Welcome to Forgotten Cars, where we highlight fascinating cars and engines that are obscure, unrecognized and lost to the passage of time.
I'd like to thank reader DoctorNine for coming up with this week's suggestion for a forgotten car, and it's a great one. Let's wind the clock back about 60 years and take a look at a very interesting car in a very interesting time in America.
When World War II ended, a generation of Americans came home from Europe after seeing something very special during their service: the sports car. Two seats, no top, good handling, powerful engine, fun to drive — that's what they wanted. Imports from Europe ramped up, including Jaguars and MGs, while homegrown sports car manufacturers sprung up as well.
One of them was Glasspar, although they didn't actually start life in the car business. As Hemmings tells it, Glasspar was started in California the 1940s by a young man named Bill Tritt, who had a great deal of success building fiberglass boats.
One day Tritt met an Air Force officer named Ken Brooks, who like many Californians at the time was building a hot rod. But he needed a body for the car, and aluminum proved way too expensive. Tritt then convinced Brooks that fiberglass was the way to go for a sports car body — it would be durable as well as cost-effective.
The Tritt and Brooks they produced used a Willys frame and engine with a fiberglass body and a reworked suspension that allowed for excellent handling. They called this car the Brooks Boxer, and it was finished in June 1951, according to Hemmings. As you can see, it bore more than just a passing resemblance to the Jaguar XK120 of the time.
Tritt would grow his operation and take on new investors, building a car using the same design called the Glasspar G2. Though the Korean War effort made supplies scarce and nearly ended Glasspar before they really got started, the company partnered with a U.S. Rubber subsidiary called Naugatuck Chemical to get the cars produced. A 1952 spread in Life Magazine sparked massive interest in the G2, causing a fiberglass sports car revolution almost overnight.
According to this story in the New York Times, there is some debate over whether the G2 was the first fiberglass car, although it is considered the most significant.
Alright, so you've got a sports car — now what do you do with it? Go racing, obviously. Thus was born the G2 Mameco-Ardun racer, the factory race car made to promote the Glasspar company, according to the Times. Powered by a Mercury flathead V8, this G2 held its own against Ferraris and Jaguars in California's burgeoning racing scene, when guys like Phil Hill and Jack McAfee were starting out. Can you imagine what an exciting time and place that must have been?
The Times reports that Glasspar made about 200 G2 kit cars as well as bodies for Volvo and Kaiser. Eventually Tritt left Glasspar and they exited the sports car game to focus on boat-building. Lame.
As for the Mameco-Ardun racer, check out the Times' story to find out what happened to it. The race car disappeared off the face of the earth until it was found rotting in a California field in 1968. Long story short, it ended up getting a full restoration and a well deserved fawning-over at this year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance.
If you want to know more about Glasspar or early fiberglass cars, check out automotive historian Geoff Hacker's site Forgotten Fiberglass. He's the fellow who wrote those articles for Hemmings I cited in this story. It's good to see that someone is out there keeping these legends alive.
What are your favorite unconventional sports cars? And keep those suggestions for Forgotten Cars coming!