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The 4th Gear – Episode 2: Interview with Mark Lizewskie: Executive Director of the Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club

The 4th Gear – Presented by Classic Auto Insurance

The 4th Gear is a video podcast that will give you the opportunity to listen to individuals that share your passion and enthusiasm for collectible cars. This platform will allow you to gain a unique insight and understanding of the benefits of being a member of a car club or auction or a DIY restoration.

Interview Transcript:

Jeff: 

Hello, and welcome to this edition of The 4th Gear presented by Classic Auto Insurance. My name is Jeff Broadus. I’ll be your host. And today we are with, uh, Mark Lizewski. Am I saying that right Mark? Absolutely. You are the Executive Director of the Rolls- Royce Club, a real voice owner’s club and it’s actually a Rolls Royce and Bentley, is that correct?

Mark: 

That’s correct. Our name is the Rolls Royce owners’ club. Um, but because Rolls Royce owned Bentley for about 70 years. We certainly would enjoy having those cars and those enthusiasts as part of our club. I’m also the executive director for the Rolls Royce Foundation, which is our sister organization.

There are two separate nonprofits. The club now obviously is dedicated to enthusiasts and owners. Whereas the foundation is more historical research and, and those types of library skills.

Jeff: 

Now we go back a ways when I first met you, you were managing the Jack Rich collection, and this is a collection of cars.

I was blown away the first time. And I only saw a portion of it. Where did you gain all this knowledge of so many makes and models of cars? This man had everything. I mean, antique classic. You name it, this guy had it. I mean, I’m talking Bugatti’s, Packards, a Simplex. It goes on and on cars that I’ve never even heard of.

What, where did you gain all this knowledge?

Mark: 

So I was always the kid in high school that was picked last. When they divided up the sports team, I can’t throw a ball to save my life. I’ve always been a car guy. It’s always been my passion. So, you know, while everybody else was trying out for the team involved, I mean, this is this, my hobby is my job and is my life.

So it’s what I do.

Jeff: 

And you’re blessed, much like I am that I get to work in the hobby that I enjoy so much, that that doesn’t happen. You don’t wake up in the morning, loving your job. And I realized all of our jobs and careers have a lot of challenges, but you know, to wake up knowing I’m going to talk about cars every single day to somebody is exciting.

Mark: 

Absolutely. I mean, I love all cars. I personally try to gravitate towards the goofy stuff, you know, but you know, certainly being able to represent Rolls Royce and Bentley is a great thing.

Jeff: 

What is the goofy stuff?

Mark: 

Microcars. You know, just the oddball stuff. I mean, you know, Gremlins are cool, you know, or the, uh, you know, even something as bizarre as the Superfly Cadillacs that were made, you know, all that stuff.

It’s all that stuff that is fascinating to me. Do you know? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with Ford and Chevy’s, but you know, I’ve always been the guy that just, you know, “Hey, that’s a Yugo!”, you know.

Jeff: 

And all that knowledge has sure. Helped you. I’ve seen you out in the field, I’ve been with you we’ve judged Concours together.

You also had a hand in AACA museum director over there. Museum experience and a restoration shop, which I can’t imagine the experience thereof having to know again, so many different makes and models all the different marks and what’s required to bring those cars back to how they came out of the factory.

Because in a lot of instances, it’s challenging to find research on a lot of these cars, correct?

Mark: 

Oh, absolutely. And you know, a big part of a quality restoration is the research. You know, you want to make sure that you’ve got the right finish on the bolts or the right type of bolts or our hardware.

And, you know, if you’ve got a good machinist, you know, you make those things that they don’t exist. So, you know, you want to make sure you’ve got the right period colors. You want to make sure that, you know, Hey, it’s got the, even the right engine or the right carburetor or the right style of lights. And, you know, you, you try to start off with a car with good bones that has all that stuff. But so many cars, especially the cars that I dealt with, you know, pre-war cars, stuff like that, they’ve gone through numerous owners and they, they made a lot of changes and we always try to restore those back to the way the car was presented as new. So you wanted to make sure to have the right finish for the frame. And that frame finish may not have been the same finish that was on the engine or the alternator or the generator, or, you know, any of that stuff. So that was always the fun part that Sherlock Holmes looking for clues and things like that, you know, and I think that’s, you know, obviously one of the rewarding parts about doing a quality restoration.

