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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tom Meade Update: July 2012 -Part 8

Colors and Symbols and the New Thomassima IIII*

*(yes the "IIII" is spelled that way intentionally)

“Lots of new cars are running Thomassima-type reds. Contrary to what it may look like, it is not a ‘candy red’ or modern multi-stage process. The paint used on prior Thomassimas was made for the Thomassima. And that company who made the proprietary color is now defunct. I took a full day to develop that red color at the paint factory.

“The colors of my cars are created by God and Nature. I don’t like plastic paint. There are plastic compounds in paints today. So you get what you use. When you use plastic in paints, the cars will look like plastic. But mine must look like glass. This is also why I use glass components wherever possible.

“The tail lenses are organic in shape, like kidney beans and/or the thorax of an insect, with a valley running north/south on the lens’ surface. There are then 4 east/west sections of differing colors that indicate the main light, brakes, backup, and turn signal. This all becomes one unit of glass, which is fired then re-fired to fuse the different colored lenses together. The tail lenses will then be ‘frenched’ (countersunk) into the rear of the body.

“I had major American manufactures telling me that it was impossible to do that, to fuse the glass in the form I wanted, but I did it in my own workshop.”

To jump ahead a bit, I will add that, after our time at the café, we later went back to Tom’s workshop where he showed me several pieces of the car. Among the various things I did see the prototype casts and ‘stages of states’ of the tail lenses. I can say that one single lens itself is an entire thing of its own, a study in glass sculptural form. It could have been a rare decanter of some kind, from some unknown time, or maybe even an American “Lalique.”

Were one to be handed a rear lens, for example, it would probably not be identifiable as a part from a car. It looks like an aquatic animal, with myriad raised dimples on the inner curved surfaces. The various pieces out of context resemble organic and/or robotic objects, mysterious components from an alien craft.

Tom clarifies that he values my opinion as I am a visual artist and asks for critiques of the various pieces. I offer what I can and he considers some of it. I only wish I could have seen some of the engineering drawings –anything- but I was not allowed access to those.

At this point in the interview I stop for a break to eat as it has been a couple hours at least (I suppose), and I begin having a telltale  hypoglycemic moment, my composure starting to fade with my hands beginning to shake. For that I order a chicken and eggplant sandwich that reinvigorates me to continue on with the remainder of the note-taking:

“My Thomassima emblem, which came to me in a vision, happens to resemble the Greek Chimera, a mythical animal. The animal figurine is backlit by an LED and floating within a glass teardrop of blood. As all of the steering wheel’s buttons are backlit by LEDs, the Thomassima emblem is within the steering wheel’s center and is also countersunk into the structure of the Thomassima IIII’s nose.

“The animal figurine is created from a unique process and material and technique that encases it within the glass. The prototype you’re looking at is cast in a vacuum and pressure tank. The process is of my own invention.

(Tom Meade emblem logo ®)

“When anyone says I can’t do it I’m the first one to say ‘screw you, I’m going to do it.’ And I’ve never once failed –knock on wood.

“I work from 5 or 6am to 11pm or later each night, 24/7. Sometimes I’m up until 3am. Many people ask me for favors and I have to decline because of my strenuous work schedule. But I get the occasional one who doesn’t believe me and I come across as a brutta figura (ugly person).

“So when you’re sound asleep I’m up creating new designs for the next morning. With 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night I can say that is too much time wasted sleeping. My drawing board is my throne, not my bed!

“All control buttons on the steering wheel are 50% leaded crystal with fabulous light refractions. The dashboard is nude, as one flowing ‘melted honey’ form. Including the buttons, everything is hidden. The carbon fiber rear view mirrors are hand-made based on F1 designs. Thomassima IV has double headlamps.”

Tom allows me to see and hold the steering wheel, the 3-pedal clutch, gas, and brake assembly, the shift gate assembly, a front rim, the spinner knock-offs, various trim pieces and bits. He has a kiln in his shop and piles of notebooks with reams of things shoved into them in a rhyme and reason that only he understands.

What strikes me about this methodology is the validity to the claim that a genius (a status ascribed to Meade in the Italian press) must be a madman --or at least somewhat of one, a contained insanity brewing to sharp focus. Not everyone can do this. It is a perpetual battle against will, money, and time. Although I never doubt his resolve. You can see it in his eyes. When he says something he means it.

