Dave Peterson’s telling of the story of his two cars – both built by Leo Snedecker – really underlines the fact of just how “handcrafted” these special-built sports cars were across America. And as you’ll read, Leo didn’t build his cars to look at – he built them to appreciate and drive. And drive he did – across the country and thousands of miles for many years. What a great story this is, and we very much appreciate Dave Peterson for sharing this story about his latest acquisition and photos with us today. Take it away Dave 🙂
Coupe of Desire
The story of the Snedeker-Byers SR100 Chevy
By Dave Peterson (owner)
It’s been awhile since my last trip to Derby, Kansas to recover the second Snedeker Special. Time has been marching on and I’ve been wasting a fair amount of it. To get you up to date, my last article chronicled the purchase of the 1965 Snedeker-Byers, we’ll call it the roadster for simplicity, and the effort to find the original builder, Leo Snedeker.
After I found Leo, he surprised me with the revelation of a second car, still in his possession. That brings us here to the story of the 1968 Snedeker-Chevy, a car I don’t think anyone imagined in their wildest dreams, but Leo lived that dream and put a lot of miles under it. We’ll call this car the Snedeker coupe.
As I am prone to tangents, I can’t escape the reptile in the room, that being the whole Byers comparison to the Cobra. In fact, one of the earlier owners of the roadster said, “Oh the Cobra,” when I first contacted him to talk about it. Since most of us will never own a Cobra, I’ve legitimized the Byers legacy in my mind because they were, “pre-Cobra,” especially if you consider the 1953 Meteor DNA (note: Dick Jones and Jim Byers produced the Meteor SR-1 sports car in 1953 which led to the Jim Byers creating his car in 1955).
They were also more than a kit car, since you could order a full turn-key issue as Jim Byers so artfully penned in his 1956 blueprints. True, the donor for the Cobra, the AC Ace, appeared in 1953, but with a curious grimace that was very different from the refined face that became the Cobra in 1962. The fish-mouthed visage was common to many specials in the 50s and early 60s, just as many late 30s and early 40s era coupes all had the same look as the iconic Ford version.
Origins of the Classic Look
So where did the fish-mouth look come from? One day it just came to me as a fluke, the fish mouth is actually the vestigial nose of a formula car. The fenders were added to make a roadster or special. I don’t know who did it first, but there are some definite missing links out there when you consider the evolution.
The Mercedes W196 formula car from the mid-50s had the broad gape that would closely mimic many specials if fenders were added. As such, the 1957 Ferrari Testarossa looks like a formula car nose with the fenders loosely attached in pontoon fashion.
Move forward to the exotic Dolphin America, a very limited special in 1962 that was none other than the nose of their prior Dolphin International formula car with fenders added. Since this was rather late in the era of specials, it showed that the “missing link” continued to walk amongst more integrated designs. I’ve seen this car in the flesh as it was owned by fellow Byers owner, John Furlow Sr.
Almost all of the fish-mouthed variants left a hint of the parting lines between the fenders and the nose as an indication that the two had morphed at some point. You can see this trait in the Furlow Byers SR100 and still detect a faint pontoonish character in the fenders.
So, what if a young Airman just back from the Vietnam war embarked on an ambitious project to modify Jim Byer’s graceful fish-mouthed vision into a coupe? In the Byers-Meteor contingent we do have some mildly modified variants, but scarcely few with tops – except for the SR-100s of Rollie Langston and Alan Maxcy. However, those are removable hard-tops on Byers bodies.
As I described to several enthusiasts how Leo Snedeker melded bodywork from three different manufacturers into one swoopy coupe, most responded with “yuck,” mainly because they could not envision how a lovely daughter could arise from Kellison J6 Panther and Byers SR100 parents. I even had a friend, who was rabidly searching for a Byers project, turn his nose up at the prospect of the “Snedeker Coupe” due to the yuck factor. Despite his no-frills personality, Leo Snedeker had a distinct flair for design and knew how to make beautiful form from unlikely fragments.
Putting The Pieces Together
Let’s go back to early 1968 and Leo’s return to Wichita, Kansas from overseas.
