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Slice of Life: What it's like to fix world's best cars

Published: Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 2:18 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Pasquale Roppo, owner of Geneva Auto Body (right), removes the front bumper of a Ferrari with the help of technician Georgi Tilev (left) in his Batavia shop.

BATAVIA – When Pasquale Roppo starts his day, he never knows what will drive through the doors of his shop – or, as is more likely the case, what will get towed into his service bays.

But while Roppo, owner of the Geneva Body Shop and Geneva Repair Shop, will perform work on any kind of car, he still loves when he can turn his attention to something with a few more horses under the hood than your typical suburban commuter ride.

“Will I test drive them? Of course,” said Roppo, a sly grin creasing his face. “It’s one of the best parts of the job.

“And I have customers who trust me, and want me to test drive it.”

Since 2010, Roppo has owned and operated the auto body shop on North Raddant Road, just north of Wilson Street, in Batavia.

Earlier this year, he expanded the business, opening the auto repair business to go with it.

But Roppo’s roots in auto repair go far deeper than the front office.

From his youth, Roppo has done little other than repair cars.

But not just any cars. Growing up in Bari, Italy, Roppo cut his teeth on some of the finest automobiles in the world, learning the intricacies and details that separate cars from the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and other European makes from others.

However, when Roppo immigrated to the U.S. in 2003, he found himself having to work his way up from the bottom. Following the path of millions of other immigrants who came before him, Roppo spent his first year in his new country learning English, sweeping floors and performing other menial chores in auto body shops.

Eventually, Roppo said he got his chance to begin working on the cars, as well as the floors.

“I was able to grab a spray gun, and show what I can do,” he said.

And throughout the years, he worked his way through the ranks, eventually using his savings and his savvy to purchase the Geneva Body Shop in 2010.

“I started with me and a painter,” Roppo said.  

In the years since, Roppo has grown the business, adding more employees and opening an automotive repair business in his building.

But the growth has been fueled in no small part by the ability of Roppo and his team to resurrect and restore high-performance automobiles that cost a lot of money.

Walking through the garage of his shop, Roppo points to several cars, telling the stories that explain how the rather expensive cars came to be in his shop.

One of the most unusual stories is that of a Maserati, which on this day was resting overhead on a hydraulic lift, awaiting work.

As Roppo tells it, one day, he got a call from someone representing a New York TV personality, who said the luxury vehicle had been involved in a crash in Illinois. After some bad experiences at other body shops in the Chicago area, the owner eventually heard of Roppo’s shop.

“He called me, said he had done some research, and said, ‘We want you to be the guy to save this car,’ ” Roppo said. “It meant a lot.”

Elsewhere in the garage, he points to a Lamborghini under a dropcloth – or what was left of the car. 

He said the car had been raced, and crashed, destroying the back end. To restore the car, Roppo had to special order parts from Italy. Most had arrived, but he still was waiting on others.

Other cars in the shop included a Ferrari, as well as an assortment of classic American muscle cars being restored.

In all, Roppo estimated about 20 percent to 25 percent of his business comes from owners of these “exotic” automobiles, whose owners come from the Tri-Cities, as well as elsewhere in the Chicago area.

“It’s a regular, constant flow,” he said. 

But another large and growing portion of his business comes from customizations, particularly custom paint.

He boasted that some automakers “hate” him because he has the ability to “match any color,” even those for which the automaker will not provide a paint code.

“We can put anything, any color, any tint, on any car, and make it look like it was born that way,” he said.

He noted his recent experience “blacking out” a Cadillac Escalade – essentially replacing all chrome with black metal.

“We drove this thing to its owner, and you should have seen the people staring,” Roppo said.

Roppo said he has built his business to appeal to such big-ticket car owners specifically because he said he brings the skills and equipment needed to fix any car.

“A flaw or blemish that might not even raise an eyebrow from a typical car owner, will make the owner of one of these babies go crazy,” Roppo said. “I know that; I respect that.

“It’s why they trust me.”

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