“I’ve never wanted a web site to ring my own bell. Word of mouth is the golden way to introduce yourself to the world because it spreads based upon what you do, not what you say. The results speak for themselves. Have a look at my cars and make up your own mind.”

Family History and Life Abroad

“I’ve lived in Thailand, Malaysia, Fiji, Italy, Australia, Bali, Sumatra, the Philippines, and California. I was born in California but don’t consider myself particularly American having lived 51 years in Italy, but I was born in Hollywood and grew up in Malibu. My mother is from Auckland, New Zealand, from Happy Creanga Road.

“I went to school in Australia in Manly, Brisbane, and Sydney at Waverly College. My grandfather on my mom’s side was born in Fiji. My mom’s side grandmother was born in Tazmania. My great grandmother is Castilian; my great great grandfather, Count Roletti, is Italian. And my great great great grandfather Meade was born in Ireland.

“I flew to Australia in 1948 on a Super Constellation airplane, ie, the ‘Super Conny.’ The plane stopped in Midway to refuel and I recall getting out and walking down the mile long runway. It was this long white structure made of compacted coral. I walked out to the edge and saw these giant fish in a canal.

“And I was the first ‘yank’ there, and had the first blue jeans and surf board in Australia. These were the times of the world surfing champion-to-be Joey Cabell. He started the Chart House restaurant chain, today still owning one in Honolulu and one in Seattle. He helped me to make a surfboard at Waikiki (a guy named ‘Rudi’, at his house) when I was 12 years old. Joey Cabell, Squirrely, Rabbit Kekai –these guys were emerging into their heyday at this time.

“I surfed the entire east coast of Australia. Surfers Paradise, Bondi Beach, North Stein, South Stein, Queenscliff, Freshwater. Despite what is written, Duke Kohanamoko was not the first one to surf there. I was the first one there in 1952. Kohanamoko is credited out of prior fame of his name. I was only a kid. I had a short board for the time, a 9 foot 6 inch board. It was made of balsam wood and covered with fiberglass. That became known as the ‘Malibu Board.’  I named and wrote on the board ‘Moi Nalu’ (‘King Wave’ in Hawaiian orWave King’ in English).

“I lived in Manly in Sydney where I would take the ferry from Circular Quay, where the famous Opera House was eventually built is. In Hawaii I lived in a banyan tree on Kuhio Beach. I lived on Waikiki Beach and surfed at Queens, Canoes, and Bluebirds near the natatorium. We surfed Makaha, and near the blowhole at Koko Head. so many other places I can’t remember. In those days, the late 1940s and early ‘50s, it was a surfer’s paradise.

“I spent four years in the navy, from 1956 to 1960. I visited Guam, Japan, Philippines, and China. It was after that service that I hitchhiked to New Orleans from Newport Beach.

“In the early to mid 1990s I lived in the jungles of Sumatra, on Tuk Tuk, an Island in the middle of Lake Toba, an extinct volcano. The people there were all nice and happy. I also lived in Bali (where I had a house) where there lived the sweetest people on Earth --in the Malaysian archipelago (that’s the land of the Komodo dragon, the Dutch East Indies).

“I lived 11 months in Brunei and I’ve visited the land of the Sultan of Brunei. I was trying to arrange a presentation with the Sultan, to offer him a custom, hand-built, Thomassima. While I was there, I met a woman, Catherine Anderson, who had involvements in a business to extract oil from ‘dry wells.’ She made an offer and I worked for her briefly. While visiting Brunei, I saw the Sultan’s yacht. I was told by one of the sailors that it was called ‘Tits.’ And its lifeboats were called ‘Nipples.’ And the Sultan is the guy with a gold plated F40.”

The Mafia, Being Ruined, Recovering, and Other Things

One day I had lunch with Michele Sindona, a Sicilian, and a man named ‘Zeni’ (prounced ‘Zay-nee’), in a villa northeast of Brecia. This is where they have the Mille Miglia. Anyway, Sindona was a natural financial genius, a de facto ‘da Vinci’ of finance. He committed everything to memory, with virtually no records of any of his business activities. Involved with the Vatican bank (Banca Anbrosiano), he orchestrated about 150 different businesses but kept it all in his head. Nothing was recorded, archived, or filed in any way on paper or on a computer. It was unbelievable.

