The Handbuilt CNG-Powered “Magnolia Special” Roadster Is For Sale – Ben Branch @Silodrome


This is the “Magnolia Special” Roadster, it was built by well-known motorcycle designer J.T. Nesbitt of Curtiss Motorcycles based out of Birmingham, Alabama. Unusually, this car is powered not by gasoline, diesel, or electricity, but by compressed natural gas (CNG).

Nesbitt built the car between 2009 – 2011, once it was completed he drove it from New York to Los Angeles over a span of 89 hours in October of 2011. The car didn’t skip a beat. It was featured on Jay Leno’s Garage in 2012 after arriving in LA, and Jay was clearly impressed with it.

Fast Facts – The Magnolia Special

  • The Magnolia Special was built by motorcycle designer J.T. Nesbitt between the years of 2009 and 2011. Nesbitt designed motorcycles for Confederate Motorcycles, and is now the head designer at Curtiss Motorcycles.
  • Nesbitt developed a custom chassis for the car based on a 1928 Ford roadster frame, a steel Superleggera-style frame was then constructed to support the sleek, lightweight alloy body.
  • Power is provided by a 4.2 liter Jaguar XK inline-six that has been highly modified, it’s now fitted with 12.5:1 compression forged pistons, stainless-steel valves, and a pair of high-lift, short-duration camshafts.
  • Dual CNG tanks are fitted under the vehicle, they consist of extruded alloy cores wrapped in carbon composite. The tanks are said to serve as chassis stiffeners and they sit on either side of the driveshaft (see underside shots of the car below).

The Inspiration For The Magnolia Special

The spark of an idea that led to the development and construction of the Magnolia Special was a comment made during an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage. Jay had commented that he didn’t understand why compressed natural gas, or CNG, wasn’t a more popular fuel source for vehicles.

This is the Magnolia Special, a car that was built a little over 10 years ago from scratch in New Orleans by J.T. Nesbitt. It has a completely bespoke body, a 4.2 liter Jaguar XK inline-six, a Tremec T5 five-speed manual transmission, and it uses compressed natural gas as its fuel source.

Motorcycle designer J.T. Nesbitt was watching from home in New Orleans and he thought the idea was fascinating.

He began researching the fuel and its potential uses, and before he knew it he was designing a car powered by CNG to take him on a remarkable cross-continental adventure to meet Jay Leno in person and appear on the show (you can see the episode in full below).

Building The Magnolia Special

The design began with a 1928 Ford roadster frame with TIG-welded boxed-steel rails which incorporated two CNG tanks underneath in the center that both held the fuel and acted as stressed chassis members to increase rigidity.

Onto this chassis a Superleggera-style frame was constructed, a series of small steel tubes that act as a structure for the lightweight alloy body work that was all painstakingly formed by hand. Under the body the car has a steel bulkhead, a steel stringer nose framework, and tubular steel cabin reinforcement around the two occupants.

Above Video: This is the episode of Jay Leno’s Garage dedicated to the Magnolia Special, in it designer J.T. Nesbitt goes into detail telling the story of the unusual car’s inspiration, design, and construction

Suspension consists of double A-arms and pushrod-operated inboard coilover shock absorbers up front and a live axle in the rear with a four-link arrangement including a Panhard rod, and adjustable coilovers to match the front end.

The car has modern Wilwood disc brakes with aluminum calipers and ventilated rotors front and back, with twin master cylinders. The car rides on Custom Dayton 72 spoke wheels with black rims and polished spokes shod with 6.00/6.50-20 Excelsior Competition tires.

Under the hood you’ll find a 4.2 liter Jaguar XK inline-six that was rebuilt before it was installed. During the rebuild the engine was given a refurbished by Simplex Automotive Machine in New Orleans. A set of 12.5:1 compression ratio forged pistons were fitted as well as stainless-steel valves, ARP fasteners, and high-lift, short-duration camshafts.

A custom six-into-one exhaust header was fabricated and wrapped to keep engine bay temperatures down, and on the other side of the engine an intake plenum was made with a cast badge bearing original Louisiana State motto “Non sibi, sed suis,” Not for one’s self but for one’s own in English.

The Magnolia Special has seating for two and some trunk space in the rear. The car is completely road legal and it attracts crowds wherever it stops.

Power is sent back through a Tremec T5 five-speed manual transmission and from there back to the live axle and its 3.50:1 limited-slip differential to the rear wheels. Steering is rack and pinion, and it has an unusual tubular-rimmed metal steering wheel with cast adornments on its spokes.

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