Road racers were initially divided into four categories. The production class included MGs, the Porsche 356, the XK120, and other models competing in stock trim. The modified category (called sports cars by the SCCA until 1959) was the catchall for stripped-down and tuned-up production models, American-engined hybrids, limited-edition Ferraris and Maseratis, and home-built specials. Any car that didn't fit production or modified specifications raced in an unrestricted category. The Formula 3 class was for open-wheel single-seaters powered by tiny engines.
Casual enthusiasts competed with production models that could be driven to the track, raced, and--assuming all four wheels re-mained intact--driven home. Serious racers were more inclined to roll their own. The low cost of potent V-8s prompted the construction of hundreds of specials geared for competition in the modified (West Coast) and sports car (East Coast) categories. Hot-rodder Ak Miller built them to compete here and abroad. Max Balchowsky concocted nine Old Yallers powered by various domestic V-8s. In 1962, Roger Penske beat Dan Gurney and Jim Hall with his Zerex Special, a wrecked Cooper F1 racing car rejuvenated with new bodywork and an Indy-car engine.
Cozzi never dreamed of taking on the big guys; his challenge was convincing his dad that a teenager--with a little help--could build a car. The elder Cozzi treated his son's proposal like a bank loan application, asking the tough where, when, who, how, and at what price questions. The answers were ready: Nielsen would continue his advisory role. The family's basement--equipped with power tools and workbenches--would serve as the construction shop. Cozzi would take a one-term break from his engineering studies to complete the rolling chassis. Body fabrication and painting would be farmed out to pros. There was a cost accounting, but Cozzi doesn't recall the amount he submitted to his father.
After due consideration, the project was approved in 1954 with two restrictions: Cozzi had to resume college after ninety days, and he wouldn't dare ask to drive in races.
Shortly thereafter, a wrecked 1953 Jaguar XK120M (blessed with a Special Equipment 180-hp engine) arrived in the family's driveway. The bones were quickly picked clean and Cozzi began a twelve-hours-per-day regimen of cutting, welding, and fabricating.
Like all ambitious projects, there were hitches and hallelujahs. A tidy ladder frame was built using 3.5-inch-diameter steel tubing. Chassis construction was finished on time, but the first body builder didn't pan out and the second one took three times longer than anticipated. The donor car's rear axle was bent, there was a glitch in the lubrication system, and the brakes initially felt spongy.
Sometime in between Nielsen's body-section drawings, panels power-hammered to shape in one day, and the final aluminum massage by master body sculptor Jack Hagemann, the fairy princess blessed the Cozzi Special with the beauty of line, form, and proportion that is always sought but rarely achieved.
After a coat of paint, Cozzi's car proved so dependable on weekend drives around San Francisco that he began considering a friend's suggestion to enter nearby road races. Nadeau Bourgeault, a local shoe with a sensitive touch, was tapped to drive.