“Sindona had a friend, Roberto Calvi, who was Sicilian. He, too, was a financial genius. As some time got by, Calvi was found hanging under the Blackfriars Bridge in London. And few years earlier, Sindona had gone to prison. He, too, was found dead, having had his coffee poisoned. But that wasn’t the only connection I had to death or the mafia, to whom the hanging was attributed.

“They came after my mother. They tried to kill her after I refused to sell my automotive company to them. Apparently my lawyer at the time colluded with a crime element that sought to oust me from Italy. So Zeni befriended me. He came from Albania, an impoverished country which is between Italy and Greece, working his way up from being totally poor to a billionaire stock market investor.

“The mafia ruined me financially and continued to terrorize my mother and I. And they tried to kill her again --not once but twice.

“The Modena police would just laugh in my face when I reported things as Italy is famous for frontier justice. I even went to the American embassy in Rome, but they didn’t help either. They were too busy drinking cappuccino and rushing to their cocktail and dinner parties to help a little church mouse, American citizen, like me. So this went on and on.

“For a time strange people would show up at my door with guns pulled. I was at their mercy. I realized that I was inadvertently caught in a turf war. As I became more known (as I would not only make cars but buy, sell, and prepare them for customers worldwide), buyers would come to me first to get cars and not the Italians. Even though I was fully immersed in the Italian culture and could speak their language fluently, I was not an Italian. I was an American and, in their minds, stealing their business. I was too successful in their circle and apparently someone resented me. From what I could see they were astonished that I could outdo them in business by being honest, having come from the gutters to boot.

“When I became dead broke, Zeni protected and took me in. Originally from Albania, he was a chain smoker and dabbled in cars with me. With my prior expertise I would tell him what cars to buy. And he taught me all about the inner workings of the Italian world of finance and banking. He taught me about the stock market and investing, in and around the Palazzo della Borsa, the financial center of Italy in Milano.

“Eventually the harassments stopped and I began male modeling in Milano as well as doing t.v. work and acting. Donatella Mauro became my talent agent. Without money for a hotel, during this ‘post-mafia’ time, my dog and I slept in my car, a Cooper Mini. This went on for a long time.

“I eventually left Italy to accompany some Ferraris to Houston, Texas, to oversee the importation of Zeni’s cars. I set up at the Beverly Hills Apartments,  near the corner of Hillcroft and Westheimer. I had to set up a repair operation where I would have to rebuild the engines on them because a mechanic (a notorious Austrian local, with an alleged Nazi father, whose names I will not mention), would sabotage them in his workshop by removing a pin from the timing chains. This way he could ‘repair’ the cars after they ‘broke.’ He was one of the only guys in town that could rebuild Ferrari engines. And as my cars were already in his shop for DOT and EPA certification, how was I to know?

“So I was challenged with a bunch of about 10 Ferraris, with broken motors, that had buyers. I had big problems and had to pull the rabbit out of the hat. I had no other choice but to fix them all at the apartments. So with this awkward situation I began noticing this guy, John Rogers, who would peek over a fence to see the cars. Eventually I invited him over. He was curious and wanted to learn how to fix Ferraris. And I needed his help. He was glad to be given the opportunity to get involved and I trusted him.

“So we got to work and I taught him how to fix Ferraris in exchange for his labor. For ten bucks I bought an old, non-running, Ford van, and had it towed to the parking lot. As it had side doors, it became our fix-it garage. During this fiasco, out of the kindness of his heart, Zeni invited me on a vacation to the Caribbean. I had to stall him and finally say ‘no,’ and kept working on the cars. I never told Zeni that the cars were ever broken and fixed. He never knew. They ran like new.

“When Zeni died it destroyed me emotionally and personally. He became my family, like a father. He’s buried in Milano.”

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tom Meade's Motorcycle Diaries

BSA Motorcycle Story

The year 1960: As he recounts, once in Stavanger, Norway, Tom Meade hitchhiked to Oslo, then to Stockholm, Sweden. There he stayed for a time at a house with an old girlfriend (who was Swedish) in Odenplan. After this time he continued on to the UK, then to Barcelona, Spain. He lived there on “Las Ramblas,” a popular series of streets in central Barcelona.

