I know the automotive world is not all fiberglass. However, there are times when some of you…. or some of me…. will want to share something – not related to the fiberglass genre in any way.
In this spirit, I’ve created a new category of stories in honor of Monte Python and their famous segway which went something like this: (Click on the Play button below – which looks like a small black triangle):[audio:https://www.undiscoveredclassics.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/completely_different2.mp3|titles=completely_different2]
Anytime I run a story like this, I’ll warn you with the 6 words that appear in the first part of the story title. This is also the category name for such stories.
So….without adieu…. I present the next in what will be a series of articles (unstoppable) called…
“And Now For Something… Completely Different”
I hope you enjoy the story…
Step back for a moment.
Look at what was happening in America when fiberglass cars of various designs started to appear in the 1950’s. It wasn’t only because “fiberglass” was a new material. That certainly was part of it, but it was a synthesis of many factors occurring at once.
The excitement of postwar America was multi-faceted. This was the era when anything seemed possible. There was education and opportunity around every corner for enterprising young men and women, new industries sprouting up with the beginnings of the computer revolution taking hold, new suburban homes away from the big cities, and I could go on. Building your own sports car was just one of many facets of our culture that was exciting to watch and participate – and this goes for designing your own car as well.
Sports Car Designers
Designing your own car was something that Eric Irwin first talked about in the November 1951 issue of MOTOR TREND. From this point forward, young men would launch themselves into the world of design. Some successfully, and some not so successfully. But designing your own car was something that was much more part of the ethos of our society in the 1950’s than it was before or after. This wasn’t limited to budding young amateur designers. That is, many well known designers proposed their own sports car designs too. Howard “Dutch” Darrin, Raymond Loewy, Strother Macminn, Bob Gurr, Gordon Buehrig, and others took their hand at it and designed and sometimes built some fantastic automobiles.
But one of my favorites was a person whose name I can never forget for it suggests such regality by just attempting to pronounce it. Namely, “Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky”.
The Russian Born Count
A quick search on the Internet provides many details of the Count, and let me repeat some here.
Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky was born in 1901 and passed away in 1964. He was a Russian-American industrial designer and was known principally for his streamline style automotive designs. In the 1930’s, he did design work for several customers such as Auburn, Cord, American Austin, and others. Interesting, in the early 1950’s, Preston Tucker called on Sakhnoffsky to design a new iteration of the “Tucker” automobile which was going to be called the “Carioca.” This design did not come to fruition as Preston Tucker was not in good health and passed away around the same time. Click here to read more about the Sakhnoffsy designed Tucker Carioca.
LaBatt’s Beer Truck
Perhaps Sakhnoffsky’s most famous design is that of the Labatt’s Beer Truck – one of my favorite streamline designs on this planet. And those of you who know me understand how enthusiastic I am about 1930’s streamline Art Deco designs, so this is a powerful statement from me.
Michael Lamm, friend of fiberglass, wrote an excellent article in Custom Classic Trucks magazine in December 2001 about “Streamlined Trucks” which included a discussion of Sakhnoffsky. And… there is a good summary about the Labatt’s Beer Truck that comes from http://www.coachbuilt.com/ as follows:
“The Count is perhaps most famous for bringing Champagne taste to beer trucks. Beer advertising was prohibited in Canada and the Labatt’s Company needed public attention. Through the White Motor Company, Labatt’s commissioned de Sakhnoffsky to conceive a tractor-trailer that would both haul huge loads and serve as a travelling billboard. He designed four Streamliners, each one better than the last. The l947 Streamliner’s curved corners and horizontal lines were impressive. The vehicles moved beer across Ontario until l955, when Labatt’s sold off its Streamliner fleet and brought an end to an era.“
Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsy’s Sports Car Designs:
I think I first found “The Count” when I discovered his design for the Labatt’s Beer Truck. However, as Rick D’Louhy and I were canvassing thru 1950’s auto magazines trolling for fiberglass car information, we came across the 1957 October issue of Speed Age. And on the front cover of this magazine were 4 original sports car designs penned by none other than Sakhnoffsky. Boy were we surprised! And through additional research we located another article in February 1958 Motor Guide that focused on the same designs – all as part of a promotion for Pedwin shoes.
The Pedwin Sports Car Design Promotion: “Mr. Dream Car”
The article starts by saying,
“The man who invented dream cars is back with a complete new line of sleek imaginary sports cars. This month, American magazine readers will see once more a style of drawing that to many of them – especially those who were reading men’s magazines before World War II – is as familiar as the pin-up girls of Petty or Vargas. The sleek, imaginative dream cars of Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, which graced the pages of Esquire for years, are to appear in a series of monthly magazine ads.”
“The series will include 12 Sakhnoffsky designed sports cars and will run one each month in the pages of several national magazines as part of an advertising campaign for Pedwin Shoes. Reason for the sports car theme, says the shoe concern, is the “increasing interest nationally in sports cars by the young men of America.” Admirers of the Sakhnoffsky drawings will be able to obtain dye-transfer color reproductions by writing for them.”
