*This great story was sent to me by Manon, who very clearly loves John Votta! Thank you so much for the great contribution!*
Today is a very special day for a young guy from Switzerland, he celebrates his 30th birthday. Maybe some of you know him on social media and if you don’t you need to fix this mistake as soon as you can. (Links at the bottom of this page) His name is John Votta. John loves to listen to The Iron and Steele podcast during his nightly garage sessions. In January, I sent a message to Jake asking him if he would be nice enough to wish John a Happy Birthday in his podcast on the week of the February 24th. And I can’t believe the lovely answer I received; he proposed that we make the whole episode about John! So, here it is! Ladies and Gentlemen, I will do my best to present to you the coolest and funniest guy on earth, Ready?


Now, because our motto is “everything is better when it starts with a laugh” let’s talk about our first date. It was not really a date. I came from France by the train to visit his garage and ONLY to visit his garage, I promise. He picked me up at the train station 30 minutes late, with a cavemen beard, the zipper on his jeans was broken and he was driving his beautiful Chevrolet Astro Van. (John, where was your hot rod? You agree with me now it was definitely not a date!)


Let me tell you more about his history. John was born in 1993 into a family for whom automobiles and mechanical performance were a BIG part of life. His grandfather, Mr. Tolck, was born in 1904, he was a plane importer and lover , a car lover, a boat lover, and a great photographer. He founded Nauticar in 1949, a family business that John still works in. Oh, and he doesn’t just work there, he’s now the boss. 


“Nautic” is for the boats he sells and “Car” is for caravans he sells too . You see, Mr. Tolck was a visionary and wanted to enter into the leisure activities market on Leman lakeshore. John's grandmother, who worked with her husband is now 95 and lives in Italy. We love seeing her, listening to all of her incredible stories and looking through her old photo albums. If you are familiar with John’s 31 coupe, you may have noticed it's name: The Tolck Spirit, a beautiful tribute to the Grandfather he never knew. 


So now that you know more about the Votta / Tolck Family you have a better understanding of just how John came to be so passionate about cars. It doesn't just run in the family; it's pulsing through his veins.


His own automotive identity began like a lot of young men in the 70’s and 80’s, in the front of his TV screen watching AMERICAN GRAFFITI! He saw the light! John instantly fell in love with that yellow 32 coupe from the film, but this model was definitely out of his price range. Still, he searched for a car that would be a suitable foundation for the hot rod he had been building in his head. 


In 2011, and at just 18 years old, John started his hot rod journey with the click of a button when he found himself the winning bidder on Ebay for a 1931 Model A Coupe. This car was owned by an 80 year old man in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and had been restored in 1975. Buying things sight unseen can sometimes be tricky, but in this case, John was very pleased once the car arrived. He found it to be just as it had been described on Ebay, with no major surprises.  


John made some quick engine and transmission changes to the Coupe, lowered it, changed the wheels and tires and hit the road. Wanting to enjoy the car right away, he had to find the balance between taking the time to make it just the way he saw it in his mind, and not taking the car so far apart that it would be down for too long. His goal was a traditional hot rod inspired by his bible, "How to Build a Traditional Ford Hot Rod" by Vern Tardel.

In 2013, John began making more extensive modifications to the car. He chopped the top, stripped the fenders and gave it a new paint job. With this new set up, John won his first award at an incredible Swiss car show called The Kustom Shakedown. What an honor for this shy, humble young guy. (Yes, only 20 at the time!) He was so happy that he decided to make some additional changes and improvements to the Coupe. John really? You win prizes, everybody congratulates you for your amazing job and you decide to start all over again? He was single at this time and maybe he needed something to put all his young and wild energy into... I don't know? Joking aside though, John is a very much a perfectionist and extremely determined. And when he sets his mind to something, he always sees it through. 

John joined the Cheaters Car Club in Switzerland. The year was 2017 and The Tolck Spirit Coupe once again stood out, this time at the best French car show around then, The Cry Baby Car Show. The car arrived on a trailer, because he was too busy with the boat work season to finish it, but he won another award at this show as well! I was at this show and I already knew The Cheaters, but I was not John's girlfriend yet. I remember I said to him, "Really? You win an award with a car that we need to help you to push to the front to accept it?" We still laugh about this today. At this moment I didn’t know I would end up being his girlfriend and have to push a '32 Ford coupe through a ton of gravel few years later... Haha.
The Tolck Spirit continued to win awards at the various shows John would take it to. Another beautiful moment in his automotive life was the day he made the cover of Power Glide, a very famous magazine in the French-speaking hot rod and custom world!
In 2018, John took an absolutely epic journey to the A-BOMBERS event in Sweden with his two great friends, Fred and Bichon from the Cheaters. It was an incredible trip of more than 2500 miles through France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. They brought back home the long-distance award and lots of good memoires.


Next year we made a 1060-mile trip together to let Tolck Spirit Coupe taste the sand for the first time at a new event in France, The Normandy Beach Race! An incredible sand race on the World War II D-Day beach. This weekend was absolutely perfect, with the sun, our friends, and a real celebration of our car culture! This event is one we have attended many times and always enjoy.


At the most recent event, John was racing his prewar roadster when something incredible happened. John asked a friend, the wife of one of the organizing members, if she would like to jump in car for the next run and she said yes. Johns starts his run and in the middle of the track we saw a big cloud appear over his engine. I knew that the car was very, very hot, due to the time the drivers wait between each run, and the warm weather. I was terrified and began running toward them, sure that they had to have been burned by the geyser of boiling water cascading down from the sky from the overheating hot rod. But, instead of anguished screams, I began hearing the audience applauding. Then I see John and our friend heading back to the pits with huge smiles on their faces, their clothes drenched and filthy. I'm sure you can imagine my relief….


