Famed Ford collector Jerry Capizzi, his wife Carolyn Capizzi of Park Ridge dead of COVID-19
The couple’s deaths within 3 days of each other in May were just announced by their family. She was a property manager, he a collector who knew Henry Ford.
Carolyn Capizzi and her husband Jerry Capizzi, who was one of the world’s best-known collectors of Ford automobiles, have died within three days of each other of complications from the coronavirus.
Relatives announced that the Capizzis died in Park Ridge, where they’d lived since the 1970s. They were married for 55 years before their deaths at Lutheran General Hospital. Mr. Capizzi was 83. Mrs. Capizzi was 85.
Mrs. Capizzi, who had no surviving siblings, died first, on May 17. Mr. Capizzi died three days later.
Their deaths came so quickly there was no time for his sister and brothers, all in California, to arrange a visit.
“It happened too fast,” said his brother Michael R. Capizzi, former district attorney for Orange County, California. “It’s just terrible. I still can’t believe it happened.”
Over the course of his collecting, Mr. Capizzi owned an estimated 100 vehicles. He had a team of experts who restored his Edsels, Lincolns, Mercurys and Thunderbirds to creampuff condition, typically spending 3,500 hours on each one. Car connoisseurs said they looked like they’d just come off the assembly line.
His passion for Ford vehicles came about because of his childhood. His father I.A. Capizzi was Henry Ford’s general counsel, and he sent his children to the Edison Institute in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford established the school at Greenfield Village, a collection of historic buildings he assembled that included the former homes of poet Robert Frost, dictionary author Noah Webster and aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright as well as a replica of Thomas Edison’s original laboratory.
Mr. Capizzi’s brother, now 80, remembers the automotive titan dropping in at the school when he was about 5.
When Mr. Capizzi was a boy, Ford presented him with an engraved gold watch for his birthday, according to Jim Blanchard, president of the Lincoln Motor Car Heritage Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan.
“He had told me that he was walking home from school, and this black Ford sedan pulled up” with its namesake inventor inside, Blanchard said. He “asked Jerry to get in the car, and he gave him the watch.
“When he passed away, I realized you don’t come across many people who knew Henry Ford,” Blanchard said. “That’s becoming a rare person.”
Young Jerry wasn’t as pleased with some of the industrialist’s other largess — foods developed from his soybean research. Students at Ford’s school “were the recipients of the food products,” Mr. Capizzi told the Detroit Free Press in 2006. “Soy milk, soy bread, soy ice cream. Not surprisingly, to this day I can’t stand the sight of soybeans.”
Mr. Capizzi’s father was an immigrant from Palermo, Sicily, who entered the United States through Ellis Island around 1900. He became a prosecutor in Wayne County, Michigan, and with the Michigan attorney general’s office and chief of the Michigan Public Trust Commission before catching Ford’s eye with his reputation for integrity, Michael Capizzi said.
Early on, the Capizzi children grew up in Dearborn but moved to a more secluded Michigan locale during World War II. That was because Ford had switched during the war from building cars to Jeeps and bombers as part of what President Franklin Roosevelt called the “arsenal of democracy.” Because of concerns that industrial hubs might be targets of the Axis powers, the Capizzi family moved to a wooded area near Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.
“Every day during World War II, a black sedan would come out. . .and bring the Capizzi children to school,” said Phil Skinner, a freelance automotive journalist, former president of the Edsel Owners Club and retired senior market editor for the Kelly Blue Book.
Mr. Capizzi attended the University of Michigan. He was working in Kentucky when he met his future wife — who went to the University of Louisville — at the Naval Ordnance Station Louisville. They got married and moved to Cook County, where Mrs. Capizzi had a real estate broker’s license and worked in property management, Michael Capizzi said.
Her husband owned companies that supplied the auto industry with parts including door handles and pieces for emission systems, Skinner said. He also operated Pioneer Screw & Nut Co. in Elk Grove Village, where for a time he was president of the chamber of commerce.
He named his meticulously restored autos the “Cappy Collection,” short for his surname.
“His cars were gorgeous,” said Jason Gilmore, editor and publisher of Edsel Quarterly, who owns eight Edsels, including a convertible once owned by President Dwight Eisenhower.
Mr. Capizzi’s brother said that, for car shows, “He had a semi truck, and he’d be able to put as many as three cars in it, and the crew would take it.” Then, Mr. Capizzi would fly to the shows.
He always took the time to chat with other Ford enthusiasts, even kids, according to Skinner. “In the world of cars and collectors, it’s hard to meet a person who was more well-liked than Jerry Capizzi,” he said.
One of the jewels of his collection was a Ford Edsel Corsair with a gleaming “President Red” paint finish that was displayed at the American National Exhibition, a show of American products and ingenuity held in Moscow in 1959.
In 2006, wanting to relax and enjoy retirement, Mr. Capizzi sold about 60 vehicles at an auction in Addison.
“It has become a lot of work,” he told the Free Press. “I’d like to stay active in the hobby and not have the pressure to feel I have to win best of show.”
“All of his vehicles commanded record-setting prices,” Skinner said. “All of them were impeccable.”
One of his auctioned-off cars, a supercharged 1957 Ford Thunderbird F-Code, sold for $319,000.
Mr. Capizzi was the biggest donor to the Lincoln Motor Car Heritage Museum. In addition to providing the financial support that led to its construction, he donated Lincoln sales literature and publications going back to the 1920s, according to David Schultz, chairman of the Lincoln Motor Car Foundation, which raised money for the museum.
Mr. Capizzi had a cornerstone plaque laid at the Michigan museum in memory of his father and of his mother Adelaide Capizzi.
He is also survived by his sister Susan and brother Ronald. Funeral services are being arranged, Michael Capizzi said.