We first met Bernie, Simeon, and Adam Chodosh over a cappuccino in BarItalia in Soho, London a few weeks ago. Less than five minutes into themeeting it seemed as though we had known Bernie for years. And the carstories just flowed.
Bernie is a 52-year-old Brit who's been into American cars and racingsince he was 13. His love for the hot-rod scene and the cars thatcomprise it started when he traveled from his home in England toCalifornia with his parents in the early '60s. "I saw these amazing carswith bits taken off them exposing the wheels and engines, and that wasit," he says, smiling as if it were yesterday. "So, as soon has I wasold enough, I started to race cars, and I've been mucking about withYank cars ever since."
At the age of 16, he started to race karts. A year later he obtained hisdriver's license, which allowed him to race down the nearest dragstripin whatever car he happened to get his hands on. "Back then," he says,grinning again, "you raced whatever you were driving--we all did. I got the bug in a big way, and it's still with me," he laughs.
That same year, Bernie bought his first American car, an early '60sDodge Dart with a 318 under the hood. "I got it because it looked like acool American car," he says. Insurance was high even then for a17-year-old, so as his passion for hot rods developed, Bernie boughtcars that were stripped down to at least look fast even if they weren't.There followed a succession of American cars--including a '32 Fordthree-window coupe, an E83 woodie, and a '28 Model A two-door sedan--mostof which Bernie hot-rodded after purchase.
Even then, one of his favorite cars was the Corvette. "I've always likedVettes, but as a kid I never thought I'd own one. Back in the '60s and'70s they were always out of the price range of us normal Joes," hesays. "To run a Corvette back in the day, you had to be a film star or anight-club owner or entertainer--you know, people like that."
In the early '80s Bernie started to bring in cars from the States andsell them in the UK. He remembers finding himself in some out-of-the-wayplace in the middle of America, buying an old '55 Chevy or the like thathe could sell back home for 2,500 to 5,000 pounds. He suddenly realizedhe could expend the same amount of effort buying and sellingbetter-quality cars that would sell for 10,000 pounds or more. The onlydifference was the initial outlay of cash. Once Bernie worked that out,he started looking exclusively for Corvettes, and his love affair withChevrolet's two-seat sports car began in earnest.
We asked him if he ever considered keeping any of the Corvettes hebought. "Sometimes," he replied. "I used to buy around four or fiveCorvettes at any one time, and, on one trip, one of the cars I got was aCoddington Corvette." He then described in great detail the black-on-red'56 convertible. "This car was beautiful, and I decided to keep it.Anyway, four months down the line some geezer made me an offer Icouldn't refuse. And to be truthful, I've never been able to hold on toanything like that."
The need for speed took over in the late '70s when Bernie got his handson an old Vette engine and spent the next few months messing around withit. "Yeah, I remember taking it down the strip and thinking I'd donepretty good running 13s," he laughs. "Then the next guy would go and runa second-and-a-half quicker. I thought, That's not a big difference, Ican do that. But we all know it's more difficult than it sounds.
"But, I'll tell you, those guys back then knew what they were doing.They really knew their engineering and how to massage the last ounce ofpower out of their engines."
One day in the late '80s, a friend suggested to Bernie they go toSilverstone to watch some circuit racing. In one of the races, Bernienoticed a '69 big-block Corvette on the front row. As the race started,he looked at his friend and said, "That's the car for me," and neverlooked back.