Click here to all parts of this story
Nik Gudmunds and Jerry Ball completed the Thor in 1958. Little did they know that they were making history by using a VW chassis and drivetrain.
The VW Beetle first started to arrive in the USA in 1949, and by late 1955 Volkswagen sales were strong enough to establish a sales office in Englewood, New Jersey. While many people became enamored with the production version of the Beetle, others saw it as a great platform to build a more stylish and sporty car using the VW chassis and drivetrain. This trend started strongly in Europe with individuals, small companies and coachbuilders (including Rometsch, Denzel, Beutler, Dannenhauer and Stauss, Hebmuller, Steyr, Kohlruss, Wendler to name a few) producing stylish examples.
This trend continued in the USA as well, where it was usually individuals who were using the air-cooled VW drivetrain and/or were re-bodying VW Beetles to their own sports car styling and taste. Individuals, that is, like Nik Gudmunds and Jerry Ball.
We’ve been researching the first postwar VW specials that were designed and built in America using a body of original design dedicated to the VW platform. At this time we’ve found five early examples as follows:
- Bunny Ronco designed and built at least one sports car using the VW drivetrain (not Beetle) which appeared in print in 1947
- The Doray company of south Florida built a VW based sports/race car which raced in the southeast USA in the mid 1950s
- The Berkeley based on VW chassis/drivetrain debuted in 1957 in California
- The Alken debuted in in 1958 using a VW drivetrain/chassis
It was in this timeframe where Nik Gudmunds and Jerry Ball designed and built the “Thor” in 1957 and finished it in 1958 making it an early and unique example of an American designed VW-based sports car.
In the photos below you first see the Thor in red. This was the pigment mixed into the resin (also shown in the receipt in part 2 of this story) and shows the Thor without paint – fresh out of the molds and bodied on the VW chassis. And if you look carefully, you can see the name “Thor” on the front grill area as Nik Gudmunds described in part 2 of this story. The finished Thor debuted with dark blue paint – and what a pretty car it was. The white walls were a great touch for the era.
Besides the VW chassis and drivetrain, another unique feature of the Thor was the Targa-style removable roof – a very early usage of this top design. Good friend and fellow Thor owner Matt Burke further explained in a recent conversation that Nik more exactly referred to this as a “Surrey” top. It was divided into halves with no center bar. The purpose of this as Nik had shared was to allow a passenger shade and protection from wind / sun while the other half of the top could be removed for the driver (or vice versa).
Let’s have a look at some color photos featuring the finished (or nearly finished) Thor from the late 1950s.
Being able to share the story and photos of Nik Gudmunds’ and Jerry Ball’s completed Thor sports car is an honor for all of us who celebrate Forgotten Fiberglass. So it was with a heavy heart that I learned from his son Karl Gudmunds last Fall (2016) that Nik had passed away.
Click Here To Read Nik Gudmunds Celebration of Life Service
We can all celebrate Nik’s and Jerry’s life via their sports car “piece de resistance” the “Thor.” A car that honors the postwar sports car generation, a car that gives tribute to the individual designers and builders of the era – a car that proudly bears Nik’s father’s name as its “marque” and an American automobile adventure that honors Nik Gudmunds, Jerry Ball and their combined accomplishment – the “Thor.”
Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember gang…
The adventure continues here at Forgotten Fiberglass.
I travel to SE Florida several times each year. Perhapse one of you would send along to me the
necessary info needed to call someone whom I might ask to visit Fiberglass Farms. Thanks
Any chance for a part 4 with pictures of the roadster?
What a cool car! That is a very long hood for a rear engined car. Has an Italian look to it. Lots of room for groceries I’d suspect. Quite an accomplishment.
I agree Brandon – such an early design for a VW chassis/drivetrain here in America. And think of the work it took these guys….courageous men in fiberglass! Best…Geoff
As a fellow enthusiast, collector and historian I really enjoyed the story and it is great that all of the early photos survived. Thanks for the great story and research that you did. I am a former owner of two Glasspars with hard top,s one with a Shorty Post frame, A Oldsmobile powered Darrin and still own a British Reliant Rialto three wheeler fiberglass car that is too small for my 6′ 3″ frame. Keep the great stories coming! Gordie Chamberlin
Good to hear from you Gordie and glad you enjoyed the story. You had some great ‘glass there and as my friend Alden reminded me tonight….one special Kaiser 2-door from 1951. Great taste my friend and thanks for sharing your thoughts. Geoff
Great to have you back on e-mail!!!!!!! A targa top on an early car—WOW.
It’s a neat car John – just 2 built and both survive. It will be fun to see this restored…..Geoff
Any chance of pulling a mold off one of these beauties? Given their rarity and the vast vw aftermarket, including some chassis, it would seems a tempting idea. Great story Geoff as usual, thanks.
Thanks for the details on the “Thor” another fiberglass “find”.
I am still moving ahead with my project Glaspar G2. The body is about done with the cleanup and repair. Had to repair several major cracks in the body around the door area and back of the cockpit area. Also total removal and repair of inner fender areas. Have the chassis (late 40’s Ford pickup) set up with independent front suspension with a power rack and disc brakes. Will be working on the rear axle and motor mounts next. Engine will be a 312 Y block V8 mated to a 4 speed t-10. Lots of work yet but still moving forward.
Again, thanks for the updates and Glass on!
Glad to hear you’re making progress Paul and good to hear from you. Go get ’em my friend 🙂 Geoff
One of the best looking bodies on a VW chassis was the Devin.
great history. thanks for share. best, r nasser
Roberto – Glad you enjoyed the story and good to hear from you too. Let me know if you are heading to Florida on your next trip from Brazil – would enjoy showing you around Fiberglass Farms. Best….Geoff