LOST CAR: 1956 One-off Handbuilt SoCal Sports Car – Let’s Find This American Special

Hi Gang…

I bet this car is still out there.

I’ve said this many times about many cars, and more often than not – we find the car or the car turns up.  Back in 2010 in the book “Corvette in the Barn,” author Harold Pace characterized my quest for lost cars best when he quote me as follows:

“I wasn’t finding anything (when I began my search).  I was looking for history, not for cars, but I wasn’t finding much.  Then I changed my approach, to assume that the cars and people were all still out there somewhere, waiting to be found.  Then I started finding them.”

Click Here To View This Chapter and More in Tom Cotter’s “Corvette in the Barn” Book

When Harold Pace quoted me, I was sharing my change in assumption.  My basic assumption from the start was that the cars weren’t out there.  Too much time had passed since the 50s.  Why bother piercing the veil of this illusion and looking, poking and proding around to find a car.  Boy was I wrong.  As many of you know, time and time again these cars are showing up – now 70 or so years since the 50s, and I believe more are to be found – just like the sports car in today’s story.

Petersen Archive Photos:

The photos are part of the Petersen Archives shared via Getty Images, and there is some good information that was shared along with the photos as follows:

  • The caption on all photos says “Fiberglass custom sports car roadster with leather interior and Ford Flathead engine
  • The date of the photos was September 7, 1956
  • In several of the photos they are classified for the “Motor Life” magazine – perhaps it’s in an issue of “Motor Life” that I’ve missed (or yet to acquire). 1956?  1957?
  • The photographer is identified as Dean Batchelor – famed racer, builder, editor, photographer and more

Let’s check out the 12 photos of the lost sports car first.  Then, we’ll discuss the car and reasons why I think it’s still be out there.  And away we go:

Photos of the Mystery Sports Car: 

What Do We Know About The Car?

What do we know about the car?   Well at this time, only what we can see in the photos above.  Let’s check off some of the things we see in the photos:

  • A Ford Flathead strongly suggests a modified Ford chassis.  From what I can see, it is an 1948 or earlier Ford chassis with cross/buggy springs front and rear and that would mean a solid axle up front.
  • The flathead engine also gives us a clue on when it was built – or started.  If this did indeed get finished in 1956 (people take photos of their car when they finish it) then the choice of a Ford Flathead engine was “retro.”  Most cars built post 1955 used the small block Chevrolet (SBC) 265 / 283.  Sports cars built earlier than 1955 with Ford Flatheads usually converted to SBC post 1955 leaving the 3-speed Ford transmission and torque tube in place.  So….this car was most likely started earlier – perhaps as earlier as 1953 or 1954.
  • The rear license plate shows 1956 – the photos are from 1956
  • Custom windsheild – maybe boat or plexiglass
  • Excellent hood scoop and barchetta (checkerboard) grille.  Perhaps custom made or built modifying the light diffusors for large florescent light fixtures.
  • Perhaps the owner/builder is sitting in the car in the photo shot from the rear.   The few shots that show background isn’t enough for me to determine location – most likely southern California / Los Angeles where Petersen Publishing was located.
  • Check out the engine compartment:  Chrome everywhere, custom lid for battery box, two carbs – even a firewall mounted gauge – temperature?  Oil pressure?  One of you will know out there.
  • No front wheelwells.  In the photo of the engine compartment you can see the inside of the fender.  This design flaw (or absence) was seen from time to time on many American Specials of the 50s.
  • No doors / no trunk.  Typical of many of the fiberglass American Specials of the period.
  • Accessory Wire Wheel Covers:  Boy these aftermarket wheelcovers are hard to find today. In the early and mid 1950s, aftermarket wire wheel covers were all the rage (click here to read a story about the variety and styles of wheel covers available to the market). After the 1950s, the wire wheel hubcaps that were aftermarket such as the ones on this car were often discarded.  The only ones that were saved were ones specific to a marque such as Cadillac, Buick, etc.  The aftermarket ones were not retained for value and are super-hard to find today.

Why Cars Survive:

I mention at the beginning of the article that we’ve been lucky at finding so many cars we’ve been searching for, and that this is for several reasons besides being hard working researchers.  Some of these reasons include:

  • Fiberglass bodied cars had little scrap value.  Many times they were just pushed to the side and abandoned – or nearly so.
  • If brought to a junkyard, the owner could easily find someone to purchase an unusual car.  They could get more than scrap value for a fiberglass car.  There are – or were always – people like me and you who wanted something different and I’ve taken many cars out of junk yards over the years.
  • It’s not unusual for a family to keep a heirloom in the family for generation after generation.  There are many cars I’ve seen that have been in a family for 100 years (which is amazing if you think of it).  Just recently we found two cars – a LaSaetta and a custom one-off car called a Lasley that have remained in the family since the day they were started and built.

So as my friend Rollie Langston says about bad news / good news is….

“The bad news is that they made very few American Specials in fiberglass, steel or aluminum.  The good news is that many or even “most” are still around, and those that are missing like this one may very well be found by you”

Go get ’em gang 🙂


So go forth and let’s find this car.  And remember what I’ve shared about lost cars in the image/poster below:

Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember…

The adventure continues here at Undiscovered Classics.



LOST CAR: 1956 One-off Handbuilt SoCal Sports Car – Let’s Find This American Special — 5 Comments

  1. Dear Geoff, In the recent article on the Victress S4, which showed the lay up and construction of the body buck (Motor Trend/Oct.1954) on page 24 of that issue, there is a story on the X-Ray Special. The photographs show a very sophisticated sports/ racecar, Big Chrysler Hemi, multi-tube chassis, trailing arm front suspension and de Dion rear, plus big Borrani wire wheels. The story shows photos of the proposed body model. In short, a “state of the art” racecar for American standards. This was before Mercedes came out with the 300SL in 1955 and blew everyone away. The story goes on to say that it was the work of the X-Ray Inc. a Detroit metallurgical and testing laboratory. So the big question is what happened to this car? Have never seen mention of it except in Road & Tract, one time, one story.
    Since your are all knowning & all finding, do you have any idea of the location or later history of this car. I mean this is one rare bird and would make a hell of a store. What’ch know? Michael.

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