When you teach a seminar every year in the same city, you get to meet some interesting people, and some of them become friends, like John Bozzi (figure 1) of Trans-O-Matic in West Irving Park, just outside of Chicago (figure 2).
John was a veteran of the industry for over 60 years; he passed away in 2014. Before he passed, we were out together one night before the seminar and he wanted to show me something he was working on. He took me to this old building in Des Plaines — just outside of Chicago — that looked like it was condemned (figure 3).
Then he started to tell me how he was going to raise the roof over 20 feet and install lifts that could handle buses and dump trucks. This building looked like a nightmare and I thought John was crazy. Unfortunately, John passed away just a year before he finished his dream.
John loved working on driveshafts, manual transmissions, and differentials. I remember one time, while I was hanging out at the shop, John had me follow him over to a building they rebuilt across the street. It not only stored cores; it had a couple bays in it, too.
They had a Dodge Sprinter on the rack and his mechanic was waiting for John to put the finishing touches on the differential he was rebuilding. No differential left the shop until John gave it a last “once over.”
He looked at his mechanic and said, “You see that? That’s called ‘mechanic’s feel’; something you learn after many years of rebuilding differentials.” If it spins more than one turn, it’s too loose; less one turn it’s too tight. It was something I’ve seen a lot of the old timers do and they never have a problem with a differential.
His favorite transmissions to work on were Allisons; you couldn’t pry him away from them; probably the main reason for the extra height; extra-large garage doors (10 in all); and the multiple, heavy-duty, 40,000-pound lifts already on order before the building was even finished. They were installed eventually, with one extended long bay for buses and one shorter one for dump trucks. As John would say, go big or go home.
John’s children discussed whether they should sell the property unfinished and cut their losses. This was part of John’s life: not just rebuilding transmissions, but also rebuilding buildings. He loved being a building contractor. They weren’t sure.
Gino, his son, who grew up working with his Dad and worked in the shop since he was old enough to push a broom, helped his Dad build another existing structure in the early ’90s — Forest Preserve Drive — just across the street from the shop. He was only 12 at the time, but learned many of life’s lessons from his Dad from that. It’s a second building Trans-O-Matic has, where they store inventory cores like no other transmission shop.
After much thought and planning, Gino just couldn’t let it go and took over the project to finish his father’s dream (figure 4). Then winter came and, as you know, winter can get pretty bad in the Chicago area (figure 5). That didn’t slow Gino down; he kept with it and turned on the speed when spring arrived.
The building was finished in February 2015. It took him less than a year to finish his dad’s dream. With the new building, Gino came up with a new company logo. It has a picture of an old racecar, because Gino thought his dad would have liked that (figure 6).
With his new building (figure 7), complete with its 20-foot plus extended roof and new logo, Gino set out to solicit new accounts with heavy-duty vehicles. There’s one bay with a heavy-duty lift designed exclusively for these types of vehicles (figure 8).
No other aftermarket shop in the area is equipped for this type of work. The lack of local competition made it easier to sell these accounts. Gino even sponsored a local boxing event to advertise his new venture (figure 9).
One of the first vehicles to go onto this new lift was a full-size tour bus (figure 10). It wasn’t long before other accounts started to arrive, such as food caterers and even United Airlines (figures 11 and 12). Although the extended roof isn’t necessary for stretch limousines, the extra-long, heavy-duty lift does come in handy (figure 13).
Gino hired a rebuilder with 20 years experience, specifically for working on these types of transmissions. The rest of the shop is set up for the usual transmission work (figure 14).
There are a total of nine bays in the shop, with extra room to expand to more lifts for everyday transmission work (figures 15 and 16). The back of the building is rented to AJ’s Auto: a general repair shop that was already there for 15 years, and was waiting patiently to move back in (figure 17).
Although this picture (figure 18) shows Gino physically doing some of the actual labor himself, I somehow feel it was taken just for show. Nevertheless, he did what every good son should do: He never gave up on the dream. I’m sure his dad John is watching him with a great big smile.