The car had everything going for it. It was an American-built sports car at a time when Americans were getting frustrated with the build quality of Triumphs, Jaguars and MGs. It looked like (how about slavishly imitated?) the Lotus Elan, but with VW Beetle underpinnings it was likely to be much more reliable. An important racing star—Sam Posey—was associated with Autodynamics’ Marblehead, Massachusetts factory.
The car had the improbable name Hustler, but that had no unpleasant connotations in 1967 and 1968, when this car was built. Hustler magazine wasn’t published until 1974—I checked. Studebaker also offered a car called the Dictator—before World War II. The Hustler was offered as a kit for $1,300, and completely built for $2,600. In contrast, a Porsche 911S—admittedly the top of the line—was $7,255 in 1967. The Hustler’s engine was up to you—a 911 motor could maybe be shoehorned in, and there was even talk that a Corvair powerplant would work.
Only 43 rear-engined fiberglass Hustlers were built, though, and Posey (who is now suffering from Parkinson’s) admitted at the time it was Autodynamics’ own fault. “We’ve been working on the Hustler now for four years, and it’s still not quite finished,” he told Car and Driver. “We introduced it at the New York show in 1967, and the reaction was tremendous, but we’ve only now [in 1968] hired a full-time marketing specialist to set up dealerships and that sort of thing.”
Autodynamics was doing well with its Deserter dune buggy, also VW-based, and its Formula Vee race car, so maybe it couldn’t keep focused on a fiberglass sports car project. There's a story out there that Posey raced a plane in a Hustler, maybe even this one, and won--but who knows if it's true?
I’d never heard of the Hustler, but ran into a screaming yellow version at Westport, Connecticut’s Concours d’Caffeine the other day. It would have been interesting even if it didn’t have “Hustler” badges all over it.
Did I mention it looks like a Lotus Elan, complete with pop-up headlights? In the fiberglass, the Hustler looks decidedly English, if just slightly larger than the typical roadster of the period. The car is four inches wider than the Elan, and six inches longer. It’s well-executed, too, with nicely finished edges, decent shutlines and a Spartan cabin that nonetheless boasts full instrumentation.
The car looks too good to be rare, but Hustlers are very scarce on the ground today. A red one was for sale in Texas for $3,000 in 2008, and one that needed “tinkering and restoration” was offered in New Haven, Connecticut in 2009. Also red, it may be the same car, now offered for $2,600.
The yellow car has a fascinating story. It’s owned by an old-time car guy named Tullio Ferri, who I remember playing garage rock in various bands at my high school. His specialty at Ash Creek Classic Motors is restoring old 356 Porsches, and the Hustler has a 356 1600 Super power plant, so (as the British say) it’s right up his street.
Ferri’s wife’s best friend married Posey’s brother, and that’s why she was up in Sharon, Connecticut a couple of years ago, after Posey’s mother died and the estate was being settled. The barn on the property was coming down, and inside it was this little yellow car with decades of dust and dirt on it. “My wife called me,” Ferri said. “She said they had this little car with a Porsche motor called an Autodynamics Hustler. Was I interested?”
Indeed he was. The car, which had squirrels living in it and mouse-eaten wiring, came home with Ferri for $5,000. And he’s been working on it ever since. He cleaned off the dirt and found an entirely intact fiberglass body underneath. He rebuilt the Porsche motor, which is now pumping out a heady 88 horsepower. “In a 1,500-pound car, it’s pretty fast,” Ferri said.
There’s less than 10,000 miles on the odometer, and the Corvette-sourced windshield is without blemish. The car now runs and drives, though it’s missing its top and top frame. Ferri is hoping he can adapt a Lotus frame to work, but the Elan is a little wider than the Hustler.
Ferri offered me a drive, and I was totally game. We drove around his Black Rock neighborhood, and—once I was behind the wheel—it was a total gas. The fanciful ad reads, “Autodynamics has provided Hustler with snug bucket seats, room enough for people well over six feet, and a fully instrumented dash that is well-lit and easily seen.”
What a laugh! I’m six foot on a good day, and I can barely drive the Hustler. Not only are my knees up against the dashboard, but my feet barely fit on the tiny pedals. Still, I adapted to these inconveniences, and soon I was rowing it through the four-speed box.
Certainly not fast by today’s standards, the Hustler is like a well-set-up VW of the period—kind of like the one Paul Newman souped up. It’s low to the ground, and very light, so it would be competitive with the 356.
Ferri was in a race to finish the Hustler before the Labor Day festivities at Lime Rock race track, because one of the turns is now officially called “The Sam Posey Straight.” And he successfully drove it up there, afraid at any minute that the monkey-wrenched shift linkage—held on by wire, as per the factory—would give way. “I was incredibly nervous,” he said. “I brought all the tools necessary to pull the engine if I had to.”
The Hustler made it to Lime Rock without problems, and seems to be settling into being back on the road. Ferri could use it as a daily driver, but what if this is the only roadworthy Hustler still on the planet today? With irreplaceable bodywork? That kind of thing can make you very nervous indeed.