Before he left for Thailand and the Vietnam conflict in in 1965, Leo traded the Snedeker-Byers roadster to the proprietor of a fiberglass shop who built bodies for dirt racers at nearby 81 Speedway in Wichita. We believe this was Lynn Long, based on one of the titles from the roadster and Leo’s recollection. When Leo got back, his roadster had already been sold off, but not before Long had pulled a complete mold from it. This may or may not be important in light of the two original Byers molds that ended up with the Kellison company and others.
So were anymore SR-100 bodies ginned up in Kansas? Who knows, but the mold could still be out there. Laying up another body was lots of work so Leo took Mr. Long up on his offer for a complete Kellison J6 Panther shell. The body was once an aqua-teal color and its history is unknown, although it did have a jagged crack the length of the roof that had been repaired. Curiously, it was lacking the characteristic J6 roof ridge and quarter windows. Leo wasn’t crazy about the Panther nose, so he eyed the SR100 mold and set about laying up a front clip.
I need to go back here and explain that the Kellison Panther platform was specifically designed for a C1 Corvette chassis donor, including the floorpan, firewall and cowl, along with a 1951-52 Studebaker windshield.
It just so happened that Leo had acquired a wrecked 1954 Corvette with a transplanted 265/3-speed before he left for the war. A couple of kids from Valley Center got in over their heads with the V8 power and rolled the car. Leo showed me a photo of the hulk in his yard. Here you can see the actual donor chassis with Vette accoutrements still in place. You can also make out the tri-power setup crowning the 265 a la the John Bond Special we all know from the 1957 cover of Road and Track.
Back at the shop Leo had his work cut out, in grafting the Byers nose to the narrower Panther body, while anchoring it all to the Corvette cowl and inner fenders. Leo said it took a lot of time to section the Byers clip and make it fit. Recall also that the Byers fenders roll in as you go downward toward the rockers.
Since the Panther doors were vertical, Leo had to pull the Byers fenders out to match. In keeping with the trends, Leo also made nice fender flares front and rear. Due to the Panther’s low headroom, Leo had to ditch the cushy Corvette seats for low-profile versions out of a Cessna. Par for Leo’s Air Force avionics expertise, the dash was outfitted with a brace of Stewart Warner Greenline gauges, some of which peered out from a contoured center pod, jutting from a textured dash pad. Many switches and lights serviced complete conveniences and don’t forget the ashtray and lighter.
Wing windows were sourced from an early Corvair convertible and front turn signal lights were pulled from the donor Vette and glassed in. Speaking of Vette parts, Leo said he found the 1968 fender gills and L88 hood scoop there in the fiberglass shop. This was early 1968 and those parts were just appearing on the new 68 Corvettes. Did Leo create the only Byers with cowl induction? Obscure as it may be, it’s more noteworthy than mud-flaps on an Edsel. In this build Leo stretched his fiberglass skills in fabricating intricate weatherstrip flanges, wing-window frames and even fashioning red taillight lenses out of tinted resin. Leo finished the whole creation off in what appears to be Chevrolet Anniversary Gold poly and a cool variation of Torque Thrust wheels.
Leo used the car for daily transportation, but this time the DMV would not let him title it as a Snedeker, as he had done with the roadster. Leo’s wild creation was nothing more than a “1968 Chevy” to bean-counters. The car was fun to drive, but Leo grew weary of the transmission popping out of third gear and having to secure it with a bungee cord. Back to the open arms of the salvage yard, Leo pulled a 283/Powerglide from a ‘50s wagon and swapped out the 265. Now he was set to criss-cross the country for 34,000 miles, including Las Vegas, South Dakota, Illinois and Victorville, California.
Leaving Nellis Air Force Base
Leo and family left for Nellis Air Force Base in the summer of 1968, leaving the 265/3 speed behind in the garage in the care of a renter. The renter and drivetrain had evaporated by the time they returned. This was the first in a chain of misfortunes that befell the 68 Snedeker as time marched on.
Leo returned home to Wichita with the car in 1975 after a tour in Iran. He drove it until 1978. The Kansas title shows it was taken out of service in November of 1978. Sometime after that a hail storm pummeled the Byers with softball-sized orbs. The spider-webbed outline of cracks can be seen in the hood, one of which is six inches in diameter.
