Note: This is the second of a three-part story on the Dick Foster Victress Special. Click here to review all parts of the story.
How did I find the Dick Foster Victress Special and get it home? The answer to that question merits a story in itself.
During our early research into the early history of fiberglass sports cars, I found Merrill Powell, co-owner of Victress Manufacturing from ’53 to ’61. It was at about this same time I found the Dick Foster Victress. The car had been located years before in Fullerton, California and the new owner brought it up to his home in Canada to begin restoration. It had been with that new owner for nearly 25 years.
I was excited about finding the car and got to know the owner fairly well over the next year or so. Finally, I bit the bullet and we started talking about his selling the car. We had a meeting of the minds and the car was sold. All I needed to do was to get it from Vancouver, Canada to Florida – that’s a pretty long distance even for me.
What an adventure this would turn out to be – I just didn’t know it yet. The first step was getting the car into the country so I pulled the trigger and arranged transport of the Victress to a friend’s house in Sacramento, California – and there we stored it for a short time. And then I met Chuck Tatum.
Enter Chuck Tatum
Ever since I met Chuck during our research into the Johnny Dark movie, Chuck and I have been talking more and more. And in 2008 I told him about the Victress acquisition. Chuck was excited because in the movie Johnny Dark, he had raced (movie-raced) against a black Victress driven by actor Don Taylor. Click here to learn more about the Victress and Johnny Dark – starring Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie.
We had just agreed to help the Palo Alto Concours d’ Elegance host a fiberglass event in 2008, and I excitedly shared the good news with Chuck about the event. And then it happened. Chuck asked me if I was planning to show the newly acquired Victress at Palo Alto. Hmmm….neat idea but how? Chuck said he could do it – he would make it happen.
Chuck was about 80 years old at the time and doing great. And he’s still doing great today. Chuck is one amazing car guy.
So Chuck began his second race against a Victress – this time 54 years after the debut of the movie Johnny Dark. And…by the summer of 2008, the Victress was ready and we were going to debut it in “survivor” condition at the show. How fun! Good friend Susan Gunn and I flew out to Stockton, California to meet Chuck and we planned to trailer it to Palo Alto for the show.
This was an interesting predicament by itself. Before we flew out there, I had to determine how I was going to get the Victress home. It just happened that I was looking for an older Chevy Suburban at the time, so I started checking around Chuck’s home using Craigslist in the hopes of finding the right truck at the right price. We found one – with only 194,000 miles on it. Hooray! Now to find a trailer – and Chuck had a solution.
“Geoff,” he said….”why not consider buying my old single-car trailer that I built to haul my race car around (the Chuck Tatum Special) when I restored it many years ago? I’m not using it anymore, but it’s small, lightweight, and would fit your car perfectly.”
“Music to my ears,” I replied, and history was made – the “Chuck Tatum Trailer” was pulled out of storage and pressed into service. And today, 10,000 miles later, it’s going strong. Click here to learn more about the most famous trailer ever to haul vintage ‘glass across the country – the indomitable “Chuck Tatum Car Trailer.”
Next Stop: Palo Alto
So, we hooked up the trailer and car and were off to the Concours at Palo Alto. The Victress showed well among other fiberglass cars at the event. This was only the second Concours d’ Elegance to feature a class dedicated to vintage ‘glass since the 1950s, and we were glad to be a part of it. The Gladwin family of “Maverick” fame were there and so was Joan Dawes of LaDawri. This was a significant event in the history and recognition of vintage ‘glass in every way.
And when the show ended, we were off to see Dick Foster.
Visiting Dick Foster: Mariposa California
Susan and I had planned to make a trip to Yosemite National Park after Palo Alto to take in the grandeur and beauty of the area. And Dick Foster lived close by. This was my chance to reunite Dick with his Victress – a car that he had built from scratch and hadn’t seen in over 30 years. This would be fun!
So we began our trip to meet with Dick Foster and reunit the man with his car. This was the only time I’ve been able to do this with a Victress roadster and it was a great honor to do so. Susan and I then took off forYosemite with Victress in tow. It was an interesting trip weaving in and out of the Redwoods with our historic car racing us from behind.
We also had a chance to meet with Frank Tift who also lived near Yosemite. Frank was Jim Byers’ first employee and Frank had a souvenir for us that he thought Byers enthusiasts might appreciate – a t-shirt with Byers’ name on it from the days of working for Jim Byers. How cool is that! See the photo below.
After our visit, Susan returned to Florida via airplane and I was now captain of the Suburban and on my way to Los Angeles. On my way, I stopped to see Richard Russell of Victress in Bakersfield, California. Russ was a Victress employee in the 1953-’54 era, and had great memories of what they did back then and how they did it. He was even there when John Wayne brought in his ’53 Corvette to have the front fender repaired. Boy did Russ have great stories. Russ and his wife Diane put me up for a night or two and I was on my way – Los Angeles here I come.
Visiting Los Angeles
There were many people and places to visit – with and without the Victress in tow. First, I stopped to see Stewart Reed, Chairman of the Transportation Department at the Art Center in Pasadena, California. Stewart had a neat legacy among fiberglass history as well – he was the designer and builder of the famous SR-1 Meyers sports car from Bruce Meyers / Meyers Manx fame – and he still has his prototype model. Very cool!