Jeff: 

Being a little bit of a geeky kid actually played out well for you.

Mark: 

Absolutely. Like I said, I wasn’t involved in sports, so, you know, I was always, you know, reading shop manuals and car books and all that kind of stuff. So yeah. I mean, I’ve been training for this job all my life.

Jeff: 

Now, as the director what, what is, uh, kind of your daily activity? What, what, what do you do? What is your function when you get up in the morning, you come into the office, where do you start?

Mark: 

So, you know, this is one of those jobs that I, I never know where the day’s going to take me. You know, it’s, I think I may have a plan and certainly we have a schedule, but you know, just one phone call and one email could put me in a different direction.

Certainly, you know, we are membership focused, uh, and we cater to our members, you know, needs and, uh, And that sort of deal, you know, we, we put on publications and things like that. So we always have, we have a printing schedule and you know, all about that. Um, you know, you’re always working months in advance.

Uh, you know, we put on. Yeah, seminars. We put on a large scale events, annual meets and tours. So there’s always something in the planning stages. It has always not just one thing. It’s always multiple things. I mean, right now, you know, I’m planning for not only board meetings and I’ve got two Spring, small, what we call mini meets coming up.

We’ve got tours. We’ve got three tours this year. We’ve got our large annual meet in San Diego. So, I mean, that’s just stuff that’s sort of on the front burner right now. And you know, we’re already planning our 2023 and 2024 annual meets. So it’s, you know, we do a lot of long range event planning and, you know, as I said, with our publications and everything like that, it certainly keeps us, keeps us quite busy.

Jeff: 

And the advantage of being a member of the Rolls Royce owners’ club. Even if you don’t have a Rolls Royce or Bentley automobile, you could still be a member. You can still benefit from all your archives. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in a minute. So it’s it, it really is open you really open yourself up to welcoming all kinds of enthusiasm as well as actual owners. Is that correct?

Mark: 

Absolutely. You know, it’s yes. I mean, we are, our name says owners, but we cater to enthusiasts and I always tell people if they’re looking to buy a Rolls Royce or Bentley, join the club and do your research. You know, it’s, it’s like, like anything else, the cheapest rolls Royce you buy may be the most expensive one.

You know, it’s just this, the nature of the beast of a low production car. And I don’t care if it’s, you know, Rolls Royce, Bentley Ferrari, or whatever that they’re all in that same mindset. But you know, one of the things that the Rolls Royce owners’ club per does is provide a lot of technical support.

I mean, we aim to keep these cars running and driving and our members are very focused on that. You know, I mean, we do have our trailer queens, uh, but most of our members drive their cars and, you know, our cars really because of the complex hydraulics in some of the, you know, the cars from the late sixties on, they need to be driven.

Um, you know, and they, they can become very bullet-proof once they’re properly maintained, but you know, if you buy one will a lot of needs. And you are a novice, um, you know, it’s not going to be like overhauling the brake system model on a Ford Pinto or something like that. I mean, they’re extremely complicated cars.

And what we don’t want is for people to get a bad taste in their mouth for their first experience in Rolls Royce or Bentley ownership.

Jeff: 

Because there are a lot of, um, Rolls Royce and Bentley vehicles that are affordable, you know, under the, under the $50,000 range. That’s a, I mean, there’s a lot of cars that are affordable.

This is some of the challenges. They are a little more expensive to maintain, little more challenging to find parts for. Um, and that’s where a network a club is. Um, um, it’s your best friend.

Mark: 

It is. And like I said, we, we, you know, technical support and advice, we’ve got a whole list of technical advisors. These are professionals, um, you know, some of them run their independent shops.

Uh, yeah. It’s, you know, like I said, it’s where we try to be your one-stop shopping source, at least. We, we don’t sell parts, but we have, you know, those sources where you can get parts and, you know, a lot of, you know, when you said earlier about what is my day bring? Um, sometimes it’s just talking to somebody, trying to give them technical support or where to go to get the proper technical support, you know, Rolls Royce is isn’t like a, you know, a Ford Mustang or a Chevy Chevelle or something like that.

