Noe Valley Voice July-August 2005

Rare Antique Vehicle Stolen from Douglass Street

By Lorraine Sanders

There is just one thing Ron Bertolozzi doesn't like about his hobby restoring classic cars: parking them. Finding street parking for the four to six cars he has in his possession at any one time is a constant headache, so much so that he has paid friends to park them for him. Since Memorial Day weekend, however, the car enthusiast has had one less vehicle to park.

That might sound like a welcome relief for Bertolozzi, a retired steel worker who grew up in the Noe Valley apartment he lives in today. It isn't.

"I've been pulling my hair out about it," Bertolozzi says.

On May 29, Bertolozzi's prized vehicle, an electric-blue restored 1930 Model A Ford delivery panel truck, disappeared while parked at the corner of Douglass and Jersey streets, less than a block from his home. Bertolozzi says he last saw the vehicle around 10 o'clock in the morning. When he went to check on it around 2 p.m., it was gone.

The truck, which is emblazoned with the words "Pimp Juice," was a familiar fixture in the neighborhood. Though the gray-haired Bertolozzi, 55, looks like the most unlikely of rap music fans, he explains that he was inspired to add the cheeky phrase to his car windows after hearing hip-hop artist Nelly's song of the same name.

"Everybody that comes by it checks it out," says Tom Nichols, Bertolozzi's friend and fellow car hobbyist.

Bertolozzi searched for a Model A Ford truck for three years before finding one in the condition he wanted and purchasing it in 2002. The cars were manufactured for only three years, from 1928 to 1931.

"I looked for a long time. I liked the way they looked," he says.

Designed for transporting and selling ice during the late 1920s, the truck has its original all-steel body--rare for an antique vehicle--and custom blue-velour interiors. Bertolozzi says his plan was to keep the car and display it at car shows.

Over the past three years, he estimates that he has spent six months of 40-hour work-weeks tinkering on the car. He's sunk $15,000 into the interiors alone, and puts the car's total value at around $25,000.

Perhaps the most puzzling part of the truck's disappearance is how the thief got it started.

"It's very hard to start," Bertolozzi says. "If you don't start it on the first crank, the battery goes dead."

Jump-starting the car poses even more of a challenge.

"To jump it, there's a lot of things you've got to do," says Nichols. "You've got to move the seat. You've got to know where [the battery] is. It's not just under the hood."

Because of the car's finicky nature, the easiest way to transport the car would have been via tow truck, Bertolozzi says.

The truck was so unusual-looking that Bertolozzi suspects it is either being kept inside a garage or has already been stripped for parts. Though Bertolozzi filed a police report after the truck's disappearance, he doesn't have much hope that the police will find it.

"All they've got to look for it is my description," he says.

The truck was made before vehicle identification numbers became standard features. Because his restorations were not complete, Bertolozzi had not yet been able to register or get license plates for the vehicle.

Bertolozzi is offering a $3,000 reward for the return of the truck, and $2,000 more if the truck is accompanied by information leading to the arrest of the person who took it.

For now, all Bertolozzi can do is put up flyers and hope someone calls. "I feel like I've been violated--like somebody took a part of me," he says.

Adds his friend Nichols: "He put it together. It's his baby."

Anyone with information about the truck can reach Ron Bertolozzi at 415-282-6261.