There is No Rest in Restoration for this Expert – John Viviani’s Wheels are Always In Motion
John Viviani’s road to restoration has been paved by more than just good intentions. It has taken many twists and turns; starts and stops; potholes and pitfalls; but ultimately Viviani’s journey has led him to a career that is fueled by his passion.
Viviani holds the “official” title of Parts Manager for the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, a position that encompasses everything from car restoration, to parts management, to historic automobile event management.
“This is a position that really fuels my thirst for knowledge about the history of the car.”
Viviani’s stories and experiences that led him to Barber read like a cross-country road map; full of jaunts and detours that were as unique as his position with Barber.
His formal education includes a degree in Modern Automotive Technology from Illinois Central College and a degree in Automobile Restoration from McPherson College in Kansas.
“I have always been interested in cars, even while working at one of my first jobs for MacDonalds Shell Gas Station — I would stay after close and spent many nights tearing my car apart and building it on the lift to learn what can and can’t be done.”
Viviani made the decision to move to Kansas to attend McPherson College to learn more about automotive restoration. While in school he also worked for Stellar Restorations, a job that he calls his first “real” restoration job.
“Being a non-traditional student, I knew that real world experience is what really mattered,” Viviani explained. “Tim Bowers at Stellar gave me a chance and I still discover things to this day that I learned while working there; I owe them my career.”
In 2000, Viviani relocated to just outside of Washington DC to work for White Post Restorations, one of the oldest restoration shops in the country. He accepted a position in the museum conservation field as the studio foreman and worked on statue restoration and artifacts.
Viviani’s new office was also in charge of the preservation, restoration and stabilization of all of the artifacts that were brought up from the Titanic. While the Titanic project launched before his employment, Viviani was involved in some of it and it concluded during his tenure.
Viviani tells of how, for years, he would put his lunch in the company refrigerator right next to a plastic storage container that contained a pair of shoes that were desalinating. “That pair of shoes were actually recovered from the Titanic!” Beside his desk also sat perfectly preserved sheets of tissue paper still showing White Star Lines watermark, that once separated the porcelain bed pans used on the ship.
“It is truly amazing when you think back on the mass destruction and loss of life of that shipwreck and what we were able to preserve.”
In another project, Viviani served as the foreman on the Saturn V Rocket restoration in Huntsville, Alabama. Restoration efforts were focused on bringing the rocket back to a condition that was close to what it resembled on the launch pad. In working on the project, Viviani would alternate between his office D.C. location and the Huntsville location.
His travels between the two locations had unforeseen implications on his career path. “On one of my trips, I planned a stop at a local car museum that was located in what I jokingly referred to as ‘backwoods Alabama.” The museum was known to host a large Lotus sports and race car collection that interested Viviani, who was a big Lotus collector and owned three of the cars at the time.
What Viviani was surprised to discover was the Lotus collection was housed in the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum— a museum that currently includes a 250,000 square foot building full of more than 100 vintage cars (55 are Lotus) and more than 1600 motorcycles.
“Just being there inspired me enough to think that perhaps I would like to get back into car restoration.”
Viviani sent his resume to Barber and after months of interviews and discussion, he accepted a position and found himself relocating to Birmingham, Alabama.
“It was a dream job, I was hired as their official Lotus Restoration Technician and the rest is history!”
Now, over 10 years later, Viviani says almost every aspect of his job has changed and evolved in some way.
“Everyone at the museum wears multiple hats. While my current title is “Parts Manager,” I actually handle all of the car restoration; order parts for both the cars and motorcycles housed in the museum; help locate any hard-to-find items for the cars, motorcycles or the museum; handle shipping and receiving; assist with tours and club activities; and manage all aspects of our spring and fall swap meet events,” Viviani explained.
And if that wasn’t enough, Viviani continues to pursue his other car-related passions including his desire to expand the car collector hobby with our youth. In Viviani’s observation, even those kids that may not be directly interested in cars can become hooked when they are shown how cars can teach everything from art and design to building techniques to business concepts. The range includes metal shaping, woodwork, computer programming, 3D printing as well as marketing and business planning.
“There is no single product in the world that has had more impact on evolving technology than the automobile.”
Viviani rounds out his “full submersion” into the world of car restoration with a more recent endeavor, the launch of a podcast “No Driving Gloves.”
“Podcasting began to fascinate me a few years back – I think we all fantasize about being a DJ at one point in time or at least wanting to rebut something said on the radio. I started really thinking hard about doing a podcast on something I had decades of experience and knowledge in like collector cars.”
Viviani started with a podcast research and development phase in 2016 and found two co-hosts with similar interests and expertise to help put together what he calls a “barber shop” style podcast.
“We discuss off-the-cuff topics in a format similar to what you might hear typical ‘car guys’ chatting about at a restaurant or bar.”
The podcast took to the air in mid-2017 and it is self-described as “three automotive industry professionals musing over whatever they feel like.”
“It has been an enjoyable experience and we all have fun putting it together each week, which is a metaphor for how I try to live my life – have fun and it will work out!”