We’re building a community….a “fiberglass community” that is.
Several years ago I had the honor of meeting a gaggle of ‘glass guys from the Northeast Jack Woolridge, Bill Jackson, and Roger Adam – spearheaded by Clark Mitchell. Most of these guys had been friends with each other for over 50 years and all centered around now good friend Clark Mitchell.
Clark had sought out our group because of his heritage with fiberglass – specifically Harry Heim and Clearfield Plastics. Harry Heim was the originator of the Sabre body and proprietor of Clearfield Plastics who then went on later to become associated with Almquist Engineering. (Click here to learn more about Clearfield plastics here on Forgotten Fiberglass.) Harry was a friend of Clark’s and both went on to co-design the first Sabre body which was later sold by Almquist.
Recently, in a trip that Rick D’Louhy and I took late last year to save a few fiber-treasures, our paths crossed with Clark in a very special way. We were on our way to save an Almquist – Fiat Topolino chassis and all. This car was locked away in a barn and never assembled – it still had the original fiberglass windshield posts and seats – parts I had only read about and never seen.
And then the trip got really special. I called Clark Mitchell and told him “what” we were on our way to save – and invited him to join us – and he did! Today we’ll feature Clark’s thoughts on the beginnings of the Clearfield Sabre and his role with Harry Heim. In addition, Clark will share his thoughts on our “find” and his participation in its recovery.
By the way…to get a feel for the adventure you’re about to read and the man – Clark Mitchell – here is a series of photos I took of Clark as we approached him off the Interstate and began our adventure that day:
And with that….away we go. Take it away Clark 🙂
Memories Near and Far and the Macaroni Monza
By J. Clark Mitchell: November, 2012
To those of us who wonder from time to time, where did all of those first edition bodies go that were designed by Harry Heim and me? Well, the first one went to one of Harry’s racing buddies, John Iglehart. John had sent Stanguellini chassis specs to Harry with the request, “Design and fabricate a lightweight fiberglass body representing the Italian style that is a little ahead of its time.”
As a junior in high school, I had requested and received information regarding a contest/program offered by Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild to encourage young people interested in automobile design of the future. I followed all of their well thought criteria for us car crazy youngsters…except for the part about mailing all of those two-dimensional drawings transformed to 3-D to them.
This is the follow through that many teenagers don’t choose to do. Yes, it’s a choice, and many of us do remember., by recalling usable ideas that we save in our ideational parts bins.
When Harry Heim convinced me to share my designs to convert a Crosley to a Class H Modified sports car, his questions regarding my Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild efforts caught his attention. It was then he asked me to collaborate with him on Iglehart’s project.
Between that time and my attending Penn State in the fall of 1954, we were able to pull the first fiberglass body from the female mold in the factory parking lot in Clearfield, Pennsylvania on a sunny autumn morning. “Hey Harry, the way the sun is back-lighting the body, it looks like macaroni!” Harry instantly responded, “Hey Clark, we’ll call it a ‘Macaroni Monza.’ Everybody wants to call a pseudo-sporty car a ‘Monza,’ and ours has really sporty coachwork.”
Harry Heim’s consistent high level of ‘a little ahead of its time’ success was fueled by Heim’s passion for pursuing “life in all of its manifestations.” A concept penned and promoted by the British philosopher Sir Alfred North Whitehead more than one hundred years ago.
As agreed, the second body went to me, third to Harry and we helped each other fasten the fiberglass bodies to a Fiat Topolino chassis that Harry had located in Troy, Pennsylvania. Over the next year with a bunch of guys, who are now, thanks to Geoff Hacker and Rick D’Louhy, part of the “Forgotten Fiberglass Sports Cars of the Fifties” clan – 1954 to 2012 – fifty-eight years later and way back then until now and beyond….we’ve continued to form a “bondo” and have fallen in love with Polly Ester!
This fall I got a cell call from Geoff Hacker who was traveling on Interstate 80 past Clearfield trailering a Glasspar sports car that he and Rick had procured in Tennessee. They were on their way to Bennington, Vermont to meet with Hemmings Motor News people, and back to Albany, New York.
They would be connecting with Interstate 88 that leads to Binghamton, south on Interstate 81, and with the aid of the well informed mistress of the highways, Miss Garman, who will tell them how to return to Florida.
During that phone call, Geoff set up a plan whereby we could meet at an exit on Route 88 and caravan to a place where an owner of an original Macaroni Monza / Almquist Sabre had one for sale – along with its original Fiat Topolino chassis.
We followed the owner of the Sabre, Lisa, to an old farm where the body and chassis resided. Think about it. After fifty-eight years I was going to see one of a couple hundred of these Class H modified bodies along with a favorite chassis of the era, a Fiat Topolino.
On the drive south from our home in the town of Ausable in Adirondack Park, to who knows where along Interstate 88 to see good buddies Geoff and Rick, I searched my ideational parts bin to create strategies to comprehend the phenomena of this day.
I hadn’t seen one of these bodies, other than the ones that Harry and fellow Pennsylvanians had assembled years before. Today I was going to see one of the first edition bodies that we fabricated in the old hometown! And I’m driving our bright red Porsche Boxster – same color as my wonderful old pedal car from my youth. What a trip!
Another call from Geoff and I exited soon after, waited a couple of minutes, and they pulled up behind. “We’re going to meet the owner in the next town, then follow her to pick up the body and chassis.” After brief introductions to Lisa, we executed a three vehicle parade of mismatched motor cars, bouncing down a secondary road through the beautiful, typically central New York countryside.
Little did we know then that when we departed Lisa’s property the Macaroni Monza body would be strapped upside down to the Glasspar with the Topolino chassis slid under the Glasspar. Whoda thunk it – show of hands please 🙂
After we carried the body and the chassis and placed them on the trailer, I turned around and there were two bucket seats. I had stopped by Harry’s factory to borrow a tool that he had invented / fabricated that helped us install hinged doors on fiberglass bodies that customers commissioned us to install on their chassis.
This one was for Ed Almquist…a larger version of the original body. I was working on it in one of the stalls of the garage owned by my father and his brothers – it was part of the Mitchell Milling Company property. After Harry found the tool, I asked him, “Have you thought about what kind of light weight, comfortable seats we could get for our (emerging) sports cars?”
He said, “Hold onto that post…both hands – ok?”
WHAM! He had come back with a 3’ x 3’ piece of sheet metal and used me as the mold for the back seat. How ‘bout that for a custom fit solution! “Now go over to the wood scrap box, get a piece of plywood for the seat and pieces to complete the mold, and tomorrow you can make yourself a bucket seat that fits your ‘bucket’!”
So…meantime….I’m looking at these seats…unpainted…right out of the mold. I wanted to pick them up and hug ‘em. But then I thought, “How many people other than J. Clark Mitchell have had that thought?” And right away, Rick and Geoff, in unison shouted, “That kind of thinking can get you in DEEP polyester resin, with a dose of methyl-ethyl ketone peroxide in di-methyl phthalate!”
I knew I had met my match! Then they were off to Florida and I briskly “Porsched” to Adirondack Park.
What a great story and many thanks to Clark Mitchell for taking the time to share with us his thoughts, memories, observations, and wry humor – all of it is always appreciated here at Forgotten Fiberglass 🙂
Not recounted by Clark was how much “fun” it was removing the Fiat Topolino chassis from its perch in the rafters of the shed where it had been stored and then getting it through a narrow opening. Also, tall weeds and sticker vines on site complicated the extraction.
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
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