prettier nose on it. I got so much static for painting the thing silver, you wouldn’t believe it. ‘A Ferrari’s supposed to be red,’ another red one, they’re ugly. This one was cool. 

“The trouble is they were starting to get pretty expensive. And here I’m making about thirty two thousand a year. They’re talkin’ five hundred, seven hundred thousand, all around there. Eventually I got to the point where I didn’t feel I could afford to drive it anymore. You know because I couldn’t afford to fix it if anything happened to it. So I kind of got talked out of it.” 

“Did you get Pete Lovely to sell you 718’s engine?” 

“No. I don’t think much of him either by the way. I tried to get that block out of him in the worst way. I had other people call him up and say, ‘The guy doesn’t have any money, he can’t afford it, but he’d really like to put the car back together.’ Everyone told him, he’ll take the 0750 (motor), have it all gone through, fixed up and magnafluxed, and checked out, if you just give him some kind of trade.’ And he wouldn’t do it. Flat refused to do it. 

“In the mean time, the Short Wheel Based Berlinetta motor I had, the guy called me that owned the car. I sold him the motor. At that time I didn’t need it, by then it was getting to be a spare, because I had a Testa Rossa motor. So I gave the guy the motor. I explained to him, I got it with the carburetors on, I don’t know how his car was, but I had to use the six carburetors, but I would sell him the block and the rest of the stuff though. 

“Think I sold that for twenty-five hundred, three thousand dollars. Something like that.” 

“Good deal.” 

“At that time I just called somebody and said, ‘What’s a fair price for this.’ They told me three thousand bucks. So I called him and said, ‘Everybody says three thousand bucks, how does that sound?’ ‘Sounds great.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s the deal.’ 

“I couldn’t see screwing somebody because I had their motor. No, I have no use for Pete Lovely. Pete Lovely’s a millionaire, and he could have done me a favor, and let me have my motor. But he wouldn’t do it. 

“So what he does now, is he sells you a motor. He sold the motor to Baker. I’m not sure how much he charged. He sold the motor to Baker for, a block, for fifty, or a hundred thousand dollars, plus his block. So he could just go on selling blocks over and over again to the guy who needs the motor number. In fact I’m sure he’s done that more than once. 

“As near as I could tell all the Testa Rossas survived…I think possibly one burnt to the ground. It’s probably been resurrected by now too. 

“Well anyway, Baker finally talked me out of my car. For a little under a million; cash and trade.” 

“Really?” 

“Yeah. Well you know this was a while ago.” 

“Good deal, Bill.” 

“Actually the trade was the better part of the deal, because I got money, a quarter of a million dollars. I got a Lister Corvette, got a Cooper Monaco with a 2.7 liter motor. I got a D Type Jaguar that came in third at LeMans…” 

“You’re kidding…” 

“No, and an M-20 McLaren. So I went from one car to being loaded with cars. So then I wound up being in the car business.” 

“Instantly.” 

“Yeah, right. I actually licensed the Jaguar, with license plates on it I drove it to a Ferrari picnic down in Atherton. I thought that was pretty cool.” 

“The D Jag?” 

“Yeah the D Type. It was a fun car to drive. It had no traction. You’d step on the gas and light up the tires all the time.” 

“What did you do with that car?” 

“I sold it to Terry Larson down in Arizona. And the last time I saw Terry, he had actually gotten rid of that car, now he has a team car. My car was a private party car.” 

“It was an Ecurie Ecosse car, wasn’t it?” 

“No I don’t think so.” 

“Let me see I was just reading about that car the other day. Oh, the book’s in the other room. Here let me get it. Hold on a second. 

“Ok let’s see here (flip, flip, flip) Ok (flip, flip, flip) What I’m looking at is, are you familiar with Janos Wimpffen’s book?” 

“No.” 

“It’s called Time and Two Seats.” “Never heard of it.”

“It documents every World Championship Sports Car race from nineteen fifty-three to nineteen eighty-three.” 

