Build a Woodill Wildfire in 14 Hours or Less – The 1954 Bert Newport Special

It All Started With a 1939 Ford – Just $75 Bucks. Wow! Bert is Shown Next to a Used Car Salesman in Norwalk, California.

Hi Gang…

We’re honored to have not one but two Woodill Wildfires being restored in preparation for the Milwaukee Masterpiece in August 2011.  (Click here for more information about this event.)  Let the race begin!  Dick Foster who built his Woodill Wildfire back in the 1950’s and still owns it is going full tilt on its restoration.  I receive updates from him several times a month.

Also, Stan Fowler is building his Wildfire from the ground up with a gorgeous Buick Nailhead engine – and impeccable attention to detail on every aspect of the car.   I will write up stories on these cars as the restoration progresses.  In the meantime, perhaps the story today can serve as a source of inspiration for both these men.  After all, they may just be 14 hours or less away from finishing their cars – according to the March 1954 MOTOR TREND article discussed below.

Building a Woodill Wildfire in 14 Hours

The article I’m sharing today shows all us how to build one of these “Specials” in just 14 hours or less.  The first thought that sprang into my mind as I prepared to read the article was that the accepted amount of time that it took to build a fiberglass car back in the 1950’s was about 2000 hours.  Perhaps 3000 hours if you built your own body too.  So, I’m a bit suspicious (as I should be) about being able to complete most of one car in just 14 hours.  It takes me 1-2 hours just to clean a car, so 14 hours seems like a “pie in the sky”.

Here Bert Newport and Two of his Friends Help Attach the Rear Axle and Springs to the Frame.

However, the article was well written and it was apparent that the kit that Woody Woodill put together anticipated much of what needed to be done, and limited the amount of custom work – welding too – that would have been needed to build a special.  After reviewing the steps in the article, several positive aspects appeared to surface.

First, an interested customer could purchase a custom built frame ready to accept standard parts removed from a 1939-1948 Ford.  If you went with this option, hours or days of preparing the frame would be over in an instant.  And, the inclusion of several key parts such as shortened radius rods – front and rear – and a shortened drive shaft reduced the time needed to build the car too.

Maybe Woody Woodill was just a bit ahead of his time!

The builder still had to complete the wiring, brake lines, fuel lines, and other parts but maybe this was possible.  That is, completing the majority parts of the build and getting a car running in 14 hours or less – with some help.  Woody Woodill certainly thought so, and about a year later he appeared on the TV show “You Asked For It” with a demonstration on how to build a Woodill Wildfire in 4 hours or less.  Pretty impressive – but they had a significant number of guys helping to assemble this car – as you would imagine.

14-Hour Sports Car: Motor Trend March, 1954

In This Picture at Noon on Saturday, the Caption Reads, “Shortened Driveshaft, Which Came With the Body, is Bolted in Place. The Wildfire’s Frame is Shorter than Stock to Give Better Handling. The Engine is Farther Back.”

The article that accompanies the inset pictures in the gallery below is not that long, and gives a good overview of how building a sports car was viewed in early 1954.  Let’s review the article – I think you’ll enjoy it.  Photos and story were by Robert Lee Behme, and I’ll repeat the entire article here:

“Since plastics introduction, experts have been predicting gigantic changes in automotive design, assembly, and construction.  Generally, these changes have been slow in coming to pass, but during the past year several smaller automotive firms have come up with what promises to be a small but important step in the predicted changes.

These smaller companies, faced with a merchandising problem not found in the Detroit branch of the family, were forced to find new ways of selling their cars since it was virtually impossible for them to establish a network of distributors.  The most important merchandising answer to date has been the home-assembly kit.  It includes the body, floorboard section, windshield, frame (in some cases) and all necessary equipment to convert standard Detroit parts into a sports car. 

Their plan works this way:  A buyer purchases a sports car kit complete with all necessary non-stock equipment.  He then buys a used car of his choice from a wrecking yard or a used car lot.  The used car’s appearance is not important since the running gear, gas tank, instruments, and if desired the engine, are all that will be used.

While there are drawbacks in assembling a sports car from a used car parts supply, many of them are purely psychological.  The uncertainty of worn parts bolted to the chassis can be eliminated by rebuilding suspicious ones.  Though it is not essential, most firms recommend rebuilding the differential (including a new pinion gear), the transmission, and the engine.  If the car is to be used for road-racing or high-speed travel, most companies also recommend magnafluxing all parts for added protection.