You just can’t roll into Napa, or find a, you know, a dealer or something like that on every corner, you know, that it’s a, it’s a very small market. And certainly, you know, you know, all of the key people that are going to help you keep your car running and give you that advice.

Jeff: 

And now what is, is there a specific year that you guys cater to, or is it from brand new all the way back to?

Mark: 

It’s from the beginning of time, you know, when Rolls-Royce started in 1904 and Bentley started in 1919, all the way up to brand new 2022. So we, um, we don’t discriminate if it’s a Rolls-Royce or a Bentley, and whatever you got is we’ll be happy to welcome you into the mix.

Jeff: 

And now touring in one of those cars is fun a few years ago, uh, gosh, probably maybe 12 years ago, um, I was able to tour in a Bentley Azure convertible. The nice part about it was I had all of the bells and whistles of a newer, more modern car, unlike some of the classic Rolls Royce that, I mean, they really, they fought to drives the car. It was, I mean, it was a cool experience, but it was completely different yet we were all welcomed as one.

Mark: 

Yeah, you are, you are completely correct. It’s like, you know, I don’t care if you’ve got a brand new Phantom or a Phantom from the late twenties, you know, it’s all very cool. Uh, one of the things that we do in the Rolls Royce owners’ club is that, you know, we have regions like every other car club does, but we all actually have societies that are dedicated to that specific era of cars. So if you’ve got a Phantom 1, we’ve got a society for that. If you’ve got a Silver Cloud, we’ve got a society for that. So, you know, if you’ve got a Silver Cloud and you joined the Silver Cloud society, you’re amongst those people that have the same type of car and, you know, and they, they focus, especially on a technical level on those cars.

So we provide the extra layer of information for you.

Jeff: 

The silver cloud was silver cloud one, two and three. Is that correct? That’s correct. And that was where basically sixties cars pretty much. And maybe late fifties, but

Mark: 

Yeah, um, mid 50’s till like ’65, ’66 when the Silver Shadow took over. So, I mean, those are, those are the cards that I think the Silver Clouds, when people think of Rolls-Royce, they think of the silver cloud, certainly anybody that’s ever seen a Grey Poupon commercial thinks of that era of Rolls Royce. Right.

Jeff: 

Right. Um, so we were talking about tours, um, uh, just a bit, tell me a little bit about what goes on with a typical tour? How many cars do you get? Uh, what’s the era of cars.

Um, uh, tell me a little bit, you said you’ve got one coming up this year in San Diego, correct?

Mark: 

Oh, so we we’ve got an annual meet coming up in San Diego, but our tours, we typically have a spring tour and a fall tour. Could it be in various parts of the country. For the most part, they are open to anybody that has a Rolls Royce or Bentley.

We do have a dedicated vintage tour, which is pre-war cars only, only because they travel at a little bit slower pace and sometimes they don’t have the hill, uh, you know, climbing capacity as some of the modern cars, but most of our tours, um, you know, it’s a mix so people could have a. You know, a Silver Ghost or a Phantom 1 from, from the early era, all the way up to a brand new continental GT or something like that.

Um, you know, and every, every tour is different. So some could be a hub tour where you have one common hotel and you go out every day and come back again. There’s a point to point that, and some of our point of points are quite extensive. I mean, you could start in Texas, go up to Colorado and then ended up in Albuquerque or something like that. It’s, you know, it’s a really, uh, every one of his is quite unique.

Jeff: 

Now does someone from the club on your capacity, do you participate In in the, in every one of these tours,

Mark: 

I don’t, I’m not an active participant right there. I mean, you know, like I’m, I’m a driver. I want to be able to have my own car and, uh, you know, I certainly administer it and help the people, the boots on the ground volunteers that are doing that, but when it comes to tours, I’m really not in a position at this point in time of my life to be able to do that as much as I would love to, um, the annual meets and the, uh, the small mini meets where we partner with an existing car show those I’m there, uh, to plan, plan, support, and certainly like that.

