How many people could possibly help me with researching these vintage cars???? It’s way too long ago, and I’d be lucky to find anyone who could help with the details. That’s how I felt about moving forward in this area of research – until I met folks like John Knebel – nearly 90 years old today and builder of an original Glasspar G2.
John’s Glasspar was unique. It was one of the first that appeared with the 1951 Nash grill (the 1952-1954 Nash grills look wider, are shaped different, and have an emblem in the center). We’ve found 3 or so G2’s with this grill, and during a conversation I had with Bill Tritt (series of interviews 2006-2008), he shared with me how he remembered this came to be.
“Someone had brought in a grill from a damaged Nash…it was hanging on the wall and looked like it might fit on the front of a G2. We gave it a try and it was almost a perfect fit! That is, it fit the contours of the G2 nearly perfect. I sold 2-3 bodies with this fiberglass opening for the Nash Grill – we did not supply the grill when we sold these bodies. Keep in mind that additional G2’s could have been retrofitted by their owners if the front-end was damaged.”
John Knebel bought the body from Warren Gerdes – foreman of the Glasspar G2 body construction and first driver of the Glasspar racecar – the Glasspar Mameco Ardun (also called the C-T Special, and Mameco Ardun Special.) John remembers Warren telling him that the front of the car body was damaged in being prepped for a show that Glasspar was to attend. Warren got a different car ready for the show and Bill Tritt gave him the damaged car for payment of work – a way to say “thanks for a job well-done”. I surmise this may have been the first G2 with a Nash Grill because of the repair of the front-end, but we’ll never know (although….Mike Ricker owned a Nash dealership and had a G2 with a Nash Grill…more about that in a different story). Of note is that Warren’s car had two doors – which was non-standard at time. John thought that was a good feature as well. He also recalls that the front end was built up very thick with fiberglass to better fit the Nash grill.
Warren was going to build the car on his own, but decided to sell it as his family was starting to grow. (Dennis was born in 1951, Patty was born in 1953, and Karen in 1957 – the sale of the Glasspar G2 body may have been prompted by Patty’s birth). John remembers that when he bought the car, it had a shorty post chassis (still does), and the drivetrain/suspension was 1942 Ford. He towed his new acquisition back from the Glasspar plant to his home in San Diego, and started working on the car hoping that it would be a quick “build”.
John soon found out that building the car was beyond his expertise. He needed help, and called in his friend Roy Adkins. Both John and Roy worked at Convair. John was an engineering test pilot from 1950-1965 and Roy was a production pilot – both of them well-schooled with engineering concepts and design. But Roy had special expertise with cars. He was the youngest of the Adkins brothers of Chicago, and back in the 1930’s, he and his family did armor plate work and maintained some of the Chicago gangsters cars – including Al Capone’s cars. Roy was tough as nails and a former boxer – quite a pair of guys for building this car. The car was finished with a 1946 Mercury engine/transmission, Columbia 2 speed rear end, and 1946 Mercury suspension. All in all, they did an excellent job and finished in 9 months. It was like giving birth to your car, John said. He first named the car in honor of his friend’s help – the “Adkins Knebel Glasspar Special”
I asked John why he chose the Glasspar body…
“I was friends with Kenny Brooks. As you know, Ken owned the first Glasspar G2 called the “Brooks Boxer” and retained that car throughout the 1950’s. Ken lived in Newport Beach California which was fairly close to where Glasspar was, and once I saw his car, Kenny took me up there to meet Bill Tritt and others as well at Glasspar.”
John remembers the day they finished the car. Why’s that, you ask? He finished the installation of the windshield the night before his honeymoon and he and Marie drove the Glasspar to Las Vegas. When they arrived, he had bellman take the hardtop in to the hotel and place it in their hotel room room for safekeeping! John has a picture of the hardtop in the hotel room he promises to find for me.
After the honeymoon, John featured the car in 1954 at the Petersen Motorama at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. He remembers that his car was placed directly across from Liberace’s Cadillac. No more shows for the car after that – he was driving it pretty steadily then.
The car remained unchanged through 1989 when John decided to upgrade the components of the car with a newer drivetrain and wheels. Apart from that, the rest of the car remained the same. John kept the car through about 2007 and it eventually ended up in the hands of Glasspar enthusiast Robert Lugo, of Phoenix Arizona. Robert drives the car frequently, and pictures of him and his G2 appear below.
John’s car is featured in our member showcase for Glasspar G2 on our website. You can see it if you review the Glasspar section of our website under “Fiberglass Facts” or click here: John Knebel’s Glasspar G2
Thanks again to John Knebel for taking the time to help us learn more about his Glasspar G2 adventures. There’s only a few of the original “guys” left, and John’s recollections are great material for all of us vintage fiberglass sports car enthusiasts.
Click on the Images Below to View Larger Pictures
|Built By:||John Kneble and Roy Adkins (mechanic and builder).
First registered as the Adkins-Knebel Glasspar Special
|Year Built:||Took 9 months; Started in 1953 and finished in 1954|
|Body||Glasspar G2 Body.
Sold to John Knebel by Warren Gerdes (Glasspar G2 Foreman)
Doors: Two (passenger side was standard)
|Upholstery||Original: Red naughyde – still origina as of 2008|
|Frame||Shorty Post frame|
|Suspension||Original: When bought from Warren Gerdes, it had 1942 Ford supension with lever action shock. John replaced suspension with 1946 Mercury suspension and put tube type shocks on.
1989: Restored with Dodge disc brakes on front.
|Engine (make/year)||Original: 1946 Mercury Flathead. Bored and stroked it, Isky cam, and Edelbrock Intake with 2 Stromberg 97’s.
Restoration (1989): 1975 3.8 Buick
|Transmission (type/year)||Original: Lincoln Borg Warner Overdrive transmission
1989: GM 350 automatic transmission
|Rear Axle / driveshaft
|Original: Columbia 2-speed rear end with Ford closed drive shaft
1989: Restored with open drive shaft
| Track/Tread (front/rear)
(distance between center line of tires)
|Curb Weight||Estimated: 2000 lbs|
|Top Speed (0-60)|
|Special Features||Wheels: (original): Kelsey Hays 16″ Wire Wheels
Hardtop option – installed portholes in hardtop for viewing access
Soft top: framework made by Shorty Post
1939 Lincoln Zephyr bumpers – front and rear
Parts from over 20 different cars were used to complete the car.
|Exhibited at||1954 Petersen Motorama|
|Dashboard||Original: 8 Lincoln (4 on each side and 2 large in middle). and 1 Stewart Warner instruments (5 inch mech tach with 1 and 1/2 inch manifold gauge at bottom). Used lots of gauges because of test pilot experience. Had left and right temperature gauges on dash|
Thank you for your article. My father was Roy Adkins. They built the car in our garage when I was a teenager. I was John’s bridesmaid in his first marriage to Dorothy Knebel. Roy flew for Nasa in Mountain View area in Northern California. I have photos of my grandchildren sitting on the car when thy were three or four years old. This was at the sacramento auto museum just prior to it’s leaving California.