Nothing Like a Car Romance….Here the Caption Reads, “Sunday Dawns Clear and Sunny and the Wildfire Body, Now Sprayed With Primer, Sits Lightly on the Complete Frame. There’s Still Lots to Do, But the End is Near.”

At Norwalk, California, car enthusiast Bert Newport wanted a sports car.  After considerable budget fumbling, he found that an assembled, production-line car was out of the question.  He solved his problem by purchasing a “Wildfire” home-assembly kit and doing the work himself.

Bert is not a man to procrastinate.  Once the plastic car kit arrived, Bert rounded up three local amateur mechanics, and one Saturday the project began.  It moved faster than Bert anticipated.  In 14 hours’ working time, the four men had assembled Bert’s Wildfire and the car was romping the streets of Norwalk.  During the two-day assembly, MOTOR TREND’S camera was present.  It recorded the procedure step by step to prove that, while Bert’s time was unquestionably fast, almost any backyard mechanic could probably duplicate his efforts during his spare time.

These kits have not made any phenomenal advance but they are beginning to take hold.  They are sold usually in one of two wheelbase ranges: 102 to 110 inch length for stock Detroit running gear, and 80 to 94 inch wheelbase for foreign cars.  Most popular American choice has been Ford, while the foreign selection ranges from MG to Volkswagen, with the short-based American Crosley thrown in for variation.

Several companies are now on the market with these kits.  They include: Glasspar Company (Ford parts); Ray Greene Company (Ford Parts); Victress (Ford Parts); and Woodill Motor Company (Ford parts).  The smaller wheelbase group includes bodies by Allied Plastics (for MG); Viking-Kraft (Skorpion for Crosley and Volkswagen); and Vale Wright (for MG).

That’s the entire article gang!  They started at 9am on Saturday and finished the majority of the work at 3:30pm on Sunday.  And even had lunch breaks too!

Building a Woodill Wildfire in Just 4 Hours:

This article was written about a year and a half before the famous “You Asked For It” video debuted which showed how a Woodill Wildfire could be built in just 4 hours.  (Click here to read the story about the “You Asked For It” video starring Art Baker.)    For those of you interested, here’s the video again for your review.  It shows the same procedure illustrated in the article, but watching it unfold is much more fun.  Here’s the video:

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Building – or Rebuilding – A Jeep in Less Than 4 Minutes

And…. this story reminds me of a 4 minute video showing the  complete dismantling and rebuilding of a military jeep in less than 4 minutes.  The 7 guys have it apart is less than 2 minutes – and back together in less time than that.  If you haven’t see this video, it’s worth the time, and I’m sure Woody Woodill would appreciate  their effort – it’s certainly in the same theme as the “You Asked For It Video.”  Here’s the video on the jeep:

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And Lo and Behold – We Had a Car. Here the Caption Reads, “Brakes, Wheel Alignment, Headlights, etc., Still Have to be Adjusted, but Bert’s Sports Car, Fueled Up, Takes Him to a Nearby Drive-In for Coffee.”

The Woodill Wildfire Challenge – 2011

Why not have a challenge concerning these cars in 2011?  Maybe it’s time we should be inspired by both of these videos.

Good friend and fellow automotive enthusiast /collector George Albright from Ocala Florida has found a few people who still own original Woodill Wildfire kits – down to the frame and extra parts that came with it.  Maybe we should invest in one of these remaining kits and build a Wildfire – using the directions shown in the article in this story (March 1954 MOTOR TREND) and the techniques shown in the “You Asked For It” video from 1955.

I wonder if a future Concours d’Elegance might enjoy having a car assembled right on the lawn during the exhibit of a “Forgotten Fiberglass” class of cars.  I know that would be a bit different, but isn’t that what people are looking for these days?  Especially those of you who enjoy these cars so much?  I bet we could do it.  Any volunteers out there?

The wheels are turning here gang…


Where is Bert Newport?  Where is his family?  What happened to his car?  It certainly would be fun to find this car and link it back to the article in this story.  Good friends Rodney Packwood, Ted Griffin, and his son Greg Griffin have mutually identified about 30 existing Woodill Wildfire roadsters so we should probably get to work and see if we can find this car.  What fun that would be!

And with that, I hope you enjoyed our story today so…

Until next time…

Glass on gang…



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Build a Woodill Wildfire in 14 Hours or Less – The 1954 Bert Newport Special — 1 Comment

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