An unmarked black building in front of me blends seamlessly into the row of high-end body shops which pack this southern stretch of La Cienega. Inside, the former yoga studio seems to be a typical construction zone. A web of electrical wires uncoils menacingly from the recesses of an unfinished ceiling. The floor is covered in dust and drop-cloths.
When I notice two dust-free rows of custom and exotic cars, including a limited edition lime green Lamborghini Murciélago and a matte black Rolls Royce Phantom II, I can finally imagine the space’s potential. In the back office I see that a small desk covered in invoices and car brochures occupies one side of the room. At the other end, a large and perfectly polished wood pool table rises from a layer of white plaster dust coating the floor.
The worksite’s combination of practical grit and simple elegance is characteristic of the person I’ve come to see. Costantino Bertuzzi, whose career in automobiles started in Italy at the age of six and who can boast of being a go-kart driver, mechanical engineer, developer of the Ferrari 360, acrobatic-driving instructor and two-time GT world champion, clears a space at the desk and sits down to tell me how he has made it through so many adventures to arrive at his latest project, a Lamborghini body shop.
GANZO: So, when did you come to Los Angeles?
COSTANTINO BERTUZZI: I came here in 2001 and my background is in racing … [In the US] dealers are involved in challenge racing but they’re street mechanics not racing mechanics … so [Ferrari] wanted me to come [to California] and set up a Ferrari Beverley Hills racing team.
I coached the racers and set up and fixed their cars with the help of some good mechanics who came from Italy as well as some dealer mechanics. We won the first championship in 2001. Then, in 2002, we won the championship again.
Costantino Bertuzzi’s leadership of the team ended abruptly when Ferrari acquired Maserati. In order for the new ownership to succeed, the space that dealerships had previously dedicated to the racing team was now needed to showcase the Maserati line. As the opportunities that had brought Costantino to Los Angeles shifted away from racing, he drew on his technical training in Italy to offer a service which his American experience had taught him was missing from the West Coast.
So I was basically wondering what I was going to do. I don’t want to work on street cars. It’s not something that I really like at all. I like to do performance things or at least something that is more than an oil change. You know, like setting up cars, or painting cars, or putting on aftermarket kits or increasing the performance of the car with alignment. … They are racing related but they are good for the street
One of my drivers Luccio Niccololi is a very wealthy guy from Italy and he was the driver that won the championship in 2001 with my team Ferrari of Beverly Hills. I always told him that we needed to open a [racecar] body shop because every time we had a problem with our cars, for example major frame damage, we needed to send them to an authorized body shop either in Texas, or New York, or faraway … No one here had the jig system, the frame machine the factory sells to fix the cars, so I said why don’t we open [a body shop]?
Do you think the way people relate to their cars in the U.S. is different as compared to Italy?
Absolutely different. Here the cars are terrible. They are huge, heavy and obsolete compared to our cars – and they have no performance … the fuel consumption is insane.
If the cars are so terrible, then why have you stayed in California?
I like it and as I said they were missing things over here … I have a method of working that I’ve learned in Italy and I’m happy to transfer my experience over here and create another successful store like the one I had before.
Did you think you would end up owning a body shop?
Really, sincerely, I was hoping to continue my racing career, but even though I’ve proven to be very fast and have done several of the fastest laps at Daytona … I was not really known over here. I also don’t really know how to handle sponsors or find sponsors in this area. There are not a lot of people that I know over here. In Italy with my career racing for Alfa-Romeo and Ferrari I had a lot of. I had friends and they could introduce me to other friends.
[In the U.S.] I had to restart everything and the West Coast is not the best area for racing … There’s not really a racing tradition over here … The tracks are pretty good – at world-famous Laguna Seca there’s that turn called the corkscrew. It’s pretty cool.
What attracts people to Ferraris and Lamborghinis?
Mercedes is an amazing car because it has a lot of technology, but it’s not a real sports brand like Ferrari. Ferraris are made to be a sports car and the good thing about [them] is that they don’t come out with a new model every year. Every model stays [on the market] for five years. Ferrari, when it comes out with a car, comes out with a model that will last 5 years and will always be a modern car, an up-to-date car. Whatever you buy it’s already advanced. The competitors will probably reach the same level as Ferrari in five years … Ferrari is really ahead in everything. I mean design, performance, and reliability. I’ve done eight 24-hour Daytona races with Ferraris and I’ve never had a mechanical failure caused by the engine.
Lamborghini is not as big in racing as Ferrari … Lamborghini has changed ownership quite a few times in the past 20 years … Now, [as a subsidiary of Audi] they are finally making some serious products and the cars are beautiful. They’re coming out with nice models and they’ve done some updates. … If you buy a Ferrari it holds its price pretty well. Before, Lamborghini was losing its price … now I would say that they’re getting very close to a brand like Ferrari which is a world leader in sports cars.
We’ve joined this new body shop SCC (Specialty Car Craft) … My business partner, Steve, has a Lamborghini, a green Lamborghini, and all of his friends have Lamborghinis. It’s a small community that’s not that small in the end because when you have twenty or thirty Lamborghini cars that’s a pretty good group of people. That’s why we decided to specialize in Lamborghini repairs. At the moment there are a few multi-brand body shops [in the U.S.], but not one dedicated exclusively to Lamborghinis.
This shop will be clean. There will be no painting, no prepping, just assembly. We’ll do alignments, we’ll detail the car, we’ll have a store to sell clothes, we’re going to have a V.I.P lounge … we’re going to have a racing simulator.
Would you say that racing has become an international sport?
Listen, let me tell you something. Think of all the things in Italy related to motor sports that are unique in the world – if you think of Italian cars, Fiat, Lancia, Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, they are among the most beautiful cars in the world. Think about the other brands, Ducati, Bimoto, Benelli and Pirelli … A whole lot of things are invented by us and then maybe developed by the Germans or by the British. That is why I am proud to be Italian and continue our tradition as technicians.