Sagging headliners inside a car roof are easy. Eddie Lupi just peels them off, gets some new fabric and adhesive foam, binds them together and reinstalls them.
Faded convertible tops? Line them up. Lupi will “knock ‘em out,” he proudly proclaims.
“The tough ones are the full interior restorations where I have to sew everything myself,” he said.
Eddie “Trimmer” Lupi’s true craft is restoring the interiors of vintage cars. Technically, the 58-year-old Schenectady man can reupholster anything: cars, boats, antique furniture, golf carts, bar stools, restaurant seats, and the things we don’t even think about, like a hospital bed or gurney.
“Anything that was covered by man, I can do it again,” he said this month from inside his garage at the corner of Elm and Albany streets in Schenectady.
Lupi runs a one-man operation at Izzo’s Auto Interiors, a veritable hole-in-the-wall shop that has earned a quiet reputation over the years as the best in the industry.
He heads into work around 7 a.m. each day. The small, peeling white brick structure is right next door to his house, and bears the block letters “IZZO’S” over the front door. It sits back from the street amidst trees and brush, off of a decaying lot with large cracks in the pavement.
On this December day, a beast of a car sits inside the shop. The 1956 Chrysler DeSoto is pink salmon with a black roof, soaring tailfins, triple taillights and lots of chrome. Peering through one of its two doors, it’s evident that Lupi has already gutted the thing.
“They stopped making these in 1961,” said Howard Schaffer, a Slingerlands man who owns the car. “But aside from the dust, it looks pretty new.”
He heard about Lupi from friends who collect cars and asked him to restore it to its original condition — which they both know means as near as possible.
In the case of the DeSoto, it means reupholstering the faded, dirty black and white seats, door panels, floor and headliner.
Lupi special orders cloth, vinyl, carpet and leather as he needs it, costing him anywhere from $6 a yard to $180 a yard.
“I have to sew everything myself,” he said. “When it comes to full interiors, it takes quite a bit of time to do them. There are some cars I work on that I can order what they call a kit. Everything’s already made for it and you just install it. But a car like Howard’s, we can get the door panels maybe. But the seats I have to make myself.”
The floor of an old car is not so easy. There are bumps and valleys and jutting metal pieces and even rust holes.
“It has to be made to contour,” said Lupi. “You gotta fit that shape.”
On a large wooden table in his shop, Lupi has already begun sewing the black and white vinyl door panels. The sewing machine he uses is about 25 years old.
“This is very heavy duty,” he said, adjusting the speed as he sewed a piece of vinyl. “I had this machine going so fast before it smoked. You don’t want to get your finger caught under there.”
Lupi has gotten his finger stuck under the needle. His right thumb is bent, his fingernails are dirty and his hands are rough.
He looks like a man who makes things. He’s unshaven, there’s dirt on his sweater and jeans. His shop floor is covered in debris. His roof is water stained.
Those who come across him describe him as a character who performs true craftsmanship.
“Take a look at how clean and even this looks,” said Schaffer, fingering a hand-stitched door panel. “This is real workmanship here.”
Lupi learned it from his father, who picked up his first upholstery skills when he was 20 years old working as a tailor. His skills grew as got used to the sewing machine. His upholstery skills grew as he became interested in cars.
Lupi remembers going as a little kid to his dad’s upholstery shop on Erie Boulevard, where the Country Farms gas station sits now across from Boulevard Bowl. He eventually moved to a place on Union Street and taught his two sons and two nephews the craft.
Lupi’s cousin, Anthony Izzo, opened Izzo’s Auto about 15 years ago. Lupi, who has about 40 years of experience under his belt, took it over when Izzo retired four years ago. Now, it’s just him, his 13-year-old chow-beagle-terrier and his cousin Ronnie Izzo, who helps out with maintenance work.
“He’s meticulous,” said Ronnie. “He’s very meticulous about things.”
Izzo said people will bring their cars and furniture up from Massachusetts and New York City to have Lupi restore them, though most of his customers come from around the Capital Region. They all tend to have an appreciation for detail and originality, he said.
Earlier this month, Lupi was busy working on the DeSoto, an antique window seat from the 1950s and a 1968 Cadillac.
He keeps pictures of his favorite restoration work on a wall in his front office. If Lupi keeps getting customers, he says it’s because he takes pride in his work and prices things fairly.
“I have a good eye for things,” he said. “That’s what makes me a little different from others in the business. I don’t just throw things together. I like to make sure it’s really close to where it should be, and if not perfect, as close to perfect as possible.”