Noise, Vibration, Harshness: Life of a successful garagiste.

When master mechanic Domenico Spadaro died last year at the ripe old age of eighty-nine, hundreds of loyal customers turned out to pay their respects. That his wake and funeral were standing-room-only affairs underscored the depth of his clientele's affection for him, unusual in itself, for while many might wish their mechanics dead, few actually want to attend their funerals. Or, more remarkably, lay plans to keep celebrating their garage man's memory for years to come.

Yet just the other week, the First Annual Domenico Spadaro Memorial Rally drew more than 150 customers for a motorized tribute to this Sicilian super wrench, known to most patrons -- at least those who didn't come from the old country -- as Domenick. His shop, Domenick's European Car Repair, of White Plains, New York, has been an old-car mecca since it opened in 1961. So it was only fitting that after some strong Sunday morning coffee, like he might have served himself, a parade of more than seventy-five classic cars set off along the winding lanes of New York's Westchester County and southern Connecticut. Following the triumphal spin, a gargantuan buffet was laid out at the spacious and exceedingly gracious digs of one of the shop's customers, with high-performance meatballs made from an old family recipe supplied by Domenico's wife of fifty-six years, Tindara.

Yes, Domenick was well loved. He tolerated the Americanization of his name but not his ways. Coming of age in war-ravaged Italy, an environment of scarcity where wide-ranging mechanical skills were not just ideal but essential, his bias was to fix, not replace, and to keep the machine running, not throw it away. Locating hard-to-find parts did not upset him. At a time when plugging in modules is most common, making parts remained an option for this gifted machinist and his skilled offspring. Gracious interaction with the customer -- talking, eating, scheming, dreaming -- was his standard, making his busy shop as much a destination as a place to get your car fixed.

A successful garagiste in Roccalumera, Sicily, Domenico one day picked up and moved to America. Fifty-some years later, the shop he founded is running stronger than ever, thanks in large measure to his sons Frank and Santo, who've been joined more recently by his daughter, Vera, who keeps the organization organized.

Jam-packed with an ever-changing but always mind-bending assortment of older, name-brand thoroughbreds (Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati), obscure racing machinery (Stanguellini, Dagrada), so-called etceterini (Abarths, ASA, Siata), and random orphans (er, my Triumph Dolomite), the shop is a little grimy, which puts off some white-gloved supercar types. But what price sterile efficiency when old cars are the game? Domenick's musty catacombs are filled with obscure parts, its basements crammed with parts cars and future restoration projects, all organized to the old man's inscrutable specification. It remains a tight and orderly ship where fine work is done at fair prices.

The memorial tour brought out not just the Italian confections that were the shop's first lifeblood, but the offbeat assortment of Jaguars, Mercedes-Benzes, MGs, Austin-Healeys, BMWs, Minis, Aston Martins, and Volvos that now just as often find their way to Domenick's. Like a doctor who has one standard of care for all his patients, rich and poor, Domenico, who wore a sport jacket to work and, in later years, a beret, showed all machines the respect and patience they deserved. While he could lay hands on priceless old Colombo V-12s and banks of Webers like few others, he saw the beauty in everything. Although he'd not worked on the 1963 Dodge Dart GT convertible in attendance at his memorial (carpeting halfway up the door panels made it a GT, owner Rob Moore explained), he probably would have, had he been asked. European Car is just the name of the shop.

One of the great things about Domenick and the many who've worked their way up in his shop, in the classic European apprentice tradition, was his holistic view of automobiles, the ability to see the interconnection between their many systems. He had no patience for blindered technicians who fix one thing while ignoring others, such as replacing an unevenly worn tire without addressing the cause of the wear -- or noticing that a nearby brake hose was weeping or the steering gear was dry.

I first met Domenick in 1995 when I bagged the Lancia Fulvia I'd long been pestering vintage racer Harry Reynolds to sell me (see Automobile Magazine, December 1991 and May 1996). I cold-called an officer of the American Lancia Club, seeking a recommendation on whom to entrust with recommissioning my new charge. He set me straight.

A former official Lancia sales point back in the 1960s -- when all it took was a few brochures and the ability to place an order with the factory in Italian -- Domenick's no-frills premises would hold the knowledge, the parts, and the interest. That spoke to me, as someone whose old-car experience included numerous instances of being chased off garage forecourts when wheezing into sight in something old and funky by mechanics afraid they'd never get rid of, say, my Rover 3500S. As a bonus, Domenick's was only a twenty-minute drive across the Hudson. I hoped he'd do a bang-up job on my Fulvia, and he did. Little did I know that over the next fourteen years, along with Frank and Santo, he'd work wonders on everything I own, from Triumph Dolomites to old Saabs to Ford Lotus Cortinas. Turned out they were great with Rovers, too.

Although he smoked like a chimney, swore like a professional, and did not suffer fools gladly, Domenico was indeed a gentleman. He outlived many of his patrons, but the Spadaro tour drew customers who'd been with him since the 1960s, with memories of him throwing his three kids into the back of the family's Ferrari 330 for jaunts up to the grand prix in Montreal.

While I was visiting his shop one day in 1996, Domenick complained of a shooting pain in his arm and disorientation. I ran to get his sons, and an ambulance was called -- he'd suffered a stroke, which temporarily took him out of commission. But Domenick's race wasn't run. In time, he'd return to the shop he loved, brilliantly rebuilding complex engines and operating machine tools with his eyes closed, but speaking less. For a while, he even forgot he'd been a two-pack-a-day Winston man. One morning he woke up, however, and asked words to the effect of "Where the *** are my cigarettes?" A man from another time, he smoked happily for years to come.