Jeff: 

Tell me about some of the big plans, the club. I know that the club, uh, since you have been at the helm, uh, has taken on a little bit of a, uh, um, uh, a different focus. Um, I saw the publication, the flying lady, uh, you guys are continually improving upon that and that publication. Um, tell me a little bit about where you were when you started and what’s your vision is for the.

Mark: 

Well, you know, yeah. I mean, I, I’m not a person as you know, that likes to sit still. Um, you know, certainly, you know, we’re, we’re always looking to improve. I mean, we don’t have, you know, a huge membership, like, you know, maybe the BMW club or the Mercedes club or the AACA you mean, you know, obviously we’re a very small group of group of, uh, of cars and hence the members, but we’re always looking to enhance those memberships and you know, whether it’s through, you know, an updated website, whether it’s reproducing shop manuals, whether it’s reproducing, you know, all sorts of things um, you know, for our members, we’re always looking to, to enhance what we have. Um, you know, I think we’ve got a good model to begin with. Um, but certainly we don’t rest on our laurels.

You know, anybody that. Um, you know, the one phrase I, I hate to hear is, “Well, we’ve always done it that way.” Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with tradition, but you know, it certainly can always be improved on.

Jeff: 

And we’re, we’re definitely the next generation kind of moving into these positions, helping to govern uh, and, and drive, um, these clubs were giving it more exposure utilizing technology, uh it’s, it’s what it takes today to make a club, and, you know, you talk about a small membership of six or 8,000 people. It’s still a lot of people, especially for a mark is specific as Rolls Royce and Bentley. So, you know, and to hold those numbers and to continually grow that membership, it’s a huge credit to you, Mark.

Mark: 

Yeah. Well, thank you. Yeah. I said it’s, you know, every day’s a challenge, but every day is fun.

Jeff: 

So, um, as we kinda wrap things up here a little bit, uh, tell me about perhaps one of the most unusual maybe even humorous experiences you had since you’ve assumed this position.

Mark: 

Well, let me think of something that I can actually tell you without getting in trouble {laughs}. I think, you know, I think certainly, um, you know, challenging has certainly been Covid. Our annual meet in 2021 was in Lake George, New York.

And up until. You know, the week before, the month before we didn’t know it was going to happen. So we, you know, we had been planning this all along. Um, I’m a Lake George native, so I was actually the chairperson for this meet 320 miles away. Um, so, you know, there was a lot of interesting points, but you know, you, you learn to fly by the seat of your pants and make contingency plans.

Jeff: 

Is that kinda the new normal fly by the seat of your pants?

Mark: 

You know, it’s, I think in this day and age, if you aren’t flexible, um, you’re going to be solely disappointed. You know, it’s just, I, I don’t even know how to plan for what’s going to happen tomorrow because as soon as I get. Yeah, we’re going to do that.

The rules change, as we all know. And certainly, you know, this has been a learning experience for all of us. And, you know, I think adaptation is, um, the rule of, of living today.

Jeff: 

So for anyone that’s interested, um, uh, in joining the club, What should they do?

Mark: 

Sure. You can go to our website, which is www.rroc.org.

Um, you can, uh, you know, log in and, and join rate from there. Uh, when you, when you join, you know, you will certainly, uh, we will gladly welcome you in. We will give you a, if you’re here in North America, a free, uh, one year dues membership to your local region, um, you know, and you know, you can always reach out and talk to us.

I mean, we are we’re, we’re, uh, an office that, that runs here full time. Give us a call. You know, if you have any questions, even before you want to join, if you want to learn something about what you are going to get, you know, I mean, certainly we give you the magazines, the flying lady, the wing B, which is a Bentley dedicated subs magazine, um, you know, all of that technical information.

Our, we have a forum that’s exclusive to members only, you know, and it’s, you’re not going to get information on an in-depth you detail like you are through our forum. I mean, you know, these are, these are the people that are really, really involved in the Rolls Royce and Bentley world.

Jeff: 

Is there a different membership for the club then the foundation, which you mentioned earlier?