From there he took a ship and found his way to Majorca. Once there he took up residence on the rooftop of a hotel with a man he befriended en route. After talking with the doorman, Tom and his new friend got a deal: For .50 cents a day the owner granted permission for the duo to live on the roof. The situation was not ideal but for the paltry fee it was.

Adorning the new home base with tented hammocks, hoisted up between plumbing stacks, they fashioned a makeshift kitchen, preparing food on a hibachi grille. Of the time there, Tom recollects: “We lived like kings for .25 cents a day each.”

(Map below: Majorca, Spain: an island off the coast of Barcelona, Spain, part of the Balearic Islands)

But as soon as it all happened it came to a close. Tom’s boat friend eventually left, and the changing situation heralded the final stages for the Italian destination. As the modus operandi from the very beginning was a passage to Italy, Tom’s focus and wanderlust beckoned and he was drawn back to the sea.

Going down to the bay he searched for the right opportunity, for a way off the island. Approaching a captain/boat owner, Tom found his ship: He was given a place onboard and would leave for Genoa, Italy, on the condition that he fulfill duties as cook and deckhand on the 60-foot sailing vessel. The next day they disembarked from Majorca, setting sail for the magical hinterlands of Maserati and Ferrari.

If it were not enough to expatriate from America, braving land, sea, and cold, to fulfill a dream of an Italian lifestyle as a car designer, the fantasy journey was only just beginning. From Long Beach, to New Orleans, to Norway, to Sweden, to Spain –Italy, the Promised Land, had yet to even be set foot upon. And once there, Tom’s itinerant mode of shipping and hitchhiking was about to come to an end.

(above map: Tom Meade’s passage from Majorca to Genoa, Italy; below photo: Genoa)

After the 670-mile/1000 kilometer journey by boat, Tom’s first priority led him up a hill to an abandoned villa converted into a youth hostel. Tired and hungry from his seafaring, he ate and noticed something:

“The first evening I was there, after I ate, I saw a guy riding up on a BSA motorcycle. Curious, I went out and struck up a conversation with him. And it turned out he was from New Zealand. We became good chums because I told him my mother was also from there, from Auckland, off Happy Craenga Road.

“After our talk I went to sleep. The next morning, after my cappuccino on the stairs, I saw the same guy. But this time he was riding up on a Vespa. I went out to meet him and said to him: ‘You change motorcycles like shirts. What happened to the BSA? Who did you sell it to?’ He replied ‘I threw it away.’

“Where? Why?’ I asked. ‘It stopped running,’ he said. When he said that I almost had a heart attack. ‘I would have bought it from you,’ I told him. ‘You don’t have to buy it,’ he replied, ‘I’ll give it to you for free.”

“He walked us around to the back of the hostel and there it was, the BSA propped up against a wall. He handed me the papers for it and that was it, it was mine.

“Seated on it, I coasted down the hill to a nearby gas station. I greeted the owner and asked him if I could use some of his tools for a while.  He agreed and I got to taking it apart. I checked the points, installed a new spark plug, cleaned it up. It took about 3 hours in the morning to do it. Although I didn’t really know what I was doing, I managed to put it all back together. I then went to kick start it. On the first try, the engine came to life and it fired right up like a brand new bike. I was so excited that I didn’t even eat lunch. I bungeed my stuff to the BSA and headed for Rome.”

(below map: Tom’s route on his BSA motorcycle from Genoa to Rome, Italy, approximately 250 miles/400 kilometers)

“I got to Rome that evening. And having it in my head the story of the treasure trove there, a main reason why I left America in the first place, I went looking for that mythical warehouse with all the racecars, the one where the Old Man went around every morning with a feather duster. And I thought to myself, with that vision held so close, ‘I could buy one of them for a song.’ For all purposes I was living the dream.”

“Later that night, exhausted from the search, I went to a youth hostel in Rome. I couldn’t wait to fall asleep. But at around 4AM my sleep was abruptly interrupted. I heard someone banging on the locker doors. Annoyingly, it awakened me. But I eventually went back to sleep. And on the second night it happened again. This time I got up to confront whomever he was.