Finding the History and The Drawings
Ok….I was intrigued, and I started to research the drawings. I may not want to build such cars, but looking at possible designs for cars is fun for me – and I’m sure many of you. Five designs are shown in the article (the article is shown in the gallery of photos below), and I started to canvass collectors and Ebay. But I only found color copies of these 5 cars – and never more. Were there other elusive designs? What happened to put a stop to such a creative advertising campaign?
So I switched tactics. I started looking for Pedwin ads.
I’ve only found 3 ads so far, and two of the ads are for cars that appear in the color copies of the car designs you could obtain. These were the “Dart” and the “Fury”. However, I found a sixth design of a car in the same timeframe which was different and was called the “Barracuda.” However, this was most likely not a drawing by Sakhnoffsky – no credit is given to him for the design in the ad (whereas the other two ads credit “The Count” for his design.)
So…there’s a bit of a mystery here. Seven Sakhnoffsky original sports car designs are missing. Perhaps they were completed but never went to print or maybe the Pedwin company lost interest (hence the non-Sakhnoffsky car design in one of their ads). Or maybe….the seven designs of the missing cars were completed – but like the legendary missing “Amber Room” of Russian fame, it’s lost to history somewhere, and hopefully….just hopefully….waiting to be found.
Ok you Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky fans out there….you have a new mission. Let’s find the missing Sports Car Designs and shed some light and fame on them for the first time – perhaps ever.
I know you’re up to the task.
Sakhnoffsky on Sports Car Design
“The Count” shared a bit about his philosophy of sports car design in the October 1957 Speed Age article as well. Here are some of his more notable comments:
“To draw sports cars, you have to be deeply conscious of what is mechanical beauty. There is something human in the appeal of a custom-built creation. After driving fast cars, a motor artist discovers that as he becomes more mechanical, the magnificent beast is becoming more human….the whole body of a thoroughbred sports car becomes a symphony of fast, functional lines, accented by power bulges, oversized tachs, twin exhausts, and knock-on wheels.”
“What makes a car look fast? Naturally there are such elementary features as lowness, length of hood, etc. These are ‘musts’ in a speedy silhouette since they are directly related to air resistance and the feeling of power. Psychological styling adds details which suggest, by inference, thoughts related to speed. For instance, a large tachometer does not add a single extra mile to the top speed of a car, but reminds one of the oversized revolution counters observed on Grand Prix jobs. A tiny, short gear-shift lever ‘reeks’ of lightning gear changes, and rows of louvers symbolize a high-performance engine. An oval grille brings to mind Ferraris and Maseratis and a honeycomb air intake the roar of an SSK.”
Sakhnoffsky on Detroit Styling
“The Count” also had something to share about Detroit designs as follows:
“What about Detroit cars? Sakhnoffsky feels that American designers are badly hampered by unreasonable state laws which have not kept pace with automobile design. Headlights, for example, are required to be a prescribed height above the road and a set distance apart, which clashes with modern fender design and interferes with attempts to improve the front end aerodynamically.”
“He has little patience with the current trend to copy European motifs. “I feel that a nation as young and vigorous as the United States should create and lead,” says Sakhnoffsky. “In our overall picture, tastes of the export trade are so unimportant that they should be ignored. It is up to American stylists to originate new conceptions to please our own people.”
Sakhnoffsky sounds like a true American, and was still at the top of his game in terms of design. I’m sure he would have been a wonderful person to meet.
I appreciate Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky’s words and believe he would have appreciated the designs penned by the founders of many of the fiberglass body companies of the 1950’s. Names that we know such as
- Bill Tritt – Glasspar G2, Woodill Wildfire, and Ascot
- Eric Irwin – Lancer(s)
- Doc Boyce-Smith – Victress S1
- Hugh Jorgensen – Victress S1 and S4
- Merrill Powell – Victress C2 and C3
- Noel Bangert – Stag, Manta Ray, and design number 3
- Dick Jones – Meteor SR1
- Jim Byers – Byers SR100
- Richard Bosley – Mark II
- Stirling Gladwin – Maverick
- Testaguzza Brothers – LaSaetta
- Dean Frazen and Ray Green – the Frazen
- Ray Russell – the Detroiter
- Johnny Mays – Fibersport
- James Craig and John Buzby – the Gazelle / Navajo
- Frank Evans and Frederick Grantham – the Grantham Stardust
- Tom Masano – Masano Henry J
- Bob Sorrell – Sorrell SR100
- Jim Rockefeller and Warren Schiber – Rockefeller
- Wally and Harry Hansen – the Cobra
- Robert Owens – Chicagoan
- Ken McLoad – Venus
- Harry Heim and Clark Mitchell – Sabre / Almquist
- Hank McCormack – the McCormack
- Les Dawes – LaDawri Conquest
And many many more you’ll read about on our website. To each of the men above, and those designers not mentioned – I’m sure Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky salutes you. I know that all of us fiberglass enthusiasts certainly do. Bravo gentleman!
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
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