Note: This is a multi-part story. Click here to view all parts of this story
When we acquired the 1955 Californian Sports Car (now confirmed as the “LeGene”) we were at the very beginning of our research and sharing what we learned with all of you via our website. I arrived in Tampa, Florida with our partially restored Californian on September 9th, 2009. I didn’t know this yet but we had less than 6 months to get it restored for it’s first show at the 2010 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
it’s been an interesting ride since we started with LaDawri, Forgotten Fiberglass and now Undiscovered Classics. Time and money have always been in short supply, but we always seem to find a way. By the end of September, 2009 Bill Warner of Amelia Island confirmed our car for an upcoming class and the trigger of the starting gun had been pulled.
While we had appeared at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2007, 2008 and 2009 it was with cars we had acquired that had been restored. First our 1957 LaDawri Conquest, then our 1961 Tiburon Coupe and finally our 1947 Kurtis-Omohundro Comet. We had 5 months to complete a restoration on a car that hadn’t run in 15 years – and was last finished in the 1950s. And that was our first experience balancing restoration with speed while keeping a fixed date (the appearance at the March, 2010 Amelia Island) on our minds each and every day.
The Restoration Begins
The restoration started at my house in October, 2009. Brakes and mechanical were handled by Scott Miller. Electrical and carburetion were coordinated and built by Tim Masters. The LeGene is one of the few American Specials to have the motor installed in the same location on the frame as it was originally intended. The 1955 Debonnaire / Venture is the only other car we’ve seen this configuration too. This eliminates all front space that a normal Ford generator would fit Tim installed a dynamo instead of a generator for us based on the work of another of our team – Tom Chandler. It’s a great story if you have the time – click on the link below to learn more.
Tim Masters Installs Dynamo on California Special
Scott and Terry Miller did the first test of our Motor in the Californian on November 19, 2009 and all went well. Check out the 1 minute video below.
Scott did a terrific job restoring the undercarriage and Tim Masters found us a nice maroon Kaiser/Frazer steering wheel. Tim also built us some custom carb linkage too. With 7 day a week schedules put in on the car, we were ready for paint and interior by the end of the year.
Paint and Bodywork
By the end of 2009, the mechanicals were up and running and the car was ready for the next step – fiberglass/body and paint with Jonathan Rucker. We dropped the car off to Jonathan just after the 1st of the year. By mid February, 2010 Jonathan was ready for paint. Let’s check out some of work between January and mid February:
Off and Running: Upholstery is Next
By February 18, 2010 we were in paint and by March 1st, 2010 the car was back home. Amelia Island Concours was just 2 weeks away and we had upholstery and final sorting to do. The pressure was sure on for our team. Upholstery for cockpit and trunk started on March 2nd with our good friend Tom Jaudon, and by March 6th the car was back in our driveway with a week before Amelia. Thanks for a great job on our car Tom. Photos below tell the story:
Final Fit and Finish
Just 5 days to go to Amelia and nearly done. Tim Masters joined us again and helped ensure the car was running, stopping and moving well. You can check out the 2 minute “once around the block” test drive below:
Merrill Powell who helped found Victress in 1953 joined us for Amelia that year and pitched in helping Terry Miller fit the windshield to our car in the photos below:
Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance: March, 2010
It’s always an adventure with Amelia. We left on the morning of Saturday March 13, 2010 and of course it was raining. We disassembled the windshield, wrapped the cockpit in shrink wrap and hit the gas toward our destination. Once on the field, Merrill Powell, Scott Miller and even Susan Gunn pitched in getting the car ready for its debut on the next day – including reassembling the windshield. Check out some of the photos below.
The Rest of the Story
At the time of the concours we did not know the identify of the car. We had no idea who built it but….there are many cars like this from that era. Our job was (and is) to help reunite the car itself with its history and we did that in a profound way with Bill Warner – the founder of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
When we were forming the class of “Forgotten Fiberglass Cars” with Bill that year, we made a case that the unsung hero of the 1950s was the visionary and builder – the one who took their dream and built the sports car of their reality. While we might think that the history of such an endeavor could not get lost, it has for cars of this era time and time again. With Bill’s help and support, we could show an unknown example such as our 1955 California and build the case to those at Amelia that the story was relevant, worthwhile, interesting and important to the story of American sports cars in the early postwar years. Here’s what we wrote for the sign that appeared in front of the car:
The Californian was built circa 1955 by an unidentified, yet competent designer/constructor. It is one of only three cars known with this body. It comes from the early postwar period when having your own sports car often meant building it yourself. It best represents the class of “Forgotten Fiberglass” cars at Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance today in that the designer and builder has truly been “forgotten”. Early American sports cars bear names that few recognize such as Meteor, Glasspar or Victress, while this car is called “Mysterion” because it belongs to a group where research has yet to turn up the designer, builder or company responsible for it. The car before you was built on a 1940’s Ford frame with dropped front axle. It features a great-sounding Ford Flathead V-8 with Offenhauser speed equipment including aluminum high compression heads. This Mysterion has a removable hardtop, vintage wire wheels and unique style combining European and American elements.
The concours in 2010 kicked off our mission in supporting handcrafted sports cars, their stories and their history. And with a special emphasis on reuniting a mystery car with its history and legacy in America. We’ve accomplished this time and time again since 2010, and we were able to do it with this car – the Californian – in 2015 with the help of both Bill Warner and Ray Evernham. That adventure is for an upcoming story here at Undiscovered Classics.
So that was our first restoration. The process tested our team, our resilience, our creativity and more – could we deliver a final product in a short time to display a car on the world stage, and the answer was yes. Restorations since that time within our group still take place at some one-person shops and some larger facilities too. But our emphasis on fit, finish and speed is always a concern for each project we take on.
So as you see, we hit the ground running with the restoration and showing of the Californian when I brought it back from California in September, 2009. But we still didn’t know what the car was, who built it, if it raced, etc. For the answer to those questions, you’ll have to wait until the next part of this story, so stay tuned gang 🙂
Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember…
The adventure continues here at Undiscovered Classics.
Thank you Geoff for documenting this car. Can’t wait for the rest of the story.