Few seconds later, a reporter from a big, national TV show about cars came up to John and asked him if he could ride along on the next run, if the car were able. John said OK, no problem and the reporter started interviewing him. After the lunch break, the TV crew came back to ride along and film their segment. All was well until as the reporter was getting ready to climb into the car, he said, “Ok, so you can do it again: The explosion, the big cloud and everything?" 


John’s face was so funny, he answered: “No.... that was a mechanical problem. I can't just recreate it for the show! Not to mention we just spent an hour cleaning the car!" The guy said "Oh." and just like that, they walked off, never making a run with John in his roadster. We all looked at each other like "Did that really just happen? What a bunch of losers!"  


Now let me tell you about the incredible find he made in July 2020, because I lived this adventure with him. He was on the road with his father to pick up a boat for his work in Bordeaux, in the southwest of France. A few days before they leave, a good friend of the family, Mister Franco Sbarro, a famous and crazy concept car builder in Switzerland, asked if on their trip, they could take a quick detour to bring him some carpets to his future Museum. They happily accepted. They took to the road and eventually arrived at a huge, beautiful castle. John wrote me about the kindness of their host, and how beautiful the place was. And later that evening, I received a picture of, oh my god, a 1932 Ford 3 Window Coupe! 


The old man who was building the Sbarro Museum was a real automobile enthusiast and had an incredible car collection! When I received the picture, I was thinking about the castle owner slowly opening his garage door and John being ready to pass out when he saw what was behind it. I was thinking about how he was probably adopting our “Fleamarket” attitude: you know, when you find something incredible, and all you can hear is a tiny monkey in your head  excitedly banging his cymbals together while you repeat to yourself, "Stay calm... just say "Oh. Yeah, it's... not so bad." At this moment I knew what his, no our, new obsession would be. The manor owner wasn't interested in selling any of the cars from his collection, but he didn’t know about John’s power of persuasion.


 John came back home sooooo excited, and had already given the car a name: The Vernon Coupe, because Vernon is the name of the village the castle and the car were in. He had the manor owner on the phone several times, telling him how much he would like to purchase the car. The old man eventually became more open to the idea of selling it, but part of his hangup was that he did not want a hole in his collection, he would prefer that something took its place.


The owner had organized his collection with rooms by era, so John began trying to find a suitable car from the 1930’s to offer him. This was actually really difficult, because the man was 80 years old and had no smartphone or computer. We had to print pictures of and write descriptions for every one of the cars we found that may possibly interest him and send them to him, one by one, in letters. It was extremely complicated because meanwhile the cars we were proposing were selling very fast, and often times were countries away, making it impossible to get there quickly to view in person. In short, it was kind of a mess. 

One night John and I were talking about what to do. We came up with a plan for John to sit down and simply write a proper, handwritten letter to the man explaining how important the car was to him and how he would be honored to be its new caretaker and to put it back on the road where it belonged. He wrote a nice, long letter to the gentleman, sent it off and hoped for the best. 
It turned out this was a great idea. The owner was very touched by the letter and called John to propose a deal. And just like that, we found ourselves planning a trip to Vernon, this time with a trailer to pick up his new baby and bring it home. Upon arriving, we were welcomed as if we were family, and John was so excited to see HIS car again! The stars in his eyes! An unforgettable moment! As of now, John is working hard on this car, you can follow the project's progress on his Instagram, @johnvotta


In 2021 John was almost completely out of the garage for most of the year to focus on our house project. We renovated the beautiful 1967 house where he grew up! We are midcentury addicts, so we carefully thought through all of the details of the house to take it back to a perfect 60’s style. Making a home look like it belonged in Palm Springs in the 1960's from Switzerland in 2021 was no easy task! It took months to find the perfect materials and the perfect team of craftsmen, but our determination paid off! After countless hours of back-breaking work and painstakingly sourcing the proper materials, we FINALLY spent the first night in our new, cozy Midcentury nest 9 months later. The very next day, as tired as he was, John was up early and back in the garage to prepare his car to race at the Normandy Beach Race the next weekend! 


Last year we realized a common dream, organizing our first private cruise and car show, THE JALOPY SUMMER CAMP! What a joy to be in such an incredible place and enjoying a scenic cruise through our beautiful landscape. We worked very hard with our friends and family to make this day as cool as the event we had in mind : A beautiful setup, a BBQ overflowing with local meat, bathing in the lake, playing games and even a pedal boat drag race! We will probably do it again next year, but, Shh! It's a secret! 


I hope John will take the time soon to tell you himself about all his incredible adventures in more detail on some future Iron and Steele Podcast episode!


To celebrate John's birthday, we are planning a big road trip through the U.S. next September from Chicago and Detroit to Los Angeles. We are looking forward to being able to meet some of you in real life. So, if anyone listening feels like opening your garage doors for us while we are in your area, we would really love that! John will put some information on his Instagram about stops we have planned during the trip, so stay tuned!


So here we are at the end of my little story. I hope you have enjoyed getting to know more about John. Thank you all very much for helping me wish this incredible person and Happy Birthday! Lastly, I just want to say thank you to you, John for being the beautiful person you are, and for all the amazing adventures we live together!


PS John: listen to me please, I LOVE YOU and LET’S FINISH THIS FUCKING BUICK !

You can follow his Instagram : @johnvotta and his professional account, @nauticar_marine_speed_shop if you want to see more about his boat work !

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