The story below was written by my good friend Rik Hoving who runs the Custom Car Chronicle. Rik and I share a great appreciation for both custom cars and sport customs. Those of you interested in these kinds of cars should visit his website via the link below:
For me this story goes back to 2010 when I was well into my research into Sport Custom Cars in America. As I dug into this subject, I was surprised and impressed to see a wider variety of designs being built in the late 1940s and early 1950s than I had ever seen before. What I was witnessing during my readings was a consolidation of designs – agreements in styling methods and other types of convergence on “what” would be a “custom car” and “what” would be a “sports car.” Rudy Makella’s WOW Cadillac jumped out from the pages of magazines when I first saw it.
As you’ll learn in Rik’s story below, Rudy’s and his family owned a power hammer company – what we know call a metal shaping company. They were located in Indianapolis, Indiana and built custom ordered/modified ambulances, hearses, limousines and more. Rudy was a young man at the time working for his father’s company when he decided he wanted to create a custom car of his own design. Starting with an early 1940s Cadillac convertible, Rudy created an entirely new body for it – one in which the entire front clip rolled forward to reveal the engine when needed. A unique design and a unique car. Worthy of attention the first time I saw it in the magazines. Then I found the real deal.
In 2010, Stephen Lisak had posted photos of the car he had found nearly two decades before and saved from a junkyard. With a bit of research, I confirmed what the car was and shared it Stephen and his wife Mary – the nicest folks you’d ever hope to meet. Over the years we became fast friends and late in 2018 I bought the car.
Back in 2014, Rik Hoving worked with Stephen Lisak to create a story about Stephen’s car – the WOW Cadillac. Recently I asked Rik if we could share his story of this car with our readers here at Undiscovered Classics and today’s story is the result of Rik saying “yes.” Thanks Rik! So away we go.
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.
Crosley Powered Roadster Proposal Resulted in “Panda”- Monium
By Robert D. Cunningham
Following Crosley Motor’s 1952 demise, it seemed as if the glut of intrepid entrepreneurs who gave birth to dozens of postwar baby cars was nowhere to be found. Then, Norwegian immigrant Finn S. Hudson stepped forward. Hudson was a mechanical engineer and one of few former Crosley dealers to come up with a viable plan to keep the Crosley dealer network afloat.
In February 1953, he established Small Cars, Inc.in an outlying section of Kansas City, Missouri. His stated purpose was to manufacture and distribute the Panda, a Crosley-based “small utility vehicle” — so described because of the public’s resistance to the term “sports car.” But Hudson’s Panda truly would be a sports roadster powered by the durable Crosley engine.
There are automotive artists that I find fascinating for their futuristic vision of what might be or in their stylings and designs which capture speed, motion, color and seemingly more than I can see and appreciate with my normal eyes. We’ve covered Howard “Dutch” Darrin quite a bit on our website and another of my favorites – Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky. But one I’ve not shared before is Arthur Radebaugh. In passing conversation with friend and automotive historian this week, Bob Cunningham, I learned that he’s a great admirer of Radebaugh’s work too.
Bob was kind enough to put together an article for us which showcases some of Radebaugh’s artistic skill and his history and background. He’s also shared quite a few images, and I’ve placed all of these images in a new area of our website which contains historical archives. I’ll share a link to this area at the end of today’s story. Thanks to Bob for sharing today so without delay, take it away Mr. Cunningham 🙂
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.