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John Bucci, famed for Trevi Fountain replicas, fiberglass cars, has died at 84

John Desiderio Bucci.

John Desiderio Bucci. | Provided photo

Robert V. Allegrini wanted his marriage proposal to be especially romantic. So he turned to John Bucci, a largely self-taught artist, designer and engineer, to help make that happen.

Mr. Bucci had won renown throughout the United States for his traveling replicas of Italy’s famed Trevi Fountain. The scale works ranged from 20 feet to 50 feet wide and were the highlight of many Italian festivals. Just like the real fountain, they feature winged horses, mermen and Oceanus on a shell chariot. They even gurgled with water. The copies mimicked the Baroque wonder of Rome so well that people threw coins in them.

Allegrini had seen one of the Trevi replicas at a trade show at McCormick Place. So he asked the artist for help. That’s how a duplicate of the Trevi Fountain wound up on the lawn of Cristina Bomben’s parents in Norridge, where Allegrini asked her to marry him.

“John Bucci, being a real romantic, was all in,” said Allegrini, founder of Golden Wings Communications. “When we got home, it was gushing away in her front yard. It was the biggest tourist attraction in Norridge.”

Bomben said yes. “I owe a debt of gratitude” to him, Allegrini said of Mr. Bucci, who died of pancreatic cancer Feb. 11 at his home near Savannah, Georgia.

He was 84 and had moved from Chicago to a 180-acre spread there a couple of years ago so he could have land enough to grow things, according to his wife Jeanne Guaraldo.

“He said to me, ‘It reminds me of home, and I want to build my heaven on earth,’ ” Guaraldo said.

Cristina Bomben said yes to Robert Allegrini’s romantic marriage proposal, delivered at a replica of the Trevi Fountain created by John Bucci that he had delivered to her parents’ Norridge home. | Provided photo

Mr. Bucci grew up in Gorizia, Italy, in an area that became part of Yugoslavia after World War II.

“Living under Communism was so oppressive,” his wife said. “They couldn’t speak Italian. They had to change their names.”

So Giovanni Desiderio Bucci had to go by Ivan Bucik.

Around 1955, while riding his bicycle, he noticed that border guards had knocked down a stretch of fence so they could get to an Italian water fountain. John, then 20, saw his chance. “He dropped the bike and ran” to the Italian side of the border, his wife said.

During the approximately four years Mr. Bucci spent in Italian refugee camps, he took correspondence courses in electrical engineering.

After immigrating to Chicago in 1959, he worked for Radio Flyer, which was founded by a fellow Italian immigrant. Later, he had jobs with Zenith and Sun Electric.

When artist John Bucci wanted a spiffy car, he made “La Shabbla” out of fiberglass. It was displayed at the 1964 World’s Fair. | Provided photo

Mr. Bucci had the ability to visualize the fantastical and then create it out of fiberglass.

“Nothing is impossible,” he’d say.

“He noticed that all the guys who had girlfriends had cars,” his wife said. “He didn’t have the money to buy a car, and so he decided to make one.”

The result was “La Shabbla,” with a Fiat chassis and a futuristic fiberglass bullet of a body. It wound up being displayed at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, where singer Paul Anka jumped in.

Paul Anka behind the wheel of John Bucci’s La Shabbla car. | Kustomrama

“This said to him, ‘I can do anything I want,’ ” Guaraldo said.

Mr. Bucci, who worked from a studio at 1714 W. Division St., also created other concept cars, including one he dubbed the Trieste for the town near Gorizia.

At one point, he had a job offer from a Detroit automaker but decided to remain his own boss, his wife said.

“We affectionately called him the Michelangelo of the Midwest,” said Bill Dal Cerro of the Chicago office of the Italic Institute of America.

John Bucci’s many talents included designing futuristic cars. | Provided photo

He created stunning gallery spaces for the Italian Cultural Center in Stone Park. And he worked on McCormick Place trade-show exhibits for the Italian travel office.

“That’s where the Trevi Fountain was done in the 1980s. It made his reputation,” said Dominic Candeloro, who has taught Italian American history at Loyola University Chicago.

John Bucci’s car, 14 feet long and only 25 inches off the ground, competed in 1965 in the custom-car class at the International Championship and Custom Car Show at McCormick Place. The body was mounted on a 1960 Fiat chassis powered by an Abarth 750cc engine. | Sun-Times files

With their water and mood lighting, the fiberglass fountains looked ready for a zaftig Anita Ekberg to wade in the way she did in the 1960 Italian film “La Dolce Vita.”

He also did an artist’s version of Easter eggs by incorporating likenesses of himself and his brother Augustine in the fountain figures, his wife said.

John Bucci made scale traveling replicas of the famed Trevi Fountain. | Provided photo

The biggest of the Trevi Fountains was built on its own trailer with wheels. The traveling fountains appeared in Buffalo, New York; Branson, Missouri; Columbus, Ohio; Delray Beach, Florida; New Orleans; and Wilmington, Delaware, as well as at Festa Italiana in Milwaukee, the biggest Italian festival in the Midwest.

“It was spectacular with the lights at night,” said Betty Puccio, a Festa Italiana organizer. “Couples were tossing their coins in and making wishes.”

A replica bust of Michelangelo’s David, created by John Bucci, was displayed at a 2002 Italian Market Festival at Block 37 in the Loop. | Sun-Times files

Mr. Bucci also created a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln that was displayed in Chicago Heights and a large bronze globe for Governors State University.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sisters Emilia Razman and Gabriela Bucik and brothers Augustine and Vince Bucik.

John Bucci. | Provided photo