There’s so much good information to be had in vintage magazines – but the articles are just the tip of the iceberg. Crucial information is often found in the editorials – like the editorial we found in the November, 1951 issue of Motor Trend Magazine. In this issue, the editor, Walt Woron, recognized that styling ideas from Detroit were coming from California customs, sport customs and hot rods – and this was 1951 – and Detroit confirmed this. A quote from his article shares,
“It has been freely admitted by top Detroit automotive designers that many innovations on production cars are the result of watching the developments of these enthusiasts who build their own custom cars, sports cars and hot rods.”
This editorial is fascinating because it confirms that innovation, style and design ideas were coming from southern California and this was the very place that fiberglass sports cars debuted in late 1951.
More and more we’re seeing handcrafted American sports specials being “discovered” and written about across America. But something else interesting is happening too. They’re being restored – just like Mike Akens’ Victress S1A roadster in today’s story.
I love Sport Customs – but it took me a long time to learn to call them by this name. If you think handcrafted fiberglass specials from the 50s are rare, just try to find a sport custom. We estimate that for every 10 or more fiberglass specials that were built, there may have been 1 sport custom. But what is a sport custom?
Another term often used for these cars is “American Boulevard Cruiser.” Both terms describe a car with the following characteristics:
Sporty in nature
Most were made from steel, a few in aluminum and less in fiberglass
Larger than a sports car in size with a typical wheelbase of 110 inches or greater
A completely new body design or one so heavily restyled that it has taken on an original (or nearly original) shape
And the funny thing about American Sport Custom cars is there’s hardly any left. Connect that to the rarity of the cars to begin with and the fact that unlike fiberglass specials, nearly every sport custom is a “one-off” and you can begin to understand why I find them fascinating. And exciting when a new one is discovered. And that’s what recently happened to me when Richard Brown sent me a photo of a car that he had recently acquired. A car that he calls the “Porter Pegasus.”
Since then we have become friends with the new owner, Jiri Jirovec, and he has brought his Wildfire home to Pizen in the Czech Republic. I bet it’s the only Wildfire in that country!
I’ve Always Loved The Look of this Wildfire
Jiri has kept the car in its original Euroean barn-find condition. He bought it back in 2014 from someone who had brought it to Europe in the late 1980s, and it looks like a perfect barn-find from that era. To me, this Wildfire has some styling points that really made the car “pop” back when it was built and even now. These include:
1939 Lincoln Zephyr front and rear bumpers
1935 Ford Wire wheels (16 inch)
1953-1955 Corvette windscreen
Dashboard layout is perfect – large (not small) period gauges
Stylish Lincoln Zephyr outside door buttons (I’ve only seen this on one other Wildfire and all Allied sports cars of course)
Woodill appropriate rear seat (full back) with seat cushions as intended
The stance on the car is perfect – body is low and close to the wheels (maybe a bit too close) but it looks hot
Steering Wheel – large and flashy but I don’t recognize it. Any thoughts here gang
Many of you know that I own the 1959 Moon Transporter. Actually, it goes by many names:
Norm Holtkamp called it the “Cheetah Transporter”
Others refer to it as the “Moon Transporter” because Dean Moon owned it and was updating its power and braking
Still others (mostly in Europe) call it the “Holtkamp Transporter” because it was designed and built by and for Norm Holtkamp by the legendary Troutman and Barnes metalshapers
I bought it in December, 2006 because it looked cool and I thought it would look great carrying my newly acquired 1961 Porsche Tiburon Coupe. Rick D’Louhy and I had just reconnected that year and by December, 2006 on Christmas day – the transporter arrived at my house in Tampa, Florida. But it wasn’t as simple as that to get it, and that’s the fun part of sharing today’s story.
Meteor SR-1 sports cars are few and far between so when someone who owns one contact me I’m always interested to learn more. Especially when the ownership story goes back to the late 1950s. That means we can get the story straight from those who found it, repaired it, drove it, raced it, restored it, showed it and more. How can you beat that!
A New History Begins For The Meteor
Gene and Sonny kept the car for a few years but sold it to their friend Joe Simmons in the late 1960s. In 1969 when Joe’s brother Tom came home from Vietnam, Joe asked his brother to help with mechanical repairs and service. During this time Joe decided to glass in both doors to give the body added strength.
Both Joe and Tom co-owned the Meteor and had fun with it until around 1973 when Tom became full owner. Tom continued to drive it for a few years but retired the car into a garage in 1975 with a blown headgasket. There it would sit for 20+ years until Tom retired and it was time to take out the Meteor and have some more fun.
Alan and Jen Mortlock are getting ready to move back to the UK, and I’ll be sad to see them go. I met Alan and Jen over 10 years ago when they first acquired their Glasspar G2 sports car and I was impressed with the quality of their work and the speed of which they were able to do their restoration. I had a chance to personally see the car and Alan’s work when I stopped by in August, 2009 on my way to Bonneville with the 1946 Bill Burke Belly Tank Streamliner – but that’s a different story. Check out the photos below from August, 2009.
Alan and Jen Mortlock at their home in Sikeston, Missouri – August, 2009. I picked up Alan and off we went to Bonneville Speedweek with the Burke Belly Tank. What an adventure that was for both of us.
The History of Custom Car Literature, When Did It Start, What Did They Publish, and Why It Was Researched
In The Beginning…
Dan Post was the first to document in great detail how to build a custom car in postwar America. Being “first” is an impressive thing to say – especially when the field of customizing a car was a fledgling enterprise in the mid 1940s and cars to customize were few and far in between. Remember…during the wartime years new cars weren’t produced and those that were new before the war were treasured commodities.
Cars in the prewar era were mostly designed with open fenders. Only in the early 1940s and then in the postwar years were the designs “modern” enough to consider customizing cars in many of the ways we think of today. And it was during this time when Dan Post was there to capture, document and share what he was seeing with America at large. Dan Post was there at the beginning – writing and learning about what he saw – and sharing it across the country.
Many of the fiberglass sports cars of the 1950s were designed by individuals who later became established names in their field. Hugh Jorgensen, who designed the Victress S1A (along with Doc-Boyce Smith), is one such designer who went on to Detroit and made his career in styling. Noel Bangert, who designed three of his own cars, went on to Hollywood where he initially became a talent scout. Later as Noel’s career evolved, he brought forth movies as an executive producer such as The Exorcist.
Another designer of the day, Phillip Egan, actually made a name for himself as part of the Tucker design team before moving to small-scale projects. After the Tucker Corporation dissolved, Egan worked on several other automotive projects in the ’50s, including those with Kaiser and Sears, where he proposed styling changes to the Allstate car. It was around that time that Egan began working with the Replac Corporation to build a sports car and a kit with one common design.
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