How many times do you get to talk to the original builder of one of our early specials? Not very often, but with Jon Greuel’s help, I was able to locate Curtis Hillman and learn more about the LaDawri Daytona he had started so many years ago.
Jon Greuel had found and purchased the LaDawri Daytona on eBay – but finding it was just the start of his adventure. The body was in great shape, but the frame had been changed to something new. Jon had hoped that the body and frame were original to each other, but he moved forward anyway. When he talked to the seller to learn more about what he purchased, the seller asked Jon,
“Do you want to meet the original builder?”
Jon could hardly wait, and off he went on his new LaDawri adventure.
Picking Up The Daytona
The seller had purchased the car and brought it to his home in Amarillo, Texas. The new owner was friends with an older car guy, Curtis Hillman, and when he brought Curtis over to see his new car, Curtis immediately recognized the car he had built from years before – 40 or more years before. The car and its original builder had been reunited – something that rarely happens these days.
Jon was very lucky on this one. And……the story even gets better.
The seller also knew where the original frame for the car was located. Curtis Hillman had built the car on a Henry J frame, so off Jon was to his next acquisition. And…Curtis joined in to help acquire the long-lost Henry J frame. Togetther they made a day of it and picked up, secured, and transported the frame to Oklahoma. And lickety-split, the original Henry J rolling chassis and Daytona were reunited.
Meeting Curtis Hillman:
I wanted to learn more about the car and the man who built it, so Jon put me in touch with Curtis and I had a chance to speak with him in April this year. Curtis is 86 years old and doing great!
He purchased the Daytona body late in 1961, and started building the Daytona in 1962. His first challenge was finding a Henry J frame. The Henry J hadn’t been built in many years, but after much effort he found a donor car, stripped it down to the chassis, and started assembling the car.
For the drivetrain, he found a low mileage 1955 Chevrolet which had burned, and purchased the drivetrain lock, stock, and barrel. His Daytona would have a 1955 Chevrolet 265 cubic inch engine with a 3 speed Chevrolet transmission and overdrive. As Curtis recalls, a windshield from a 1955 Chevrolet was used too.
Curtis finished most of the car, built an interior, wired the car and ran it around Amarillo, Texas off and on for several years. It’s kind of funny….he never did install headlights so we can assume this was a daylight running car only – or Curtis was one brave man! He kept the car for about 5 years and sold it in the late 1960s. The next time he saw it was when it appeared with his friend nearly 40 years later. Where his LaDawri Daytona was in the “between” years is a mystery. I like to think that’s where all the forgotten fiberglass cars that are lost are hiding – waiting to be found by one of our fierce forgotten fiberglass fanatics!
Documenting the Hillman Daytona Special – Serial Number 33
Back in 2006, Jon Greuel, John Gulow, and I collaborated and found the Dawes family. Since then, we have become good friends with Joan Dawes (Les Dawes’ wife) and her sons Michael and Patrick. One of the pieces of history that Joan shared with us was the original log book showing the number of cars – by serial number – that were produced by LaDawri.
When Jon Greuel started his research on the car, he matched what he had learned to an entry in the LaDawri logbooks dated September 21st, 1961, identifying the Curtis Daytona as body #33 – the 33rd Daytona made by LaDawri.
Not all cars are as easy to research as this one. LaDawri didn’t place identification tags on their bodies – they matched the serial number to the original owner’s name (or business that purchased the body) and the serial numbers appeared on the paperwork associated with the car – not the car itself. This makes it even more remarkable that the history of this body is known all the way back to its “birth” at the LaDawri factory in Long Beach, California. This is truly one special car!
Honoring Curtis Hillman – World War II Veteran
Jon’s initial research wasn’t limited to the car – he spent time with Curtis himself getting to know the man and his history. Here’s what Jon learned about the life and times of Curtis Hillman:
Curtis Hillman was drafted into the Army immediately after finishing high school. He served with the 97th Infantry as a machine gunner. The 97th was on its way to route out Nazi resistance in Czechoslovakia when Germany surrendered. The unit was sent home for 30 days R & R before shipping out to the Philippines.
Following the dropping of the A-Bomb, Hillman was sent to Yokohama, Japan in the military police service. Following his tour of duty, his unit was sent to California for deactivation. His father shipped his motorcycle out to California. He rode it all the way to San Antonio, TX and received his discharge. He then returned to his home town of Border, TX, where he worked for the next 30 years for the local electric company.
When he wasn’t working, Mr. Hillman was practically living out in his garage. He raced everything he could. A self-confessed gear head to this day, he has been tinkering with one automobile or another all his life. In fact, when he got home from WWII he was going to be a race car driver.
After several cars and a few accidents, he eventually ordered a LaDawri Daytona from Les Dawes in Long Beach, California. It arrived by rail in damaged condition. Mr. Hillman retained an attorney to get a satisfactory settlement with the rail company. (See settlement letter from attorney) The letter matches the LaDawri ledger book perfectly. Curtis Hillman served in both the European and Pacific theatres during WWII. Thank you for your service!
Jon Greuel has had a ball finding this car, reuniting the car and its original Henry J chassis, and most importantly – spending time and learning about the car from his friend Curtis Hillman. Jon’s current attention is on completing his LaDawri Conquest for its debut at the Milwaukee Masterpiece in August 2011 – and this car is turning out to be one special LaDawri as well.
Given Jon’s emphasis on completing his LaDawri Conquest, he’s shared with me that he may be willing to let the Hillman Daytona Special go to the right person ready to finish the car and preserve its history. If you think you’re the right person – let me know. Send me an e-mail and I’ll put you in touch with Jon so you can explore the possibility.
Until then….hats off to Jon Greuel for putting together another special car and preserving its unique history. And to Curtis Hillman for having the tenacity to build such a car and the courage to serve our nation at a time of need.
This story’s dedicated to you Curtis!
Hope you enjoyed the article, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
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