Stewart invited me to attend the upcoming car show at the Art Center and I enthusiastically said “yes.” On the day of the show, the Victress received an enthusiastic welcome, and it was during this visit we learned that the Victress S1A Roadster was the first car built by a graduate of Art Center that reached “production” stage. The designer – Hugh Jorgensen – had accomplished this feat and we discovered that for the first time during our visit with Stewart at the Art Center College of Design.
Not a bad legacy for both Hugh and Victress alike.
It was at this time that good friend Daniel Strohl of Hemmings now began to cover some of our stops on the west coast including the Palo Alto visit and the Art Center event. Click on the links below to view Dan’s coverage of the trip back in 2008:
Hemmings Coverage: Palo Alto Concours d’Elegance
Hemmings Coverage: Art Center Victress Visit
Next stop was Erich Schultz in Altadena, California. Erich has one of the largest collections of specials west of the Mississippi.
Our last stop in Los Angeles was at the home of Pat Boyce-Smith – the wife of Doc Boyce Smith who founded Victress in 1952. Pat was there with Doc from nearly the inception of the company. She hadn’t seen a Victress in over 40 years and we wanted to change that – and we did. You can see Pat Boyce-Smith with Merrill and Gerianne Powell on Pat’s front porch. We spent an afternoon together talking and have a great time. The Victress was within eyeshot during the whole afternoon – ust outside the window of the home that she and Doc Boyce-Smith lived in for so many years.
Meeting Up With Dennis Gerdes in Idyllwild, California
From Los Angeles, I headed east with Victress in tow. Next step – Dennis Gerdes and Idyllwild, California. Dennis is the son of Warren Gerdes – production manager for Glasspar in the early ‘50s who oversaw the building of all Glasspar G2 bodies. His father was also the first driver of Bill Tritt’s Mameco Ardun race car. Quite a family history here.
Dennis offered to help me pick up a recent ebay find – an original unfinished belly tank from the late ‘40s / early ‘50s. “Where will you put it?” Dennis asked. “We’ll figure that out later…” I replied – with absolutely no idea on how I would carry this home. But I’m forever the optimist, so I pressed on – Victress in tow.
Dennis and I picked up the belly tank and parts – engine included – from Anthony Migliore – in Temecula, California. Then, some time later set about the task of figuring out a way to include the belly tank on my trailer or Suburban. Dennis had an idea. “Mount it on the roof” he said. “It’s aerodynamic and should stream thru the air with a breeze.”
To me it looked like a bomb mounted on the car – the last thing I needed to be doing in a post 9/11 environment. But we mounted it on the roof, and I never laughed so hard in my life – it was a spectacle to behold. During my stay with Dennis, we also went off to visit his friend and former employer, Bruce Meyers, of Meyers Manx. And…I had a chance to track down Dave Deal who designed my Cheetah / Moon transporter. But those stories are best told another day.
Soon….I was off to Arizona…
So my first stop was a short stay at Merrill and Gerianne Powell’s home in Flagstaff, Arizona, where Merrill was the next person to sign the trunk of the Victress. And then off to Phoenix and meet their son Russ. While in Phoenix, I tracked down Robert Lugo and his recently acquired John Knebel Glasspar G2. We had an excellent meeting, and went our separate ways. Me – with the Victress in tow.
We also had additional coverage from Dan Strohl of Hemmings: From California to Phoenix – Bellytank and Glasspar
And I visited one of my favorite teardrop cars too – which Hemmings covered: Teardrop Car and Glasspar G2 Visit
From Phoenix, I pointed the Suburban, Belly Tank, and Victress to Houston to visit some other fiberglass compadres.
Saved By Ted Griffin and His Woodill Wildfire:
About 7 weeks had transpired since I began my trip and both myself and my Suburban were getting tired. I pulled into Houston Texas to visit Ted Griffin and family (Ted is one of the original owners of a Woodill Wildfire) and my brakes were about shot.
Ted Griffin to the rescue! He made arrangements for his mechanic to look at the brakes and repairs were made quickly and economically. I stayed overnight in Houston and had a close call with a hurricane that was coming on shore. The belly tank stayed firmly on the roof of the car and the Victress was no worse for wear.
In Houston, I also visited with Mark Brinker (Glasspar), Bill Fester (Allied), and Patrick McLoad (Venus). In a day or two I was off to Louisiana to see Mel Keys of Victress. With Victress in tow….
Sulfur Louisiana: Another Victress Signature Obtained
I wanted to meet Mel because he was one of the “friends of Victress” back in the mid to late ’50s. He was also a good friend of Alton Johnson who built the famous LeMans Coupe, and there was much I could learn from Mel, no doubt. I stopped in for the day and met with Mel, his brother Vern and Mel’s son Stephen. And of course, Mel signed the Victress trunk too.
Then off to Tampa Florida – which took another day or two to get to.
So I left for California via plane on June 18th, 2008 and returned home triumphantly to my cats and ‘glass menagerie on August 8th, 2008 – just shy of about a two month trip – most with Victress in tow. And now it’s home 🙂
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
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