One thing the world lacks these days are characters. Charismatic, old school guys who never do or say a commonplace thing, whose every move is witty or ironic, and who are not afraid of an off-color joke and a cocktail or three. Marc Lasky is a character.
A big bear of a guy with silver hair and a thunderous speaking voice that is constantly carrying anecdotes aloft, a look at Marc and you wouldn’t pick him out as one of the premier auto restoration guys in Los Angeles. But he is.
An avid lover of cars, motorcycles and all things mechanical, he has devoted nearly forty years to the craft of bringing vehicles back to showroom condition. Moreover, he does so with the kind of patience, love, and perfectionism that betrays how long he’s been doing it and suggests there really isn’t anything else he was put on this planet to do.
Marc was born in Hollywood, California in 1952. He grew up in Beverly Hills with his father, a physician and pathologist; his mother, a teacher, and two brothers. His father was an avid fan of music, so all three of the Lasky boys were expected to learn an instrument early on. When the senior Lasky asked Marc which instrument he planned to take up, he told his father that nothing less than the hardest instrument to master, the French horn, would do.
“It was an early indication that I naturally gravitated towards highly technical things,” recalls Marc. His natural talent led to him performing as a boy on the Art Linkletter Show, his first, but not last taste of Hollywood.
Having an appreciation of music instilled in him at a young age would also prove to be significant when his teenage years coincided with the rise of rock music and the sixties counterculture movement, both of which were in part based at his very doorstep.
“I loved rock music. Just loved it. And one of the hearts of the sixties music scene was Hollywood, of course. The Sunset Strip was the thing in those days. Every night the clubs like the Whisky-a-Go-Go, Pandora’s Box, The Trip, and others were just packed with kids who were there to see the bands.”
Those bands just happened to turn out to be some of the most seminal in the history of popular music.
“I saw Jim Morrison play with The Doors two whole years before they were famous,” Marc remembers. “Caught Led Zeppelin at the Whisky in ’68 before anyone knew who Jimmy Page or Robert Plant was, saw Jimi Hendrix at the Hollywood Bowl when the hippie girls were jumping into the fountains at the foot of the stage. Even if a good band wasn’t playing on a given night, my buddy Jeff and I would cruise the Strip a hundred times a night in his ’69 Camaro. Great times…”
In school, Marc found himself distracted. “I always wanted to be doing something else, something mechanical I could tinker with. I built a mini-bike all by myself in junior high, things like that. I gravitated towards classes in school like metal shop, electric shop and wood shop, and didn’t know what to do with math or history.”
His boredom and distraction at school came to a swift end entering ninth grade, though when he discovered that his new high school offered an auto shop class.
“Ah, Mr. Peel’s auto-shop class. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.” Lasky remembers fondly. “It was literally an epiphany. Like, ‘Ah-ha! This is what I want to do with my life!’ He was such a great teacher too. The first day of school, he walks into class, puts his bag down, and tells a dirty joke. I loved him right away. My kind of guy! He then gave us a bunch of tools and torches, led us to a 1952 Mercury and said ‘take that thing down to the ground and learn how a car works.’ I’ll never forget that…”
Marc took to auto repair like a fish to water. “School just wasn’t for me,” Lasky recalls adding that after graduation and a lengthy period of carefree living followed by a series of jobs in the antique picking and restoration business, he finally decided to get serious with an aborted stab at higher education at Cal State Northridge.
“Antiques gave me an appreciation for all things vintage. Metal things, wood things, glass things. I learned to appreciate them and to recondition them, and at the same time, make a living. But in the end, this all just fed into my love for cars and the idea of restoring them.”
Lasky’s first true foray into the world that would dominate the next forty years of his life was working with a buddy doing convertible conversions to Jaguars in his friend’s backyard.
“We’d chop the roof off and reinforce the body. We even dropped a small-block Chevy in one of them. We then took the Jags to all the local car shows to sell them.”
Marc then started restoring cars by himself for friends behind the apartment building he lived in.
“A girlfriend gave me her Mercedes 450 SEL. I stripped it down to bare metal and rebuilt the whole car. It came out beautifully, and in the process, I learned new aspects and techniques of restoring cars. The problem was, I didn’t have enough work coming in doing things this way.”
Lasky ended up taking a job at a shop called Rainbow Renovations in El Segundo. Here, he learned an even broader repertoire of skills, including advanced painting skills from the owner, who himself a master painter.
“I learned work ethic there too. I would get to work at about five in the morning, and work hard all day long because I just wanted to learn.”
Once Marc’s skills had fully developed, he worked out a deal with the owner to rent and set up his own stall in the shop, where Lasky could work on his own client’s cars.
