Paul Treppa’s official job title is “Senior Prototype Location Technician” but our contact at Chrysler Canada referred to him as “the Viper handler.”
Treppa – he was the big, bespectacled guy you saw standing next to the 2013 SRT Viper display at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto this year – is the guy in charge of driving that gorgeous, Stryker Red eyeball-magnet wherever it goes, and keeping it clean and safe.
He’s basically the Viper’s bodyguard. Yeah, it’s a sweet job.
He says outside of “how much is the car?” and “is it fast?” the one question he gets asked the most at auto shows is “so how did you get this job?” If you’re looking to get into the car location technician biz, you’ll have to meet a few qualifications.
1) You have to be a very good driver
Before he handled Chrysler prototype cars for Oshawa, Ontario-based fleet management firm QEK – he’s been doing it for 19 years, now; they're a long-time Chrysler partner – Treppa ran a tire business in Detroit. Shoeing rubber on show cars is how he made his first contacts in the fleet industry.
That’s not really important. What’s important is that he started driving at age seven. Four decades of practice help when you’ve been tasked with precision-driving a priceless prototype at high speed, six inches off another car’s bumper, as Treppa sometimes does, on photo or commercial shoots. (That's him in the red SRT Viper in this press photo.)
2) You have to be willing to get physical
The SRT Viper on display at the CIAS this year was the prototype, the very first one built. As you can imagine, it means a lot to Chrysler, specifically Ralph Gilles, the Viper’s American-Canadian designer and a friend and neighbour to Treppa.
That’s why they have a guy like Treppa protecting the car at all times, a guy willing to get between the Viper and any too-eager fans who jump on the display stand for a closer look. “Here in Toronto, the people have been fantastic. I get people stepping up [on the stand] and as I soon as I say ‘Hey!’ they’re down. Other cities — let’s just say we don’t really get physical unless we have to. And we’ve had to.”
3) You have to be able to look serious
Treppa’s handled several Chrysler prototypes during his tenure at QEK – the Atlantic concept was one of his first – but his favourite was the Dodge Challenger concept. Besides sitting higher, and thus being easier to get in and out of venues, it was also the first car he was allowed to spin the tires with.
Treppa’s the one behind the wheel in that famous photo of the Challenger burning rubber next to a cactus. “The shoot director kept saying, ‘You’ve got to look serious!’ because I kept smiling during the burnout. How do you do that when you’re in a beautiful car having the time of your life?” A framed poster-size print of the photo, signed by Gilles, sits above Treppa’s bar at home.
4) You have to be willing to work (and play) hard
Treppa works most of the year, often way more than 40 hours a week. He’s constantly being shuttled between airports, but it’s not all bad. “I’ve been to Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam, Jamaica — I’ve never been to Alaska, though I’d like to go,” he says. He has particularly fond memories of hitting up Italy during the Fiat 500 “Immigrants” commercial shoot.
The job also involves rubbing shoulders with celebrities like Sean Connery, Angelina Jolie and Danny DeVito whenever they've been roped into a Chrysler-sponsored event or commercial.
5) You have to be patient
Besides being useful at sometimes long, drawn-out photo and commercial shoots, patience comes in handy when you’re taking questions – and listening to stories – from hundreds upon hundreds of enthusiasts at car shows. “Everyone always seems to have had a car just like whatever I’m standing next to, and of course they have to tell me about it.”
He doesn’t get so many questions about the SRT Viper, especially in Toronto, he says, because a lot of people already seemed to know everything about the car. “There’s a real passion for the Viper, here,” Treppa says.
6) You have to be resourceful
If you can troubleshoot on a photo or commercial shoot, you could be a location technician – and a popular one, at that – in no time.
Example: when working with the then-new PT Cruiser convertible on a photo shoot in Florida, Treppa was told to keep the car under a cover during breaks to stop amateurs from snapping spy shots. It wasn’t working well — the cover just drew more cameras. “Eventually I just kept the cover off and started telling people it was a custom PT Cruiser I had done at home,” he explains. “That seemed to satisfy them — no one took any more pictures, anyway.”
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