“He was an American. And instead of a confrontation we got into a discussion. He said he was working as an actor on a film for Dino De Laurentiis, with David Niven and Alberto Sordi. Sordi was big in Italy at the time and is dead now; he was a comedian. The film was ‘The Best of Enemies.’ The first half was shot in Israel during the day. The second half was shot in ‘Cinecitta,’ which was the Italian hub of cinema and where ‘Ben Hur’ was shot. It is also regarded as synonymous with Federico Fellini.

“We became very friendly, this actor and I, as he was, too, from California. He told me: ‘You look like an English officer, exactly what we’re looking for. Come down with me tomorrow at 11AM and I’ll introduce you to De Laurentiis at the soundstage.

“So I did go the next morning to meet him. Once we were inside, he led us to De Laurentiis who was seated at a big banquet table. Dino waved to us, a gesture of ‘over here.’ He asked me if I’d ever done film; I said “I sure have.’ But of course I had to say whatever I could to get the job. I was starving to death in those days. So I had to say what he wanted to hear.

“It must have worked because De Laurentiis hired me. All the scenes where I appeared were done at night. When the film was in the can I got paid  and rode my BSA up to Modena. I now had the means to continue my quest, to the Ferrari factory.

“When I arrived in Modena it was about 7:30 in the evening. And there was a man standing on the corner, at the crossroads, entering Modena from the south on the Autostrada del Sol (from Rome). I asked the man where Ferrari was. He said ‘Ferrari is 15 kilometers to the east. It’s too late to go there now.’

“Where’s Maserati?,’ I asked. He said: ‘Maserati is about ½ mile down this road to the right. They’ll be open now, late. You can probably still get in there now.

“Disheveled, my hair and beard was windblown. I had on army fatigues and boots, which I had gotten from wardrobe on the film.”

As if cutting from one scene to another, a sequence from his own life’s movie, Tom wasted no time in his pursuits; he possessed a bottomless reserve of energy. If it was not going to be Ferrari that evening, it was going to be something. He then ventured to Maserati, with the urgency to enter the hallowed automotive Promised Land as soon as possible just too great, his crossing through the gates of his life’s path taking place that night.

(map below: Tom’s BSA journey from Rome to Modena, Italy)

“I pulled up to the gates of Maserati –the giant factory gates almost prison-like. The guard asked me why I was there and I just answered ‘I want to see the new Maseratis.

“Once they realized I was American, they got the chief engineer of Maserati factory, Aurelio Bertocchi, on the phone to come down. Being American, they assumed I was a millionaire even though I looked like one of Castro’s freedom fighters. Suffice it to say, Bertocchi became one of my friends in Modena. He took me to see the production line where they were building the 3500 GT. I had no real interest in that car, honestly, as I was only interested in their racecars.
(above photo: Maserati factory, ca. late 1950s, early 1960s)

“When we reached the end of the production line, in the back of the factory, we finally came upon the racing department and the factory foundary. I asked Bertocchi if he could show me these areas more closely. He happily agreed. He then took me outside to a back alley. To the left was a car under a tarp. I knew it was a racecar as it was low slung. I asked him what it was and he said it was a Maserati 350S, #3503.

(below: 1957 Maserati Tipo 350S, V12, raced in 1957 Mille Miglia)
“Bertocchi said it was an old race car they were throwing away. But this was exactly what I was looking for, so I asked him if I could see it. Initially he said no, but I talked him into it. After he agreed, I lifted the front of the tarp and saw the most beautiful nose, the most beautiful mouth, and I was just in shock. They were throwing this away!

“I walked around to the back, lifted the tarp, and was just as shocked at how beautiful the car was. Most cars are not so well done from front to rear. It was typical for me to never like a whole car from front to rear, but this was a mind-blower, was totally beautiful from back to front.

“I totally fell in love with the car and wanted it immediately. Bertocchi said ‘no, we’re not used to selling used cars here at Maserati.’ I begged and pleaded, almost to my knees, to buy the car.

