Bob Cecchini poses next to his customized '56 Lincoln Mark II at his home in Hayward, Calif. on...



Bob Cecchini manipulates vintage Detroit steel the way a sculptor molds a lump of clay, working deftly to turn raw material into a work of art.

This artist's tools are a bit different: a cutting torch and welder, a garage full of machinery and a full-size auto lift. It's in this workshop that old cars begin their metamorphosis and rejuvenation.

Tops are chopped. Frames are cut. Fenders and fins are tweaked and stretched, and the process usually involves an injection of youth serum in the form of a high-powered engine and state-of-the-art gauges, suspension and electronics.

Cecchini doesn't draw out elaborate plans. "You have to change things as you go along," he said.

Behold his latest creation: "Simply Red," a 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II that first rolled off the production line when Cecchini, now 69, was a teenager.

A Mark II was always a dream machine. Only 3,000 were built, and the $10,000 coupe was the epitome of luxury, competing with top-of-the-line Cadillacs and even Rolls-Royces. It was far from an Everyman's car, unless that man was Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra, both of whom owned a Mark II.

But with Cecchini's modifications, it's truly one of a kind. The low and long brandywine-red coupe has a classic yet modern look, but vintage car aficionados will instantly realize there's something missing: the signature spare-tire trunk hump that has always been mandatory on a Lincoln Continental.

"Everyone said you can't take that off," said Cecchini, a Fairview resident. "I said that's the first thing that's got to go." That's the rebel in Bob. That's what got him into modifying cars in the first place.

He's been a hot rodder since his teen years, and participated in his first car show in 1962 with a supercharged convertible Chevy. He was doing a lot of work customizing motorcycles in the 1970s, even building a wild-looking ride for soul legend Isaac Hayes.

In 1979, one of his choppers was named the second-best custom vehicle in the nation. That designation included cars, which didn't sit so well with some of the four-wheel customizers.

"The guys were mad at me for winning with a motorcycle," he said. "One of them told me, 'Anyone can build a motorcycle.' I thought, well, what's the difference?

"I was fine building motorcycles until (car customizers) got funny with me," he said. "That made me think, 'Alright, I'll show you how to build a car!'"

He literally went for the gold with the "Golden Nugget," a '57 Chevy that was the reigning champ of the auto show circuit for years, winning 57 best-in-show titles and International Grand Champion honors across the nation.

He eventually sold the Nugget, which he estimates would be worth about $800,000 today.

Simply Red is more subdued, but since he finished it in July it has already won two awards — at last summer's Good Guys meet, in the "Coolest Custom" and "Slick and Smooth" categories. Cecchini is hoping for more wins at the San Francisco Rod, Custom and Motorcycle show at the Cow Palace in Daly City this weekend. But unlike the Nugget, which never put rubber on the road, he's been taking Simply Red out for trips near his house in Fairview, as well as his former San Leandro stomping grounds. "It handles fantastic, like a sports car," he said. "I took it to my 50th class reunion. Everyone else was driving a Toyota."

Article submitted by Joe Santiago...2/20/09