What the heck kind of car is this? I've been in the car business all my adult life, and I had no idea what it was when I first saw it at the Danville Hot Summer Nights car show. I had to find out.
Danville resident and proud owner David Pygeorge informed me that his car started as a 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV, then it was customized and is now known as a Bugazzi. He acquired it in 1995.
"It was in bad shape, all rusted. It was abandoned on top of a hill in Sparks, Nev., he said. "I started to strip it down, but ended up letting it sit in storage until 2010; then I decided that I was going to finish what I had in mind, which was to restore this car but also make some changes."
That was a difficult task because the Bugazzi was a concept car by General Motors designer Harry Bentley Bradley. There were only 11 Lincoln Bugazzi vehicles built. Pygeorge said that three were built by Joe Bailon and eight, including Pygeorge's car, by George Barris and his company, California Coach Builders of Hollywood. Only two are left today.
"In 1973, the top of the line Lincoln Continental Mark IV sold for $7,000-plus, and the Lincoln Bugazzi sold for between $35,000 and $40,000," Pygeorge said.
That's the equivalent of $185,000 to $215,000 today. The price plus the fact the car was pretty gaudy made for a limited market.
So, who were the buyers of such a car? According to Pygeorge it was The Rat Pack -- Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop -- all owned a Bugazzi. There was another well-known individual who thought the Bugazzi fit his image -- Joe Conforte, the owner of the Mustang Ranch and other brothels in Nevada. It is Conforte's car that Pygeorge now owns, restored and modified.
Doing about 50 percent of the work himself, Pygeorge took about a year to restore the Bugazzi. The first thing he needed was a donor car. He needed the front fenders and the trunk lid.
"I wanted to keep it as close to the original Bugazzi as possible but still make the changes that make it more inviting and prettier than it had been," he said.
The running gear is all standard for the 223-inch long 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV.
"It has a 460-cubic-inch V-8 engine with the C6 automatic transmission," Pygeorge said, "plus all the luxury equipment that was available at that time including an AM/FM radio with an eight-track tape player. It also has the original car phone from Nevada Bell that had a rotary dial."
The 4,900-pound car sits on the standard 120.4-inch wheelbase and would get 8 to 10 mpg¿.
Even though this Bugazzi has only 57,000 miles, a lot of mechanical work was done during the restoration and customizing. New belts, hoses, spark plugs, and wiring plus rebuilding the carburetor, were among the tasks accomplished.
Then Pygeorge got into the fun part of the project. He lowered the car about six inches. "I restyled the front and back end of the car. I extended the front end by eight inches and the back by six."
The front and rear fenders have a suggested Delahaye look as Pygeorge is an ardent admirer of the French luxury carmaker.
"The interior is period correct, redone with peanut butter--colored leather and a tan and gold brocade. It has a center console running from the dash to the rear package tray that includes a Brandy decanter and glasses built into the console. The interior arm rests are color-coordinated granite as is the top of the front to rear console.
The fabulous $22,000 paint job is a special PPG blend applied by Art Himsi Paint Studio in Concord. The colors are Gold Pearl in clear coat with Ice Pearl added, shaded with light tan pin striping and a hand graphic on the truck lid. The car has a peanut butter-colored padded vinyl roof that matches the interior.
There are too many unique features to mention, but most noticeable is the enormous grille, the floating headlights and how Pygeorge styled the rear of the car by combining two Lincoln Continental deck lids.
The project was completed in 2009, and naturally Pygeorge wanted to see how it would do in competitive car shows.
"It went through the show circuit for all the indoor car shows like the Grand National, the oldest car show in the world, and it won every award there is to win," he said.
There's not much chance that the original owner will ever get to see how good his now 6,000-pound Bugazzi looks today. According to The Las Vegas Review Journal, Conforte fled to Brazil in 1991, allegedly owing the IRS $13 million in back taxes. So far, he has refused the government's invitation to return.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com