“He said, ‘let me get on the phone, call upstairs to sales, to see if it’s possible if this car can be sold.’ He left. About fifteen minutes later he returned. I didn’t think it would ever really happen, I couldn’t be so lucky. When he came back we stood sizing each other up, and he said ‘okay, we can sell it to you. The price is $450.”

“I thought he would say something like ‘the price is $10,000.’ It was the only 4-cam, front engine V12 Maserati ever made. So when he said $450 I became dumbfounded and couldn’t talk. I wanted to say ‘yes,’ but couldn’t. He saw me fumbling. Concerned he said ‘oh, okay, I know that’s too much –it’s $420.’ And I blurted out ‘yes!”

“I had it towed on a flatbed within a half-hour so it wouldn’t give them any time to change their minds overnight. The car clearly needed refurbishing but that would come later. I wanted it out of the factory and in my possession. Prior to my towing it, Bertocchi asked me ‘where will you take the car? I can get you a truck from some people who have who have a race car shop in the villaggio artigiano (Artisan’s Village).’

“They sent a flatbed to the factory. When the truck arrived, about ten Maserati mechanics came out at about 9:30PM to help lift the car upon the flatbed. One of them was a guy named Manacardi who later became a friend. Once loaded and secured down, I followed the flatbed with my Maserati out of the area on my BSA to the villaggio artigiano.

“That night at the shop I slept on the floor next to the car. Within the recesses of the space, among the smell of oil and car engines, I felt I was being given access to the Taj Mahal. I couldn’t even believe it was true. It was like a dream: My first night in Modena, upon arrival, within hours, I had bought an Italian racecar and spent the night with it in a racecar shop. This intimacy with cars was to become the theme of my life.

“In the mean time, Bertocchi called a friend of his, a farmer, and asked him if he had a place for a young American who didn’t have any money but had just bought a Maserati race car. The farmer said ‘yes, send him on down. He can work on the car down where I milk the cows.’ He cleared out a space for me, a stall next to two cows, and that’s where I put the car together. Initially, the closest living friends I had at the time became some field mice in the barn. I named three of them Sniffles, Coughy, and Squeaky. But there were about ten of them that slept with me up in the hayloft.

“During my days at the barn, the young guys, the mechanics over at Maserati, would come over after hours and help me to get the 350S back to running condition. I also learned Italian being around them and we all became friends. Manacardi, the manager, would often arrive as well. We all became family.

“Among the many things in need of repair it had a broken piston, requiring engine work. As the factory was nearby, I began a system where, during the day, I would go over there and get parts for the car. I’d ride up to the guardhouse, park the BSA, they’d call Bertocchi, and I’d be taken to the parts warehouse with him. It was this huge mountain of randomly piled Maserati parts dating back from the 1930s.

“They would just throw parts in there for years and years and years without rhyme or reason. There would be a 1930s Maserati Gran Prix car front spindle next to a 350S spindle. I would go through the pile like a squirrel digging for nuts, asking the mechanics if this part or that part was for the 350S. This went on for a couple of months. I dug through it about 20 or 30 times and eventually knew all of the parts.

“After a point Bertocchi stopped accompanying me and he’d just let me raid the pile by myself. He was very receptive, giving me insanely cheap prices on the rare parts. One day he said ‘I’ll tell the guard you can come in any time you want.

“He said ‘take what you want and leave the money on my desk for whatever you think the parts are worth.’ I realized after that that I had sort of become the factory pet. With this status, Bernocchi approached me one day saying ‘how would you like to get your parts without paying for anything?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. He continued to explain: ‘If you could help the private racing teams find their needed parts I’ll give you your parts for free.’ By this time I knew virtually where every part was and knew what they were. So he gave me a job and paid me in parts, 7 days a week. I had a free run of the factory and was known on a first-name basis. I became friends with everybody.

“When the car was finished mechanically, Bertocchi sent me to Medardo Fantuzzi to do the body work. Fantuzzi bodied the 150, 200, 250, 300, 350S, and 450S Maseratis. He was one of Bertocchi’s best friends. I spoke with Fantuzzi and offered to help me modify the body. I wanted to create a fastback road-going berlinetta. In so doing I would be the first one, in 1961, to create the first true ‘supercar,’ which is defined as an original racecar modified for the street. Today the term ‘supercar’ is so often used that it has lost its original meaning. Unless it was originally made to race, it is not a supercar.

