Wildest Thing In Glass – The Road and Track LeMans Coupe

Elegant But Simple Interior Was Designed And Built By Alton Johnson In The Late 1950's For His LeMans Coupe.

Hi Gang…

The story of the LeMans Coupe is one of the most exciting to share about any fiberglass car from the 1950’s or 1960’s.  I’ll have to do this in separate articles because each car built had a different story, and the designers, stylists, and people who participated in the build were many and varied. 

Just to give you a bit of the taste, the concept of the LeMans Coupe was sponsored by John Bond of Road and Track (Bond was owner and editor of the magazine) and the designer of the body was none other than Strother MacMinn (called “Mac” by his friends) – legendary designer and Art Center College of Design Instructor and Head of their Department of Transportation.

In a series of Road and Track articles in the late 1950’s, John Bond challenged his readers to build a car that could win LeMans – something Briggs Cunningham almost did in the early 1950’s.  Bond helped design the car using experts available to his magazine, and in 4 separate articles on “Sports Car Design”, Bond stepped through a proposal on how to build the body, chassis, and drivetrain.  Then, he challenged the “best builders in America” to build it. 

We’ve identified two groups of people who built a LeMans Coupe, and worked with John Bond to potentially showcase their car in the magazine.  Each group knew about the other, and Rick D’Louhy and I are lucky enough to have found the full history of both companies – which we’ll share in “Forgotten Fiberglass” stories in the future.

The story of the LeMans Coupe was featured in many magazines, but today we’ll focus on just one – Hot Rod Magazine from June 1960.

There Were Not Many Cars That Featured Gullwing Doors Back Then - Or Even Now. I Wonder If Strother MacMinn's Design Using Gullwing Doors Was The First American Car To Utilize This Feature.

Hot Rod Magazine: June 1960

Today’s article is from the June 1960 issue of Hot Rod Magazine, and focuses on the LeMans Coupe built by Alton Johnson.  Several other LeMans Coupes were built, and several found in recent years too.  Here are some of the notable comments from Hot Rod Magazine about Alton Johnson’s LeMans Coupe:

* This exciting coupe, built by Alton Johnson of Compton, California, has a cockpit for two; seating capacity is limited by a seat-high driveshaft tunnel since car is only 4 feet high to rooftop.

* In this modern missile age, we are used to exotic-looking creations, but Alton Johnson’s Corvette-engined Victress is in a class of its own.

* Crisp lines of the Johnson coupe are matched by few built to date.  Note that he refused to be bothered by such distractions as grille or bumpers.

* Headlight ornamentation, too, was left off in favor of subtle recessed lamps.

* Body trim consists of delicate relief about front wheel opening, imported sideview mirror.

* Notice that the door entrance is cut very high along the bottom, a’ la’ Mercedes coupe, thus providing cover for car’s space tube frame. 

* Fiberglass body is by Victress.  (Author Note: Alton Johnson was an Art center student and Victress employee who worked on his LeMans Coupe on the off hours at Victress.  The car mold and bodies were actually built by Marvin Horton, Ed Monegan, and Alton Johnson.  Alton built his car from the first body taken from the mold).

Think About How Innovative This Design Was At The Time. The LeMans Coupe By Strother MacMinn Debuted Around 1958. How Would It Looked Parked Next To A Brand New 1958 Chevrolet or Corvette? Pretty Impressive Gang!

* This is Alton’s second experiment in fiberglass; his first being a roadster built in 1957.  Current car cost $3500, took him two years to build.

Summary:

I’ve included close-up scans of the magazine images in the gallery of photos below.  The lines of MacMinn’s LeMans Coupe are unforgettable, and I look forward to sharing more history on the LeMans Coupe series of cars in the near future.

Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…

Glass on gang…

Geoff

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Technical Specifications (Hot Rod Magazine, June 1960)
Body
  • LeMans Coupe (Road and Track, “Sports Car Design” Car)
Designer
  • Strother MacMinn
Body Work and Paint
  • Alton Johnson
Upholstery
  • Alton Johnson
Seats
  • Alton Johnson
Windshield / Glass
  • GMC Truck – split in center
Hood / Doors / Trunk
  • Hood and gullwing doors that swing up
Frame
  • Space Tube Frame – Designed and Built by Alton Johnson
Suspension
  • Trailing Arm Suspension
Front Axle
  • Unequal length A-arms
Rear Axle
  • Mercury 3.50 rear end
Steering
  • Steering Gear is From 1950 Ford
Shocks
  • Monroe
Brakes
  • Front brakes and spindles are 1950 Ford
  • Rear brakes Lincoln
Engine (make/year)
  • 1957 Chevrolet Corvette
Speed Parts (heads, intake, cam, other):
  • Standard 1957 Corvette Engine Setup
Transmission (type/year)
  • 4 speed
Carburetion
  • Dual Quad setup (2x4bbs)
Displacement
  • 283 cubic inches
Horsepower (estimated)
  • 270 bhp @ 6000 rpm
  • 285 lb-ft @4500 rpm (torque)
Dashboard / Gauges
  • Central Instrument Cluster
  • Dash Mounted Turn Indicator Lever Tipped With Blinker Light
Steering Wheel
  • Dished Custom Steering Wheel
Wheelbase
  • 90 inches
 Track/Tread (front/rear)
(distance between center line of tires)
  • 50 inches
Curb Weight
  • 2500 lbs (estimated)
Hubcaps  
Special Features
  • Mercedes influence is seen again in “butterfly” doors that swing up

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