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In March 2020 when COVID-19 took hold of the world, schools shut down, non-essential businesses paused and vehicle traffic ground to a halt, a body shop owner in Boston thought outside of the box and found a new revenue stream.
Luzo Auto Body in Boston, Mass., was founded in 1967 by Victor Pinheiro’s grandfather, an immigrant from Portugal. Pinheiro’s father joined the company a year later and ran it for decades. Victor grew up around the shop, and when he graduated from college in 1986, he joined the company full-time. In 2005, he became the president of Luzo Auto Body.
With no traffic, no chaos and very few accidents, Pinheiro was not hearing the purr of disc orbital sanders, the sputter-pop sounds of MIG welders, the clink of air ratchets or the ping of hammers striking metal. Sending members of his talented 14-member staff home was a last resort that, fortunately, he never had to do.
How did Pinheiro manage to keep his staff busy? He thought outside the box. After all, he had the supplies, just very few cars. So, he used social media to promote spray painting almost anything that could stand still. This led to large amounts of yard furniture coming in for paint, which helped keep his team busy amidst the lagging collision work.
His next idea was to build a fun project that would bring out his staff’s creativity: converting circa-2000 Jeep Cherokees into island lifestyle-themed vehicles.This gave birth to Island Cruiser No. 1 and, eventually, Island Cruiser No. 2. The staff gained inspiration for these Island Cruiser projects from their proximity to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. So, naturally, beaches, fishing, surfing and boating had to be part of this concept.
For No. 1, Pinheiro and his staff started with summer and beach colors, having Jimmy Buffet on their minds. Soon, teal became the color of choice for the body of hull No. 1. They painted the roof white to give it a mid-1970s Ford Bronco look. Then, it was screaming for more retro, so they decided to give it woody side panels. This led to fashioning real ash wood trim moldings and a tailgate handle — something not seen since the 1940s — to surround the teak vinyl center. They put a roof cargo basket on the OEM rack and strapped a surfboard to it. Then, they attached stainless steel fishing rod holders to the front bumper. However, well before they got through their final punch list, someone saw the vehicle and just had to have it, so … it was sold — despite not being quite finished.
The Luzo Auto Body staff’s project car caught the eye of Cisco Brewery & Kitchen, a local brewery with a surfing/seaside theme. And so, Island Cruiser No. 2 was born — but this time with a purpose. They produced an almost identical vehicle with the exception of a client-selected color scheme: orange with a cream roof and grill — a throwback to the 1974 Ford Bronco. Pinheiro was not too excited about the color choice, but it did grow on him as the project progressed. Once they added the sea-blue Cisco logo decals, the color scheme was spot on.
“Let it be known: The customer is always right,” said Pinheiro.
They recently delivered Island Cruiser No. 2 to Cisco’s New Bedford property, complete with a Christmas tree and surfboard on the roof, and it appears to be a hit.
Pinheiro believes his shop is on to something special, so they have started on yet another project: Island Cruiser No. 3, though the colors and details are yet to be determined.
Even though business is back to almost normal, Pinheiro has injected new excitement into his staff with new creative projects.
“It just goes to show that sometimes, a business reset can create new opportunities, if you can continue to look forward,” Pinheiro says.