“But about the 350S, I had to put a glass windshield on it because it was originally an open car with a 5” high plexi racing windshield. So I improvised and got a rear window, of non-safety glass, from a Maserati 3500 GT. It was a bit too large so I trimmed about 7” off the top but it had a beautiful swept back shape which was what I was after. And it was free. Bertocchi gave it to me.

“Now that I was in contact with Fantuzzi, we discussed my vision for the 350S: I wanted a new hood bubble installed, side vents, and a fastback removable hardtop. The fastback of my own design would resemble the then-non-existent Ferrari GTO, somewhat looking like the Ferrari 250 SWB. I envisioned a rounded, very shapely design, just the very thing Fantuzzi was in love with. He said ‘yes, absolutely, I can do everything –it’s going to be exquisite.’
(above: Medardo Fantuzzi in his workshop, ca. 1970, with 1956 Maserati 250S in background that Tom modified for street use, with a swept back windshield added)

“Fantuzzi, too, in the same breath, reminded me of the costs involved. He asked, endearingly, ‘how are you going to pay for this?’ I just laughed and told him I hadn’t thought about that. At that point it seemed that every time I thought about something I wanted it would just happen and come true. He then began eyeing my BSA. And being a mad collector of British bikes, he said ‘if you give me your motorcycle I’ll do the bodywork on your car. And while we are doing it, why don’t you just stay over and sleep here. You can sleep in the shop and watch me work on your car every day. I’ve got an army cot. You can sleep in front of my oil burner.’

“The oil burner sounded like 100 elephants when it was on, but I didn’t care. I was floating in 7th heaven. The tradeoff was too valuable. And with the 350S in my possession, a car driven by Sterling Moss and Gene Behra, I had the most beautiful car Maserati ever made. And it would have a new life. I agreed to Fantuzzi’s terms and settled into his shop. That’s how I came to learn how to design and build aluminum bodies, from the master Fantuzzi. After a couple of months we decided I would sleep on top of his office, on a mezzanine floor room, on my cot, on the right hand side as you walked in the front door.

“What a sweetheart he was. He was the sweetest man I ever met. He was my mentor and I was his protégé, the BSA motorcycle being the ‘open sesame’ to it all –without it I would have never accomplished what I set out to do. He showed me everything I know today about how to create beautiful car bodies. Years later, when he was in his 80s, he was killed as he fell out of a tree, picking pears –a tragic loss of an wonderful man. He was one of the most famous designers for racing sports cars in Italy. The most beautiful Maseratis were of his conception.

“At the Maserati factory there was a second 350S out back and I bought it for $80. It was a prototype for the 450S V8 which is worth between 7 and 8 million dollars today. I realized that these cars were just left around the place like that, as the junkman wouldn’t take them. There were too many different kinds of metals in them. And it was too expensive a process to dismantle them. So I bought the cars for the value of the junk metal.
(above: Maserati 450S, 1956)

“I was the only one so mad, mad, mad for Masers as this time. Out in the back of the factory, in a swampy field, there were about 30 cars left out to rot, an automotive graveyard, with grass growing through the cars’ bodies. Among some of them were the 1958 ‘Eldorado’ Tipo 420M, a V8 Maserati Indy car. I was a blessing in disguise for them, saving many of these cars from a grim fate. I bought a mid-engine Maserati ‘bird cage,’ too, for about $30. 

‘Birdcage’ was an apt name for the car as it had the most complicated of all spaceframes. The combination of that chassis, with a four-cylinder twin-cam, became one of Maserati's most famous models. But at the time they were disposable; the factory wanted them gone and I wanted them to restore.
(above: 1958 “Eldorado” Tipo 420M, a V8 Maserati Indy car)
(above: Maserati Tipo 60 “Birdcage”)

“Eventually I rented a bedroom apartment in Modena for $8 per month. But that was overpriced even for that time. However it was right on the Aeroautodromo and I had cars stacked up in garages there. At that excellent locale I was able to see all the Ferraris, the prototypes, being tested. I became friends with the drivers such as Chris Amon and Michael Parkes. The circuit was eventually demolished in 1975 and the site redeveloped as a public park to honor Enzo Ferrari.”