Richard Mario Bertolucci
February 20, 1929 – October 12, 2021
Sacramento, California – Richard Mario (“Dick”) Bertolucci was born on February 20, 1929 in Sacramento, California. He was the only child of loving parents Mario and Mary Bertolucci, and he was the center of their world.
His father was an auto mechanic and shared his passion for mechanics with Dick at an early age. Dick spent his childhood building model airplanes and participating in flying competitions. He learned more about model airplanes at his first job at the age of 12 in a model airplane shop on K Street, where he rode his bike every day after school.
Dick saved almost every penny from the job and dumped his wages in his dresser in his bedroom, which he shared with his northern Italian grandmother Nonna Angelina. At the age of thirteen, with his father’s permission, he bought his first car, a 1933 Chevy Roadster, which he spotted in a used car park in downtown Sacramento for $ 125. The first thing he and his father did was swap out the engine for a bigger one and so develop his passion for drag racing. This was the first of many auto projects Dick would undertake in his lifetime.
Dick went to Sacramento High School, where he graduated in 1947. The following year, on August 8, 1948, Dick married the love of his life Beverly June Osborne (Bev) at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in North Sacramento. Although Bev was only 17 and he was 19 at the time, they shared nearly 72 years of marriage together until Bev died in 2020.
Dick was very proud of his country and always called America “the best country in the world”. After graduating from Sac High, he joined the US Navy Reserves. He served for nearly six years, spending his weekends training other young men in his welding trade, a skill that was scarce at the time. He served in the US Navy Reserve Training Facility near the Sacramento River and Broadway in the early 1950s.
Dick and Bev founded their soon-to-be-large family in 1953 and soon became the proud parents of five daughters and one son. He enjoyed family time in the pool, Easter egg hunt at the Dante Club, practiced Little League, built and raced hillclimb motorbikes, speedboats and water-skiing with the family on Lake Tahoe and Folsom Lake in the boat he built, the “Oh Boy” . ! ‘. He was very active in the Sacramento Valley region of the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America for years and loved touring the country to show off his cars, often winning Best of Show and People’s Choice for its recently restored classic beauty . In 1980, Dick returned to the vintage drags racetrack in the 1980s with his custom built vintage dragster, the “X-100”. He wanted to hold the world record in the class he loved most – inline six-cylinder. He raced well into his 80s and always wanted to get faster.
The establishment of Bertolucci’s Body & Fender Shop
When Dick and Bev got home from their honeymoon in 1948, they found a friend’s 1941 Chevy in their driveway who offered him $ 75 to do a full custom job on his car. And that’s how it started! Dick began customizing cars for his friends in his parents’ garage on U Street, Sacramento. After the first six months of work, the neighbors started complaining about the noise and activity, so he rented a 2-car garage on 21st and on Broadway. From this location he worked for two and a half years with custom-made products and painting. It was here that he built the car that made its fame in the custom car world – the 1940 Bud Ohanesian Mercury, known as one of the best custom cars in the world.
Due to Dick’s growing reputation for outstanding quality work, the business quickly outgrew the location. Then he moved to a 4 car garage on 65th and Folsom. Here his reputation and demand for his business for customization and paint quality continued to grow and he hired his first employee. It wasn’t long before the demand for his business began to grow beyond this location again. At that time, Dick was moving his business to the more formal body shop on 34th Street, where the business was being converted to repairing car accidents. In 1957, Dick bought the site, and in 1959 he added a 4,800-square-foot, hinged paint shop. Although Dick did mostly crash repairs, he continued to customize cars for the California Autorama. By that time, Bertolucci’s Body & Fender Shop had built a reputation for being the premier custom paint shop in Sacramento.
In 1971 Dick bought the two acre city block around the corner, 33rd and Stockton Boulevard. At this location, Dick opened the large capacity store now known to greater Sacramento residents in 1979, using the previous location on 34th Street for additional body and paint jobs as needed. Today, over 73 years later, the Bertolucci family continues to employ the best paint and body technicians to keep Dick’s dream alive.
Throughout his life, Dick was honored regularly for his contributions to the automotive world. And in the past few decades, Dick Bertolucci has become legendary in custom car circles. He was a founding member of the Capitol Auto Club (now known as Thunderbolts Capital Auto Club), which is believed to be the oldest ever-meeting street rod club in the country. Dick founded the Sacramento Autorama with the other Capital Auto Club in 1950. The Sacramento Autorama is the second longest indoor car show in the world and features the best hot rods, custom cars and motorcycles ever.
In late 1999, the Sacramento Autorama awarded a new recognition, the “Dick Bertolucci Automotive Excellence” Award, to any contestant on a 1972 or older hot rod or custom car that met Dick’s personal criteria for assembly, fit, finish and detail. The first award winner was named in 2000, and this annual Autorama award continues to this day. On February 6, 2000, Dick was inducted into the Sacramento Autorama Legends Hall of Fame. Dick was also the recipient of the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Builder of the Year Award. And in 2020, Dick was honored to be named “Builder of the Decade” at the annual Sacramento Autorama.
Dick was also honored as a “Hot Rod Hero” at the Good-Guys Rod & Custom Association Southwest Nationals event at the prestigious Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California in May 2005. Dick was also inducted into the Grand National Roadster Show (GNRS) Hall of Fame in Pomona, California in January 2009 for “Outstanding Pioneer in the creative auto-building sport”.
In 2010 Dick was honored to be the guest of the Sacramento Living Library series, offered by Time Tested Books of Sacramento, in which he spoke about the early days of Sacramento’s “Kustom” and the racing car scene.
Over the years, Dick’s story of his custom car work and hot rod roots have been featured in countless magazines. Some examples are Rod & Custom (October 1989 issue), Cruisin ‘News (November 1999), and Rodder’s Journal (number seventy-one).
Dick died peacefully in the early hours of October 12, aged 92. He was preceded in death by his lifelong love Beverly, who passed away in 2020. Mother Mary and father Mario also preceded him in death.
He leaves behind his six children Terri (Ed Parra), Tina (John Hamrick II), Vince Bertolucci, Tami Brousseau (Steve Schuler), Trudi (Ken Balestreri) and Tracy (Phil Balestreri), the grandchildren Angela, Michael, Lisa, John III , Brittany, Nicholas, Loni, Ryan, Holly, Donald, Joseph, Jennifer, Christy, Gannon, Skye, Danielle, Anthony, Molly, Mary and Samuel and great-grandchildren Jamie and Emery. He is also survived by his close in-laws Carlo and Sharon Taylor and brother-in-law Jim, Bob and Mike Osborne.
The funeral will take place on November 2nd at 10:00 am at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in 3235 Arden Way, Sacramento. Immediately after the service there is a celebration of Dick’s life. For more information, please send an email [email protected] for location and details.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to St. Ignatius Loyola’s Catholic Church in Sacramento, California or Shriners Hospital for Children – Northern California.
Published by The Sacramento Bee on October 24, 2021.