Rick D’Louhy and I have a special affinity for the history around Eric Irwin and his Lancer Sports Cars. Partly it’s because a Lancer is one of two cars we found that rekindled our friendship in 2006 and led to our research into “Forgotten Fiberglass.” But mostly….it’s because Rick and I have grown to recognize how much Eric accomplished in the early years of fiberglass with his sports car designs and fiberglass techniques – yet he’s mostly been forgotten.
We aim to change that.
With the recent “find” of Eric Irwin’s nephew, Brian Jennings, Rick and I hope to restore the history, accomplishments, and expertise of Eric Irwin and his Lancers, so that he can take his rightful place among other fiberglass sports car luminaries in the halls of automotive history. We dedicate each of our Lancer stories to Eric Irwin and his family.
Eric…..this one’s for you.
Rod Builder and Customizer: June 1957
Back in 1957, the big fiberglass sports cars of the early 1950’s such as Glasspars, Woodill Wildfires, Grantham Stardusts, and Victress S1s were becoming a thing of the past. More nimble cars riding on a shorter wheelbase were catching on and OHV engines were typically chosen over flathead V-8’s.
Even though this was the case, an Eric Irwin Lancer made its debut on the front cover of Rod Builder and Customizer in June 1957 – it’s first and only appearance on the cover of any magazine. By sheer coincidence, this was also the car on the cover of Eric’s brochure from 1953 as well as the “poster chassis’ used in Irwin’s poster made the same year. This was one well-documented car.
The only problem was…..the author of the article didn’t know it at the time. More about this later. For now, let’s review the article. I’ve re-typed it here for ease of reading (copies of the article appear below in the gallery of pictures)
Natalie Wood and Nick Adams Build a Custom: By Andy Harris
Stars Nick Adams and Natalie Wood work part time on a custom Stude.
Natalie Wood and Nick Adams, two young movie stars making pictures for Warner Brothers, are just about the most glamorous rod builders and customizers we’ve run into.
Actually, the car is Nick’s. His good friend Natalie lends a willing hand to help him complete it. Basically the car is a stripped Studebaker with a fiberglass body dropped on. Wheelbase was shortened from 122 to 100 inches. Nick has given the stock Studebaker V-8 additional “go” by adding dual exhausts, a twin-carb manifold and high compression heads. Horsepower is estimated to be approximately 180, up 30 bhp from stock.
The “Adams Special’s” fiberglass body was made by Mr. G. Banks of Newport Beach, California, who worked out the tricky business of mounting it on the Stude chassis. Although he hasn’t had a chance to enter the car in competition yet, Nick tells us that he’s turned 90 mph in a quarter-mile acceleration run.
There have been stories circulated to the effect that the Adams Special once belonged to Nick’s good friend Jimmy Dean. “However,” Nick says, “Jimmy had absolutely nothing to do with building this car. And, he never owned it.”
Nick and Natalie drive around in the car in its primed and “spotted” condition, just like any other hot rodders who haven’t had the time to complete a many-coated, hand-rubbed lacquer job. Nick and Natalie haven’t decided what color they want to paint the Special yet.
Time to work on the Special is one of the big problems. “Movie-making takes so much time,” says Nick. He’s just finished co-starring in “No Time For Sergeants,” while Natalie is busy completing “Bombers B-52.”
Thoughts on the Article:
Interesting article. You have to delve into Lancer history a bit more to understand the true history of the 1952 car – which might not have been apparent to the folks at the magazine (or Nick Adams/Natalie Wood) in 1957. So let’s go backwards in time and examine other pieces of Lancer history and see where it fits with this article.
First: The Lancer Brochure. This debuted in 1952/1953, and shows many different Lancers already up and running. The car on the cover of the brochure is, no doubt, the same as shown in this magazine – down to the turn signal / parking light chrome escutcheons mounted on the top of each fender (might these have been boat related given Irwin’s close proximity to boatworks in Costa Mesa / Newport Beach?)
Second: The article mentions that the “Adams Special” used a body “made by Mr. G. Banks of Newport Beach California, who worked out the tricky business of mounting it on the Stude chassis.” Well…they were right on here. A poster made by Eric Irwin shows a “Lancer-Studebaker” chassis designed by – and made by – Dean Banks. Again…there were not many fiberglass cars back then – let alone Lancers. The Irwin Lancer poster most likely shows the chassis “worked out” by Mr. Banks for the car shown in this article. This chassis was fabricated using parts from a Studebaker chassis – close enough for me.
I have to make one assumption here and that is that “Dean Banks” Stude chassis in the Irwin poster is the same “Mr. G. Banks of Newport Beach” (next community over from Eric Irwin’s shop in Costa Mesa) discussed in the article. I’ve found when you’re researching topics that are over 50 years old, you sometimes have to make leaps of faith that are firmly grounded in reasonable assumptions. This is the only way you can try and determine the true history of any of these vintage fiberglass cars.
Third, the design of the rear of the car matches the last Lancer made by Irwin. These two Lancers used a design that was rounded and more stylish that the Lancer that first debuted at the Petersen Motorama in November 1951. The other Lancer model which was used for the 1954 Johnny Dark movie, also had a squarish style for the back end of the car. A photo of Eric Irwin’s last Lancer is included in the gallery of pictures below – and in a thumbnail picture in this article.
Another thought occurs to me and that’s the seemingly easy “lift-off” hood. This puzzle’s me a bit. I’ve had hoods fly off my cars that have hinges, straps, and cables. This one seems to “lift-off” and can be used as support. Not sure on this one gang. As for Nick standing on the car, I can tell you from the Lancer I own that the body is strong enough for me to stand on it without problem – and I’m currently about 240 lbs. The Lancer has one strong body gang!
After publication of this article, the car that appeared was never seen again. In fact, no Lancer appeared in any literature until the encyclopedias of cars started to appear in the 1970’s and 1980’s showing some of the fiberglass cars of the 1950’s. Perhaps the Lancer in this article is still around – but if so – I don’t know where.
I’ve tracked down a reference to a “Dean Banks” in Costa Mesa who would be 103 years old. Most likely, though, he’s passed away – but perhaps he has family members that are around and have pictures of this car too. Anyone want to help find the “Dean Banks” family of Newport Beach / Costa Mesa?
So far Rick and I have found just two Lancers. You could be the first to track down the next one – and wouldn’t the Lancer in this article be just the one to find? However, you might have to beat Eric Irwin’s nephew, Brian Jennings, to it 🙂
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
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