Also, in an incident shrouded in smirks and silence, Leo’s son appropriated the engine and transmission when they were away on vacation. Leo and I went to this son’s house to load up a newer replacement engine and I asked him if he had any stories about the car. “Yeah – I know what happened to the engine,” he replied. What, I asked? “I don’t remember a thing about that night,” he said with a huge smirk. Leo looked on stone-faced just as he had when he discovered the engine was missing. At that point he was beyond caring as it seemed like the car could not rest in peace. He eventually moved it inside the body of a box-van where it sat until pulled out in 2014 as a gold beacon, amidst a sea of emerald cornfields, to lure me from a rural Kansas highway into the world of Byers ownership. Little did I know that trip would reunite two cars with one man’s vision that started over 50 years ago.
What happens next?
In the last article I mistakenly said the early Vette frame was not boxed. It is partially, but it is also rust-prone and the rear cross-member on the coupe is Swiss cheese. The body will need to come off so the chassis can visit the sandblaster. Also, the only place remaining for an original VIN is the frame rail under the driver’s seat area. True, the car already has its own unique Kansas VIN affixed to a plate on the door jamb, but I believe in registries and think it would be good to record the fate of the white 54 Vette that disappeared after going upside down somewhere north of Wichita.
I’ll run through the suspension and brakes, install the engine and put the body back on. Since this was fully a street legal car when put up, I don’t have to start over with everything. I plan to drive it with the body and paint as is. I still have the roadster to put back together from scratch on a replacement Henry J chassis, so getting in too deep with the coupe could derail both cars.
Thoughts on Lorraine Snedeker, Rick D’Louhy and Harold Pace
Since we lost Lorraine Snedeker and Rick D’Louhy, I do feel it is important to honor them here. I know Lorraine didn’t fully understand us and how the cars seemed to rule the day, but she was always supportive and ready with a home-cooked meal. I asked her what she thought of all the car building back in the day and she said she became exasperated because it seemed like it would never end, yet here she is proudly posing with the final product after two exhausting builds and Leo gone to war in between.
Lorraine also filled the role of historian as she knew where all the pictures were and even remembered details Leo had forgotten. When we were talking about the coupe she said, “Leo won a race in it.” “What race?” Leo retorted with a hint of indignation. “You know, you have that trophy down in the basement,” she replied. “Well, I was the only one in my class and the secondaries weren’t opening,” Leo clarified.
I never met Rick D’Louhy, but could feel the pride he had in his red-orange Meteor as they shuttled it to various shows. I did hear him in the background as I was talking to Geoff on one of their recent cross-country treasure treks. He was the moderator, maybe even the glue that kept Geoff’s enthusiasm and optimism on the rails. We need to support Geoff now especially. This was a partnership and kinship he fully expected would carry them into the future with a book and recognition for the wide array of cars we all love. Each one was built from pieces, many of little value without being part of the whole. So it is with the hobby and Rick and Geoff’s vision. There is no whole, no knowledge, no reverence without the sum-of-the-parts, that being the recovery of a large contingent of lost and dying cars, supportive literature and a massive web presence that pulls us together and legitimizes our efforts. Thank you Rick and Geoff.
We also lost Harold Pace. If not for Harold, I never would’ve known what a Byers SR100 was. Harold was an acclaimed automotive author and regular contributor to Kit Car magazine. He was also a good friend and has already been dearly missed by car guys in several different segments of the hobby.
Current Photos of the Snedecker Coupe:
When I first heard from Dave Peterson about this car, I thought it was going to look strange – two different models blended together often means disaster – but this wasn’t the case. In fact, I think the car looked great when finished – a unique look that stands perfectly on its own from either a Kellison or Byers SR-100 model. All I have to say is “great job Leo” and I look forward to sharing progress photos with the restoration once Dave begins going down that path.
And thank you Dave for your kind words about some of those special folks that we’ve lost in the past few years. Each unreplaceable and worthy of remembrance and recognition in every way.
Thanks again to Dave Peterson for sharing the article about his car today. For those of you wanting to learn more about the “other” Leo Snedeker Special – a Byers SR-100 sports car also owned by Dave – and other stories about his cars, click on the link below.
Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember…
The adventure continues here at Undiscovered Classics.