Domenico Spadaro is gone now, but it's safe to say that his flock are not done memorializing him. First Annual implies Second Annual, Third Annual, and so on. We celebrate him and honor what he stood for, and that will never get old.

Christopher Judd
My connection with Mr. Spadaro is very tenuous, but memorable nonetheless. Many years ago I bought his little black Fiat X1/9, which at the time was the shop beater, It was a little rough around the edges, but I have never had a Fiat that ran as well as that car did. I remember the day I bought car like it was yesterday . His son Frank gave me atour of the shop and allowed me all the time (and tools and a lift) that I needed to inspect the little beast. I was amazed at the place. I drove that little car for many years and still own it, but it's in storage awaiting resurrection. Mechanically it's fine, but it needs some rust repair. Godspeed Mr'. Spadaro. I'm glad to have met you, if only once.
Joe Carpanzano
I was 9 years old when we moved from our predominantly Sicilian-Italian neighborhood in Hartford Ct to the, God forsaken, high and mighty, snootier than thou, Scarsdale N.Y. An arrogant place where, another Italian kid couldn’t be found even if you dragged a box of cannoli and sfogliatelli behind your car through the entire township. Well my Dad bought a new Fiat 1200 back in ‘59 from a dealership on Central Avenue in Hartsdale, yes on purpose, but the mechanics at the dealership had no idea how to keep it running right. Faced with this dilemma he scouted out International Motors on Post Road in White Plains where he met a talented young Sicilian mechanic named Domenic Spadaro. They very soon struck up a friendship that would last for over 50 years. Let me mention here that this dealership was filled with the old timers most youngsters read or hear stories about. Among the alumni were names you should recognize such as George “Sandy” Sanderson of Sandy’s Spares, Eddie Iglic of Iglic’s Auto Service, the DeSantos brothers of Big D Volvo and co-owner Bob Grossman of Grossman motors and 24 hours of Daytona, to name just a few. As one might expect, Mr. Spadaro turned my Dad’s Fiat into a reliable, useable little commuter car that would actually start, run and carry him to work, even in the snow every day! Soon enough my Mom’s 1949 Buick Roadmaster was burning more oil than gas so my Father sought Mr. Spadaro’s council on what to replace it with. The wise man of the wrenches suggested a used Morris Minor 1000, 2 door “saloon” for the family matriarch, so we took it. That was the best little buzz bomb on the planet! My Mother fell in love with it and with the joys of fun automobiles. Soon she was buying magazines like Sports Car Graphics, Road and Track, Car and Driver and who do you think was reading them? You guessed it, my brother Tony and me. By this time Mr. Spadaro had opened his new shop on Ferris Ave and whenever we needed a repair I would tag along and watch, asking all the time, “What does that do?” or, “How do you know that’s broken?” He would patiently explain all the reasons why and how the entire vehicle was a symbiotic pile of interrelated systems that depended on each other. He treated automobiles like living, breathing entities. It was also around this time Mrs. Spadaro was dealing with a very difficult pregnancy, which, through my Father’s guidance and medical skills was rewarded with their youngest son Santo. (who might not know this story) That particular year I contracted mononucleosis and Mr. Spadaro gave me a “Visible V8” model kit to occupy my time which I ever so carefully assembled and resulted in my life long love affair with that most ungrateful mistress called the automobile. Once I had recovered and returned to school summer break came quickly. I asked Mr. Spadaro for a summer job. He told me I was too young to work in a repair shop but I could “officially” clean up and put tools away, that sort of thing. That lasted two days. He had me lubricating emergency brake cables on rusted out Peugeot’s, changing spark plugs on Alfa’s and even tinkering with an old blue Bugatti Type 34 at the back of the shop. I watched in awe as he re-surfaced cylinder heads by hand, or set crankshaft end play by feel. Knowing what I know today about automobiles it was like watching Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Eventually I started driving and even trying my hand at competition. Every track I went to, there he was, even still a young man, we boy racers treated him as the wise sage of yesteryear. Regardless where I went, trailer in tow, he would appear for the Ferrari parade lap. The first Can-Am Challenge at Bridgehampton he was there in a cobalt blue 365 California, Daytona 24 hours, a burgundy 330 GTE, Sebring 12 hours, Ferrari red 275 GTB, He would come to my garage and ask to hear the car. He would listen, shake his head, ask for a tool, touch something with it and it just seemed to run better. Then he would look at me and smile as if to say, “You should have stuck with me kid, I could have taught you so much more.” Perhaps I should have but mistakes make for great stories. Such was my friend, my mentor, the “pusher” responsible, and thankfully so, for my addiction to mechanical devices. A man who showed me there’s more to heaven and earth than we will ever be able to explain through simple mechanical terms. Two years ago I spoke to him on the phone, he was back at a race track with my brother Tony. He asked me, in Sicilian, “Joe, have you got children?” I responded, “Yes.” He said, “Then you have done well, you leave a legacy.” I thanked him for his kind words, we spoke a few minutes, we both cried. He has left us a legacy, memories of those days, and I have a lot more, and his sons who carry his dreams to the next generation. Thank you Mr. Spadaro, I for one, will miss you. Joseph Carpanzano
Ed Levin
Thanks for the fine appreciation of one of a dying (literally) generation of holistic mechanics. It's good to know, however, that the tragedy of his passing won't be compounded by the demise of the shop. On the contrary; it sounds as though he left a great legacy in the persons of the next generation. Riposi in pace.

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