Mitch Lanzini  Lanzini Body Works

Hot Wheels
Then and now
By Eli Greenbaum

When it comes to pinpointing the source of car artist Mitch Lanzini’s remarkable talent, one has to look no further than his family tree.

The co-owner of Lanzini Body Works – his partner is his wife Tara—Mitch hails from an impressive artistic pedigree. His grandfather Angelo Lanzizni was an accomplished fresco artist, church muralist, and renowned portrait painter—he painted commissioned portraits of Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and President Bill Clinton as well as the official portrait of Pope John XXIII, which now resides in the Vatican Museum.

Angelo inspired two of Mitch’s uncles to carry on the family’s artistry and time-honored traditions through his California-based company Lanzini and Sons.

Angelo’s genes also passed on to Mitch. A proud product of the 1960’s, Mitch took his natural talent in a slightly different direction: he applied it to all things with wheels. As a kid in Whittier, Calif., Mitch played with Matchbox and Hot Wheels toys. He assembled whole bikes from scraps and pieces he found and, of course, sprayed them with paint. Then came the impact of The Munsters and Batman television shows. The Batmobile and the Munster Koach, TV creations by the radical “King of Kustomizers” George Barris, caught Mitch’s imagination. Barris subsequently had a huge influence on a young Mitch. Later in his career, American elite hot rod designer-builder-painter Boyd Coddington was a major influence. Mitch followed them closely as he developed his own talent.

As Mitch got older, his interest in all things automotive expanded. Hanging out with friends who worked in nearby body shops, he was educating himself about the work and was soon customizing motorcycles. He continued to try his hand at bigger projects and converted his own brand-new 1977 Datsun pickup truck into a dramatically modified custom “walk-through” vehicle that was so jaw-dropping it made the cover of Mini-Truck magazine.
Mitch’s interest in customizing reached a high point in 1993 when he decided he wanted a custom ’32 Ford Highboy Coupe built to his specifications. When he found out how much that would cost (a lot!), he decided to build it himself. He did, and with the money he saved, he and Tara set up the business that would become Lanzini Body Works in Huntington Beach, Calif. And they’ve been turning out great-looking work ever since.
Where some customizers specialize, Mitch likes to think of himself as a generalist (although he does love his candies and pearls) with a specialty for high-quality work. This versatile painter readily admits, “I’ll paint anything, and I have—surfboards, skateboards, bikes, helmets, guitars, even high-end artwork for a local artist—you name it. I rarely say no. I love to paint.” That love is evident as Mitch himself paints every project and job that comes into his shop. You just can’t tear the spray gun out of his hand.

But there is one aspect of car artistry that Mitch especially likes: Hi is a big fan of using tape to create special effects on the cars he customized. One in particular is this unique Classic Tape Shading Effect that’s reminiscent of a 50’s or 60’s lowrider or hot rot type of look. (To see how Mitch does it, please turn to page XX.) As Mitch says, “Tape has come a long way, and offers plenty of creative possibilities.”

Mitch’s versatility extends toward specialty paints and projects. Aside from customizing work, the shop does collision repair. He has also worked with military paint on commissions for government airplanes and a handful of top-secret armed forces projects. (Don’t ask, he won’t tell.) But it’s the picky customers that present Lanzini with the greatest and most satisfying challenges.

“As painters, we’re faced with so many variables that experience and knowledge become key contributors to turning out a successful project,” Mitch says. “We have to work with different kinds of surfaces from fiberglass and aluminum to steel and carbon, and all types of paint, a wide variety of materials, and the right support staff. These are all challenges, and customers’ expectations, I know they’ll be happy, and that’s the greatest compliment they can give me.”
Mitch has painted with lacquer, acrylic, enamel, urethane, and now water—all PPG products. In fact, he has been using PPG’s ENVIROBASE’ High Per system ever since it was introduced. He finds there’s a lot to like with the system. “I like that the number of components needed to create a quality finish is kept to an absolute minimum. I love the toners’ anti-settling properties—no agitation required, and the clearcoats are incredible. The DITZLER’ Custom Clear VC5700 is the bomb! It gives you a show car finish. I wouldn’t use anything else,” he enthuses.

For the record, Mitch’s mentors used PPG’s Ditzler paint and the high quality was always evident in the finished product. Respecting his mentors, he stayed with PPG. And his mentors respected him: Paul Stoll, PPG training instructor (now retired) and highly regarded in the custom world as the master of color (and proponent of taping), once invited Mitch to work with him spraying panels for PPG’s SEMA booth. A testament to the confidence PPG has in Mitch’s abilities.

Although Mitch doesn’t chase the top-tier industry awards (“A happy customer is more important than an award,” he says), they seem to find him nonetheless. Featuring Mitch’s shimmering gold paintwork, “Stella d’Oro”, a ’33 Speedstar coupe from Alloway’s Hot Rod Shop won Best in Class at Detroit’s Autorama in 2010. And his love of customizing and painting came through clearly on television when Mitch showcased his talents in five seasons—35 episodes—of Overhaulin’, starting in 2005.
Today, Lanzini Body Works takes up most of his and Tara’s time, but when Mitch gets a few minutes of his own, you may find him in his home recording studio. That’s where he might be playing one of his many guitars, two of which he built. A talented guitarist in his own right, if he wasn’t painting cars, Mitch would be playing guitar full time in a rock or blues band. For now, though, Mitch is keen to keep on painting and gets a huge kick out of the fact that Hot Wheels and Jada Toys have turned some of his designs into collectibles. Boys and their toys, eh?