Taking a 1937 Rolls Royce to New Heights

Oct. 11, 2016
Joe Piscazzi takes a 1937 Rolls-Royce to new heights

The rolls-royce name is synonymous with the finest quality available, and it’s been used for years to describe the best of just about anything — “The Cuisinart Turbo model is the Rolls-Royce of electric steamers,”
for example.

So a Rolls-Royce is not a vehicle to be trifled with when it comes to restoration. Only the highest standards of work must apply for the job to be done right. And, even then, an early model Rolls-Royce isn’t worth as much when it’s simply been restored, compared to what it can bring with a modern drive train and interior amenities that match its antique exterior grace.

Perhaps instinctively, Joe Piscazzi has known all of this for years — he’s a body shop owner in Akron, Ohio, who was bitten by the bug to repair and restore cars when he was very young. In fact, Piscazzi’s passion for the work has been part of his family since 1957. That’s when his father and uncle built their first car, a 1957 Corvette, which later went undefeated in a regional car show.

“It’s just been in our bloodline, I guess, these cars,” Piscazzi explains. Parked outside Piscazzi’s Auto Body on Main Street, for example, is a family-built, 2,000-horsepower 1976 Trans Am that’s won a “Best in Show” award and just might be the fastest street car around.

But there’s another piece of work parked outside the shop that’s turning heads and drawing customers to Piscazzi’s collision repair, custom and restoration business, which he’s owned since 1986. The white-with-blue-pearl custom paint job gleams and the 120-spoke wire rims dazzle when this 1937 Rolls-Royce limousine — now part of the fleet at a friend’s limo company — transports a blushing bride and groom to a reception or carries a happy couple celebrating an anniversary or prom. The Rolls is available for anyone who has an occasion to be chauffeured in style.

It took just four and a half months for Piscazzi and some of his 11 staff members to “resto-mod” the limo after it arrived at his shop, literally, in boxes, completely disassembled with a bent and twisted frame. “The motor did run, but I sold it to help cover the cost of restoring the car,” Piscazzi says. “It had jump seats in it, but if you pulled them down to sit in them — people were really small back then. So I got rid of those and put a bar where the jump seats go, which leaves plenty of room for the big wedding gown.”

Piscazzi had been restoring a 1917 Maxwell for a customer when the man offered him the Rolls-Royce as partial payment for the job. “I looked at it and I kind of fell in love with it,” Piscazzi recalls. “I knew that it wasn’t worth a lot restored, but I had plans for it — resto-mod it, basically. Put in a modern drive train and modern gauges and air conditioning. New suspension. All updated.”

He adds: “We started from the ground up. Basically, we took the original frame and boxed it in, welded the mounts that we needed for the suspension, then had it powder coated so it lasts a long time. The body was aluminum, which was corroded. It’s aluminum wrapped around wood — actually, like the old stage coaches.”

Piscazzi and his team redid the deteriorated wood and the aluminum, and followed up with full insulation to keep the modern heating and air-conditioning touches intact. Other amenities the Rolls-Royce couldn’t offer in its previous incarnation were a TV and the aforementioned wet bar. These are surrounded by the interior’s smooth new leather and wood.

Says Piscazzi, “It’s roadworthy and very dependable.”

Just like the reputation it enjoyed when it cruised the countryside 70 years ago.

“We bring things back to life here,” Piscazzi says. “It’s fun.”

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