Ex-collision repairman 'Hippie' Dorsa owns restoration shop
Published: Friday, October 11, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 21, 2013 at 6:09 p.m.
OCALA - When Dave and Sue Nassivera wanted to transform a boxy 1951 “bullet nose” Studebaker into a sleek, leopard-look hot rod, they turned to the hippie.
Todd Dorsa Sr., 49, a.k.a. “the Hippie” is the owner and operator of Hippie's Hot Rods, a restoration and modification shop that handles everything from basic repairs to special projects requiring one off unique fabrication on collectible and custom cars.
The Nassiveras found the '51 Studebaker online. They chopped off the roof and interior door panels and grafted on parts from a 1968 Camaro.
“The original roof was tall and boxy. This one is low and long and uses the Camaro glass,” Dorsa said.
The 62-year-old car is getting the front suspension from the '68 Camaro, and the engine will likely be upgraded to a Chevy 350.
“We want to have the Studebaker finished with an airbrushed leopard look (because) my wife is a volunteer at E.A.R.S. animal sanctuary and we have raised the big cats. The car is a long-range project being done in stages and may take another year. Hippie is very talented,” Dave Nassivera said.
Dorsa said his shop's forte is custom fabrication.
“We'll custom-fabricate parts to fix even an airboat or obsolete mower deck,” said Dorsa, a former welder and collision repairman at the Marion County School Board bus garage.
Hippie's Hot Rods can include upgrades on his project cars like safer and more efficient disc brakes and reliable electronic ignition as opposed to drum brakes and mechanical “points and rotor” ignitions. The more advanced technology may not have been available as original equipment on the often decades-old cars.
Dorsa moved to Ocala about 20 years ago from Fort Lauderdale. Co-workers at the bus garage gave him the nickname “Hippie” because of his shoulder-length hair.
Former bus garage co-workers and friends, like Rich Hamley, regularly stop by the shop to chat and check on the latest projects.
“We want to deliver the vision the customer has for their car,” Dorsa said.
Dorsa's wife, Elizabeth, said her husband works nights and Sundays to help his customers.
The somewhat-secluded family-operated shop in northeast Ocala is a magnet for many of the area's hot-rod and collectible car enthusiasts and customers who have a personal vision for their own trademark ride.
Elizabeth Dorsa, who drives a custom 1979 Malibu wagon with a 305 V-8, manages the office, and the couple's son, Todd Dorsa Jr., 24, home from six years of service in the Air Force, is a mechanic and fabricator.
“I learned welding and mechanical work from my dad and sharpened my skills in the service,” Todd Jr. said.
A number of other cars and projects are in the works at the shop, including 1987 and 1988 Chevrolet Monte Carlos and a 1949 Ford.
Dorsa is rebuilding the original flathead eight-cylinder engine from the '49.
David Shankin came to Hippie's Hot Rods to have his 1969 Camaro converted to a “pro tourer.”
“David (Shankin) wants this Camaro to be a full-performance muscle car and go-fast cornering,” Todd Dorsa Sr. said.
Shankin called the older Dorsa a “craftsman” who would add disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering to the Camaro.
It's slated to get an LS-1 Corvette engine, possibly with twin-turbo boost, for power.
“We had to install wheel tubs, which allow us to lower the body 3½ inches and run wider, bigger tires,” Dorsa said.
Another project in the shop now is for Dorsa's brother, Wayne.
“With modifications, including revised motor mounts, we're putting a Chevy 350 V-8 in Wayne's 1985 Jaguar sedan. It will replace the original six-cylinder engine. It's a cost-efficient engine swap,” Dorsa said. He explained it should be a real “sleeper” or a wolf in sheep's clothing in terms of acceleration and power.
“When I get to a stoplight and someone has a racy car, when the light changes, off I go,” Wayne said.