Forgotten Fiberglass: Does Anyone Remember These Cool '50s Sports Cars?

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Nov 16, 2018

At the Fairfield County Concours d’Caffeine a few weeks ago I ran into one Michael Palma, customer relations for Redline Restorations. He was hard to miss, putting on a flamboyant entrance in a sporty bright red 1959 Bocar. What the hell’s that, you may ask? Welcome to the wide, wonderful world of post-war fiberglass sports cars.

Michael Palma with Redline Restorations' Bocar: It's light and fast and fiberglass. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Here’s a few names for you: Almquist, Darrin, Devin, Glasspar, McCormack (which would sell you a car or rent you the molds to make one for yourself), Meteor, Sorrell, Sports Car Engineering, Victress, Woodill.  And let’s not forget the immortal Hustler! All of these companies made fiberglass bodies that fit on a variety of chassis (VW and Ford were favorites) in the days before unibody construction.

Fiberglass was a new material that enchanted many, because it provided a quick and easy way to become a carmaker. As it turned out, none of these companies became volume manufacturers, but—beginning with the Stout Car (1946) and the Kurtis (1949) they had a lot of fun for a few years. The Bocar, built by Bob Carnes in Lakewood, Colorado, is a great example, and a better car than many of the other entrants.

The really classy Bocar interior. (Jim Motavalli photo)

“There were 13 made, and only about two left,” Palma said. “This one has 283 Chevy power with four Weber sidedraft carburetors, plus Porsche 356 suspension and steering. It handles like a dream.” Of course, those carbs suck down gas so fuel economy is only eight to 10 mpg, but who worries about that? The car, not all that cheap even in the 50s, is now for sale at $350,000.

The Bocar's back. Imagine seeing one of these in the Eisenhower years! (Jim Motavalli photo)

 Carnes’ cars went through several stages before settling down. X-1 (1958) was followed by X-2, X-3 and XP4. Early examples had a 90-inch wheelbase, wire wheels from Jaguar and drum brakes via England’s Girling. The car I saw was an XP-5, with a fiberglass body wrapped around a moly-tube space frame. Available fully built for around $8,700, it was very light (1,650 pounds), and very fast—175 mph at Daytona Beach.

Did British sports cars like the AC Ace (later the Cobra) inspire the Almquist?

The XP-6 upped the ante with a supercharged Corvette engine and near to 400 horsepower. For racing, there was the Stiletto—only three were made.

Traces of Jaguar XK-120 in there.

But not all fiberglass cars of the era were aimed at scaring the bejesus out of their owners. And that brings us to the Galileo Special and Geoff Hacker of Undiscovered Classics.

The lovely Galileo was never finished! You can finish it! (Undiscovered Classics photo)

Hacker, who lives in Tampa, is a collector of one-of-a-kind concept cars and fiberglass specials, and he’s recently started selling some of them off. The one that caught my eye, now for sale at an undisclosed amount, is the 1957 Galileo Show Car. This has nothing to do with the Italian polymath who’s known as the “father of observational astronomy” and died in 1642 (under house arrest for heresy).

The Galileo Special: Ready to take off for the planet Venus, but you'd need to sit on an orange crate. (Undiscovered Classics photo)

No, this Joseph Galileo was born in 1928, served in the Army Air Corps for four years (stationed in Japan), and came back raring to construct his own space-age car—built of fiberglass, naturally. I would guess he was inspired by the Alfa-Romeo BAT 5, 7 and 9 cars (which definitely helped shape the Batmobile) built between 1953 and 1955.

The three Alfa-Romeo BAT cars, built between 1953 and 1955, may have inspired Joseph Galileo's space-age fiberglass dream. (Wikipedia Commons)

Galileo’s car was a sensation in San Francisco, because it embodied post-war optimism and forward-looking thinking. Cars had fins, inspired by rockets, and we were heading into space. The Galileo Special looks like it’s ready to blast off to the moon.

Galileo’s car was built on a 1949 Ford chassis, but had Oldsmobile Rocket 88 power and a Packard pushbutton transmission. Upward-swinging gullwing doors were part of the design, which suggests Buck Rogers’ spacecraft. It made the round of shows when the bodywork was done, Hacker said, and it was driveable at one point, but the engine and transmission were later taken out for another project. The body design, complete with gullwing doors (as seen on the then-current Mercedes 300 SL), seems to have been the key thing. "IThe build quality is very high--Galileo was a master painter. There's nice thick fiberglass. And it's not unusual for cars like this to not get finished," Hacker said. "People move on to other things, but they don't usually sell the cars they built. This one was driven a bit, but it was never a grocery getter. Galileo was inspired by the jet and rocket age, just as Harley Earl was with the fins on the 1948 Cadillac [which drew from the Lockheed P-38 Lightning plane]."

The Galileo was one of one. (Undiscovered Classics)

Hacker says he’s owned the Galileo for three years or so. It’s up for sale, along with a delicious collection of automotive oddities, many unique: Byers SR100, Wellman Special, Devin Renault Special, Debonnaire, LaDawri Conquest (100 were built), California Special and Piranha Speedster. Check out the whole gallery here

The Bosley GT Mark 1. Because an Ohio horticulturalist wanted to build it. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

“I have one of the largest collections of concept cars, and what you’re seeing is just a tiny fraction of them,” he said. “I bought the first one, the Shark, 40 years ago.”

I asked Hacker about the Bocar. “Oh that’s a very common car,” he said. “I think around 15 were made. Most of my cars are one of one.” Another one that got away is the Bosley GT Mark 1 (pronounced “Baw-sley”). An untutored kid in Mentor, Ohio built a beautiful Ferrari-inspired sports car for his own use, then followed it with the Interstate—a showpiece full of groundbreaking technology. I saw the Bosley in the basement of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

A Bocar setting a speed record at 175 mph. (Wikipedia Commons)

Hacker’s not kidding about his unique cars. He and his team own both Omohundros and the three surviving el Tiburons.  They’ve got a Quincy-Lyn Urbacar, a Grantham Stardust, a Jones Meteor, plus the Road & Track Le Mans Coupe, an Allied Cisitalia “Swallow,” the McCormack show car, the Gougeon streamliner, a Maverick Sportster, the Bearcage, a Victress S1A and an S4—the lost concept car known as the “Chicagoan.” 

Hacker’s first car, his “rosebud” as it were, was a Covington Shark roadster, built on a Renault chassis. He restored it with partner Rick D’Louhy, and eventually found a second Shark in California. But both got donated to a museum, and hacker went on to other things—until 2006, when he found another Covington Shark. The spark was re-lit, and this time there was no stopping him.  

Another big collection of these oddities is in the Lane Museum in Nashville. If you’re down there, definitely check it out.

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