“The first car I did there was another Mercedes, this one a gorgeous 280SL ‘Pagoda’ roadster. I worked on that car for a long time, and it came out exquisitely – a full concours quality restoration. Mind you, I did every aspect of it myself. By this time I had really become proficient in every facet of the business of auto restoration; building, bodywork, painting, polishing, estimates, billing and even delivery of the vehicle. I did it all myself.”
Feeling like his apprenticeship at Rainbow had run its course, Lasky accepted an offer from a friend to work on high-end exotics such as Aston Martins and Ferraris out of a shop set up in the friend’s house.
“To be honest, I took the job because the money was good, but it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.”
That nightmare resulted from his friend secretly not doing things above-board at all times. Apparently in the habit of committing insurance fraud and other such crimes, it all came to a head one day when Marc and his friend were leaving the shop in a Jaguar XJ-S, and “suddenly a car shot out in front of us and slammed on the brakes, and another did the same direction behind us. It was the Hollywood Bad-Cats, the group within LAPD that focused on stamping out chop shops and car theft rings. And that was it for me. I was done. I decided to open my own shop.”
That shop came to fruition in the summer of 1982, on Sepulveda Boulevard in West L.A.
“I was thirty years old, ready to take on the world and just went to it,” recalls Lasky. “I had met a very wealthy client who had a sizeable car collection and was feeding them to me one after another. I didn’t have a spray booth at that location, so I had to make do with a large open room that I installed fans in, and shot paint right in there. It was primitive, but it was mine: Lasky Coachworks.”
In addition to cars, Marc also found himself redoing motorcycles.
“I had a client who had a huge collection of bikes, and I worked on nearly all of them. I did the very first Buell and a bunch of Vincent Black Shadows. Serious bikes.”
Lasky also began to amass his team.
“I got very lucky finding guys with the right work ethic. I found this crazy guy from Iraq named Roland that we dubbed ‘The Wacky Iraqi.” He was a hell of a body guy. I also nabbed Sean McMullen, who came from Hill & Vaughn, one of the most prestigious restoration outfits in LA. He became my right-hand guy. Sean was a superb metal guy and mechanic.”
By 1989, Lasky Coachworks had become so successful that Marc needed to move to a bigger and better shop. He found one on Federal Avenue, also in West Los Angeles, and has been there ever since.
“When I found the place, it was an abandoned chemical plant, and it was full of 55-gallon drums with God knows what in them, so it was quite a process to clear it out and set up shop. But once we did, it was fantastic. I installed two proper spray booths, and for the first time, I had as much room as I needed to store and work on the cars.”
And with the upscale sized shop, Marc took his business to the next level.
And with the upscale sized shop, Marc took his business to the next level.“Lasky Coachworks became huge. I snapped up four more buildings here to store and work on cars that were now being referred to me by insurance companies. These weren’t restorations, just daily drivers that had been in collisions. It wasn’t what I was used to doing, but it paid a lot of money and allowed me to diversify, which is important in keeping a business successful. The key was having teams of guys to do that work, and an A-team to do the serious resto work. At one point, I had thirty-three people working for me.”
But with success came a toll. In addition to the increased stress of having to handle a huge volume of jobs and manage a large number of employees, Marc found himself buried in paperwork, unable to focus on what he loved doing: working on cars. After ten years of this, it all came to a head for Lasky one day, and he called up the insurance companies and told them “You are now the enemy again. I’m not working for you anymore. “
Marc let go of the leases on the additional shops and reduced everything down to the main location. He also streamlined his staff down to just three.
“Sean had left to start his own business, which at first I thought was a disaster that I wouldn’t recover from, but I did. I found Sarkis, who is now my main guy, and who brings some incredible skills to the table that even Sean didn’t have. Now it’s just four of us, and I’ve never been happier. I’m back to doing what I love, being an artist again, working on cars, without all the hassles and anxiety.”
Since downsizing, Marc started mixing it up with Hollywood again, accepting a guest star spot in an episode of Overhaulin’ where he helped redo a 1967 Camaro. He also allowed the show American Thunder to be filmed at Lasky Coachworks for its entire run.
These days, Marc is loving life more than ever.
“I’ve got a dedicated group of enthusiasts who bring me all their cars, and I even do an occasional movie or rock star’s car. I did a car for Tom Cruise, a few for Travis Barker, and some cars for Roseanne Barr in recent years, as well as a bunch for others who are too private for me to mention their names. But mostly, I am just enjoying what I do. I’ve also got a few project cars of my own I’ve picked up over the years that I’m getting together.”
And if he could do it all over again?
“I wouldn’t change a thing. I have absolutely no regrets. I love what I’ve created, still love living in Los Angeles, and I’m proud of the number of vintage cars I have put back on the road. I’ve had a great life, and I’ve managed to keep the enthusiasm that I had all those years ago starting out.”
It shows in your work, Marc. It really does.