The driving event that honors a mechanic’s life

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Participants began arriving early, turning the lawn into a wonderful car show.

I like to think that Domenico Spadaro would have approved of my 1968 Rover 2000 TC; though my British sedan is not as coveted as some of the exotic Italian machinery that made its way into his shop, Dominick’s European Car Repair, I imagine he would have appreciated its adventurous engineering, refined style, and use of the kind of materials that were meant to last. In fact, he probably wrenched on any number of Rovers during his long career in New York’s Westchester County. By all accounts, he was not one to turn away a customer in need.

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Conversation flows amid the purr of engines as the cars begin to line up for departure.

It’s the memory of Domenico Spadaro, a man I never met, that’s brought the Rover and me to the village of Armonk, along with a few hundred other car enthusiasts and a dazzling array of cars, many of which benefited from Domenico’s careful ministrations. This is the day of the Domenico Spadaro Memorial Drive Against Cancer, organized by his children, Santo, Frank, and Vera, who now run the shop. This day is set aside for honoring the honest work of a talented mechanic with a drive in the country that raises money to do some good in the world.

“Dad’s mantra was always friends, family, food, and a pleasant ride in the country…we did it all to honor him,” Santo has said. This annual running of the memorial drive is the eighth, and it’s succeeded in raising more than $15,000 for cancer research, while bringing friends together for a day of camaraderie, good food, good music, and excellent roads.

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Two of Jaguar’s’s finest, an E-type and an XK140.

This isn’t one of those sorts of rallies where you have to make it to a checkpoint within a certain window of time, but it does come with a set of turn-by-turn instructions — and a warning against simply following the lead of the car in front, whose driver might or might not make the right turns. Organizers try to find navigators for drivers who arrive solo, like me, and it’s my good fortune to be paired up with Nicholas, who’s working as an apprentice this summer at Dominick’s.

Nick, courteous and polite, expresses his interest in the Rover, though, when questioned, he admits that something from later in the 20th century — a second-generation VW GTI, specifically — is on his wish list for the day when he gets his license. He’s good at both conversation and watching for street signs, and we don’t put a wheel wrong once on the course. That course, incidentally, twists and turns around itself like a plate of linguini, which means that we frequently get to see other parts of our colorful little parade coming toward us in the other lane.

 

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Jeffrey Prisco, who restored these three pristine Fiat spiders, was honored with the event’s first “Spirit of the Drive” award.

I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask him, but I’ll bet that Nick is fully aware that he and Domenico Spadaro have at least one thing in common: their automotive apprenticeships. When Domenico was a boy, growing up in Depression-era Sicily, his father arranged for him to be trained as a cabinetmaker, hoping to launch him into a secure trade. But young Domenico had ideas of his own. One day, instead of putting on his woodworker’s apron, he made his way over to a local garage, where he got himself hired as an apprentice mechanic.

He had a natural aptitude for the work, and within four years was running a garage of his own, with six apprentice mechanics. He applied one, high standard to all his work, no matter how humble or exalted the machinery, and developed a reputation as someone who could be trusted with Italy’s most sophisticated automobiles: Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, and, especially, Lancias.

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This V-4-powered Lancia Aprilia, the last design by company founder Vincenzo Lancia, was just the sort of car Domenico Spadaro might have worked on in his native Italy.

It was love that brought Domenico to the United States. He met his future wife, Tindara just as she was about to leave to join other members of her family in the U.S.; when she returned in 1953, the two married, and crossed the Atlantic together. Domenico knew little English, but his skills with a wrench gained him a job with a European car dealership called International Motors in the Westchester County town of White Plains. It was then that he allowed his name to be Anglicized, to Dominick.

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Beloved European sports cars from across the decades beautified the parking lot at Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard in New Salem, N.Y., the midway stop for the drive.

His ability to minister to cars of all types gained him a reputation. Friends still tell the story of the time he got a particularly bad-running Jaguar XK120 running sweetly, despite never having laid hands on one of Coventry’s twin-cam XK straight-sixes before, simply by applying what he’d learned from working on other engines. In 1961, Domenico succeeded in opening his own shop, Dominick’s European Car Repair.

“Like us, he was a hands on kind of a guy, and he was a one-man band,” Domenico’s son Santo has said. Domenico’s wrenches were always in demand, and he needed to be left to his work; This wasn’t the kind of shop where hangers-on were welcome to drop by and shoot the breeze. Though it was not in his nature to romance them, his customers came to love Domenico anyway.

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The Lancia Aurelia B10 is a pillarless, four-door sedan that features a rear-mounted transaxle and the world’s first production V-6 engine.

Domenico suffered a stroke in 1995; to his doctors’ surprise, he was back rebuilding engines and reassembling gearboxes within a few weeks. “The best therapy was the focus of the garage,” Santo has said. He worked at his shop until two days before his death, in 2009. The outpouring of grief was spontaneous, and genuine.

Santo, Frank, and Vera have inherited both the shop, and their dad’s approach to business, which these days includes such things as restorations, repairs, and preparing cars for vintage races. The work is approached with an attitude of deep respect — for the cars, for the customers, and, most of all, for Domenico’s legacy.

  • Addendum: I’ve since learned that Domenico owned a 2000 TC, and loved the car.

 

 

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