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Monessen native makes his mark restoring, re-energizing classic cars

| Saturday, June 12, 2004

Since his high school years, Romeo Furio II has been a hot rod at heart.

The 1975 Monessen High School graduate, now 48 years old, has become a recognized auto restoration expert on a national level.

Furio moved to Boulder City, Nev., 13 years ago to pursue his true love - vehicle modification.

Through his company, Relic Racing, Furio spends most of his time reinventing classic cars by souping up their appearances and making them more powerful.

From the first project on, the business venture has been successful.

"Whenever we put the first car together, a lot of the manufacturers liked it. They offered us sponsorship for another and it's gone from there," Furio siad.

"I never planned on any of this happening."

Furio's work has since appeared in some of the country's top hot rod magazines.

He said his vehicles are not overly jazzed up on the outside, but they pack a punch under the hood.

"We build what we call drivers. These are cars that not only look good, but they perform well. They're mega powerful, 600-horsepower plus cars," he said.

Furio occasionally races vehicles, but spends most of his time revamping and driving his creations.

He was on the road promoting his business this week on a seven-day tour that featured more than 4,000 vehicles and stops in Dallas, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; Springfield, Miss.; Davenport, Iowa; Chicago, Ill., and Green Bay, Wis.

Furio said the Speed Channel's cable television show "Rides" was filming his tour for a special program.

During the road trip, Furio was riding in style in his pride and joy - a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere, which he calls a "work in progress" but soon will be a masterpiece.

He said each vehicle project is a demanding commitment.

"It's not something that you do in a month or two. I started on (the Belvedere) in 2002. I want to have it done in 2006," he said.

And Furio is not afraid to road test his work.

"I put 10,000 miles on this car driving it across country since I've been working on it," Furio said of the Belvedere.

Furio's creations are hot on the market.

He sold one of his custom models to professional baseball player Reggie Jackson.

Looking back on his childhood, Furio said he was unsure what to do for a living.

He recalled being uncomfortable growing up in an agricultural setting.

"I never grew up expecting to be a farmer. It wasn't my forte," he said.

Furio recalled taking auto shop classes at Monessen High School under the direction of Mario Santacolombo.

"A lot of times I think I kind of owe this all to him for giving me a push in the right direction," Furio said of his teacher.

After working at a few Mon Valley auto shops and later for a building components company in Irwin, Furio decided it was time to hit the road to pursue his dream.

"There's more out there in being able to find old cars and a lot of the manufacturers are from the Arizona, California and New Mexico areas," he said.

Furio said he tries to return to Monessen whenever possible, sometimes in one of his vehicles.

"I come back every year," he said. "Matter of fact, I'll be there in a couple of days. When (the tour) is over, I'm going to drive to Monessen."

Thinking about the detour his life took once he left the Mon Valley, Furio recalled a job interview he had years ago.

"I remember going, when I was a teenager, to a job interview," he said.

"The guy asked where I wanted to be in five years. It took me 25 years, but that's where I'm at now."

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