The 1961 Seagrave Fiberglass Custom Compact Car

Hi Gang…

For the past several years, the fiberglass bodied Seagrave Compact Coupe has been surfacing and retreating – looking for a new owner and deserving of one too.  Having survived for 50+ years in unrestored and unshown condition…it’s time that it was brought out in the light and shown to the world in its original form – restored and shiny in all its fiber beauty.  I would suggest generous use of the color “red” in the car 🙂

And…good news fiberfans.  Most recently it did find a new home – right here in our own Forgotten Fiberglass group.  More about that in a future story as restoration begins.

Recently, I mentioned the Seagrave car to Alden Jewell who promptly went to his voluminous archives (picture the last scene in the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where they stored the Ark of the Covenant and you get the idea) and pulled a few items of interest.  Let’s see what Alden had in his archives to share with us:

Announcement of Seagrave Intention to Build Car:
Custom Compact Car for $3000
September 25, 1960 (Unknown Publication)

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New York, September 24 (AP): Leslie Roberts, chairman of the Seagrave Corporation, said yesterday the firm was studying the feasibility of manufacturing a compact custom built automobile to sell for less than $3,000.

Alden also found the following photo taken of the Seagrave some years after the car had been built and was in storage:

e-Alden Jewell

So based on this information, we have a “birthdate” for the concept of building this car.  Way to go Alden!

Leslie Kendall – Curator of The Petersen Automotive Museum – Finds More

Leslie Kendall joined in and sent us two more photos of the Seagrave – taken at the same location where Alden’s photo was taken.  Let’s see these photos had to share:

d-Leslie Kendall

 

c-Leslie Kendall

Sports Car Illustrated:  January, 1961

Alden Jewell also had a few more things up his fiber-sleeve and shared the following “debut” article with us – a short note on the car being available to the public in the near future.  Let’s see what the article had to say.

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An under $3000 personal car is in the works at the Seagrave Corporation, known for 75 years for its fire apparatus.  Three cars have been built and are running, but production details were still in flux at this writing.  Body styles include a convertible, a two-door four passenger coupe, and a two passenger coupe.

Powered by a four cylinder 65 bhp Continental engine, top speed is 75 to 80 mph.  Options will be offered in choice of transmission – either automatic or manual.  Two of the existing cars have been built of fiberglass and one is aluminum.

Plans and rights to the car were acquired from a Detroit corporation.  With a 93 inch wheelbase, and a 58 inch tread, the car stands a scant 48 inches high and is 13 feet long.  Fuel capacity is 11 gallons.  Autolite electrical components and Stewart Warner instruments are used.

The 1700 pound car has a 19 cubic foot trunk.  The Seagrave Corporation has headquarters at 122 E. 42nd Street, New York 17, New York.

Thoughts on the Article:

Interesting…”plans and rights to the car were acquired from a Detroit corporation.”  I wonder what this means and if the car was planned by someone or another company prior to Seagrave either taking the car on or funding the project (you’ll see that I later found the answer to this question below).

And a 93 inch wheelbase is quite small – most of our fiberglass sports cars have a wheelbase of around 100 inches.  “Economy car” this sure was!  Here are some more photos that appeared in the eBay auction and other locations too – in color – of the Seagrave car in its current condition:

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Additional Information From Seagrave Fire Apparatus: 

During the eBay auction, a Seagrave Company representative contacted the owner and posted additional information about the history of this special car for those interested in the auction.  Here is what was shared:

Tom (owner of the Seagrave car during the auction):

I have some general information below from Matt Lee (the author of several Seagrave books and teach of old truck restoration):

The cars were hand made by Continental Motors of Muskego, Michigan to promote the sale of gas engines by Continental. None of the automakers wanted them so Continental looked for someone who already had a dealer network …. Seagrave.  

Seagrave nixed the deal (1960s Seagrave was into the sale to FWD at the time and did not want “excess baggage” that might complicate the deal with FWD.) So the cars were sold as scrap by Continental. It was thought that there were two fiberglass and one aluminum prototypes made. I did see a letter from Seagrave to Continental signed by Andy Ayers, sales manager back then. When I met with Andy a few years ago he could not remember anything about the deal.

I did send an email to the guy who used to run the museum, but am unsure if he will have any additional information or not. I will pass along any information if it becomes available.

Thank you,

Leanne Fields
Seagrave Fire Apparatus, LLC
(715) 823-2141 Ext. 1246

Summary:

So…quite a bit to share about the short history of Seagrave – and apparently a prototype car effort by the engine company “Continental” as well.  The stories that surround our focus on fiberglass cars never cease to amaze me once we find the history and details that are always out there to find gang!

I’ll have another story to share about the Seagrave car in the near future – an article that appeared in Car Life Magazine about this car later in 1961.  And maybe Bob Cunningham may find something in his archives on rare and unusual cars too (that would be great!)  But for now…

Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…

Glass on gang…

Geoff

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Comments

The 1961 Seagrave Fiberglass Custom Compact Car — 5 Comments

  1. A correction to the seller’s comments: The Seagrave was assembled in Muskegon, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Michigan in the lower peninsula. That is the home of Continental Motors, which made engines for many makes of autos, aircraft, tanks, jeeps fork lifts and much more. I have their engines in my ’48 Willys Jeepster, my ’28 Whippet and my ’47 Aeronca airplane.

  2. Neat story! The million dollar question remains – “Who designed the car for Continental Motors?” Was it Richard Arbib?

  3. Continental Motors started building vehicle motors about 1910. In the 1950s Kaiser and Hudson were major customers. Kaiser engines were a Continental design. Hudson engineering designed their engines for Continental to manufacture. The Hudson engines were built at a Continental plant next door to the Hudson factory in Detroit. It was on land Hudson bought circa 1910 to set up one of America’s first industrial parks.

    • ~ @ hugh, the history of Continental Motors is a remarkable story over many years. i’ll save a bit of space and only link the wiki page, and not list the hundreds of makes which used Continental power plants.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_Motors_Company#Automobiles_that_used_Continental_engines
      the conversation about their aviation engines is most interesting, too. they bolstered the industry as told in “Flying With Forty Horses” by Chet Peek – a book covering the story of the Continental A-40, the engine which revived the struggling aviation industry during the Great Depression.

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