“Wow.”

“It’s an amazing piece of work.”

“My D Jaguar, I think it came in third in nineteen fifty-seven.”

“That’s what I was looking for.”

“Then a guy got killed in it.” 

“What’s that?”

“A guy got killed in it and totaled it. Then it was rebuilt.”

“That would be XKD513?” 

“Yeah, that’s it.” 

In every contemporary Ferrari story is the transitional owner. The one who rode the tail of the comet as the obsolete and forgotten became objects of desire. Fired by a new generation’s desire to hedge inflation through esthetic investment, the significantly worthless became the stunningly valuable. 

The resurrection of an aged competition car as the renaissance of the vintage car movement dawned. And Renaissance it was. Just as in 14th century Italy when the Humanist movement, led by Petrarch and Boccaccio, set about finding and preserving Greek and Roman Literature; thus sweeping away the Gothic. First as an esthetic movement, in its examination of all aspects from philosophy to sculpture, it became merchant prince cultural focus. So did the vintage movement start, simply as independent acts of preservation. Preservation of industrial art and culture as embodied by the racing cars of youthful enthusiasm. At five thousand bucks a crack an old Ferrari could be gotten, and with more man-hours than dollars, the old bits could be brought together and the derelict saved from wrecking yard mortality. The reward was to be the adrenilized grip of old wood, and simple yet robust engineering communicated through pant’s seat, upon the old Vaca Valley circuit. 

By nineteen eighty the somnambulist was starting to awake from the day to day function of industrial life, use and disposal, and appreciate significance of the first half of the Twentieth Century. The artifacts of Modernist movement from Calder and Miro, to Bugatti and Ferrari were being sought and preserved. With the increased interest in preservation, and the renting of race courses for their enjoyment, the vintage competition car movement was born. To bring them back to operational standards that enabled them to be run in the vigorous manner for which they were built, parts shelves, barns and garages were combed for spares and missing bits of provenancial relevance. Parts became dear and so too did their prices; as did the cars into which they were placed. 

The impact became obvious as, between 1979 and 1981, the price of the humbly exquisite 330 GTC went from 13K to 26K. By the mid-eighties automobilia joined the fine arts as an investment hedge against inflation, and a cultural focus of the new meritocracy’s merchant princes. The great auction houses began holding stand alone automobile auctions that had the same impact of registering market value for rolling sculpture, as was previously established beneath the gavel for Picasso and Kandenski. 

Here the fates ironically stepped in. Ferraris were the perfect Marque to be the market trendsetters; specifically the competition cars. These were cars that had been built to purpose, not merely modified and rebodied to compete. The production numbers were minimal; dictated as they had been by market size, rules of competition, and the limited life of the truly competitive, not to mention Ferrari’s own financial resources. Of these limited-run models, no more than single and double-digit quantities, rarity was guaranteed by their use in anger, which had seen to a thinning of even this finite herd. Remarkable, though, was the fact that there were an appreciable number of examples. For unlike the occasional competition Jag, or Aston, Ferrari’s focus on engineering diversity had produced a number of models, even to the given year, for some forty years by the mid eighties. And as a rising tide lifts all boats, all Marques began to bathe in the reflected glow of newly perceived investment value. 

Shortly after Bill had sold the TR to Bob Baker, he and Steve Patience were at Laguna with Baker. A friend of Bob’s was talking about his acquisition of Bill’s TR and inquired as to what was paid. 

“A million,” Bob responded. 

There was a moment’s silence. Then his friend said, “Bob, your other TR isn’t worth that much?” 

“It is now,” Baker replied. 

And so in a simple seeming microcosm did eight years of devoted restoration, on a San Francisco Chronicle truck driver’s salary, return acreage in Sonoma and a significant private car collection, from the simple desire to own a TR, and run it at obscure enthusiast get-togethers on off weekends at West Coast road circuits. 

[To purchase a copy of Metal Memory: The History of 0718, visit VelocityGroup.net.]