Mark: 

Yes. T are two separate organizations. So, if you want to be a member of the foundation, that is a separate membership and, you know, primarily what the foundation does is provide uh, chassis research on your individual car. We have virtually all the records, the build sheets and everything from pretty much every car that’s ever been made.

Um, so, you know, if you just stumbled across a, you know, a ’67 Silver Shadow that you, you bought or a, you know, a pre-war car, give us a call, give the foundation a call. We probably have the original build sheets, you know, and, uh, and sometimes the warranty history from a car.

It’s interesting to see. From when you start looking through these records, especially, you know, you see these famous names, um, you know, Hollywood moguls, you know, royalty and things like that. Um, you know, captains of industry and you start looking at all of the details and the orders and the warranty work and the back and forth correspondence,

it’s really fascinating. And you sort of get caught up in. Um, while you’re doing the research. So it’s, you know, it’s not just a build sheet. In some cases. There’s a lot of, a lot of correspondence and some really cool stuff.

Jeff: 

And your registry list, not only all of the members, but it also lists, uh, um, the cars that they own.

Mark: 

That’s correct. Yes. For those who want their names published. Yeah. So we, we publish the large in annual directory and register that lists all of our members and, and their cars. Um, and we don’t, you know, we keep track of the cars, even when a member. Um, no longer has that car, whatever, because a lot of times they sell it to a fellow member.

So we track those cars. Um, we have a huge database. I mean, our, our membership, uh, and motorcar list, just the motorcar list alone is probably about 21,000 cars.

Jeff: 

It’s very impressive.

Mark: 

Yeah. Even, even if that, that car leaves the membership, we don’t purge it because sooner or later it may come back.

Jeff: 

Now, um, as we wrap things up here, again, somebody who’s looking to buy a car, they’re thinking about.

What should they, what should they think about what should be their priorities when they’re thinking about purchasing a Rolls Royce or Bentley?

Mark: 

Well, first of all, as I said, joined the club and do your homework, ask, you know, ask questions. Um, you know, get the, get the chassis research from the foundation, find out about previous ownership. Certainly maintenance history and service records are the most important thing and in some cases, especially with, you know, the cars from the Silver Shadows and newer, because those cars need to be maintained and need to be driven. Otherwise, you know, it could be a very expensive proposition and, you know, People, if, you know, you don’t understand, you know, just how expensive these cars can be if they’re not maintained. And deferred maintenance can be a killer. And as we always tell people, please do your homework and, and ask questions, you know, reach out to our members through the forum at, you know, if you are a member and say, “Hey, listen, I just found this car in Chicago. You know, does anybody know it?”

And some, somebody will invariably chime in, “Oh yeah, so-and-so owned this and it’s a really good car.” Or, “Hey, I’ve seen this car stay away from it.”

Jeff: 

Owning any vehicle. I mean, classic cars are temperamental to begin with. And, uh, and that is the great part about being part of a club and networking is that you do benefit from everyone else’s knowledge and experience. So you can make a good informed decision.

Mark: 

Absolutely. You know, our, you know, our membership, we have very talented, very smart technicians on there and, you know, they will gladly help you.

And of course they will also, you know, book appointment into your shop and, and, and work on that. But they’re very, very courteous. I said they’re really knowledgeable. Um, we want your Rolls Royce or Bentley experience and ownership experience to be a positive one. And, um, you know, I, I said, I, unfortunately I do see that people, “Hey, I just bought this car at auction.” you know, a very great rate for it and they take it to a repair facility. And that first repair bill is three times what they paid for that car. We don’t want that to happen. We, you know, we don’t want you to be discouraged. Um, you know, we want you to, we, we want you into our family and we want you there, you know, for life.

Jeff: 

So the easiest simplest advice you have is: Know what you want – Do your homework before you write the check.

Mark: 

Absolutely.

Jeff: 

Well, that’s awesome. Well, mark, this has been a great learning experience for us all. Good luck with a Rolls Royce owners’ club. I know that they absolutely have a right person at the helm with you, and we wish you the best of luck.

And thank you very much for joining us on our program today. Much appreciated.

Mark: 

Thank you, Jeff. And it’s an honor to be included much appreciated as well.

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