Today’s article is from intrepid Singer Motor Car Historian, author, and writer Peter McKercher from Ontario, Canada. Peter was kind enough to put together a history of Vern Gardner’s BMC Singer sports car and extend what we know about the car.
The photos are from the collection of Dan Nichols, friend of fiberglass and stalwart photographer who gave us permission to use these in our on-going documentation of fiberglass sports car history across America in the ‘50s. Thanks to both of these gentlemen for making this story possible today.
And away we go:
Vern Gardner And His BMC Singer Race Car:
In its August 1952 issue, Auto Speed and Sport magazine reported “ As a prelude to the Golden Gate Park Road Races (Memorial Day, 1952), the always progressive British Motor Car Company of San Francisco presented their prototype sports car. To be called the “BMC” it is basically a Singer 1500 with a special fiberglass body.” The car was to have gone into production in the very near future after its introduction.
However, it never did, and the reasons for this have been clearly documented by Geoff Hacker of Forgotten Fiberglass in a couple of previous articles. In short its creator, Kjell Qvale, gave two fundamental reasons for the very brief lifespan of the project. First, he recognized that the nature and scope of such a production was beyond the practical ability of his company to execute and second, he felt that he simply couldn’t compete at the price point MG had established for its very popular MG T series sports cars.
Accordingly, Qvale and his company shelved the project after having completed only one BMC roadster. The car was passed on to Pete Snell soon after its official unveiling on the eve of the Golden Gate Park Road Races. He raced it at least twice, first at the April 1953 Pebble Beach Sports Car Road Race and later, on August 16th, 1953, at Moffett Air Field.
While Qvale and company only ever completed one BMC, they actually produced a second body, which ended up in the possession of prominent Triumph Motorcycle and Singer dealer, Vern Gardner, of Oakland California. As with many of the sports car dealers of the day, Vern was a keen competitor, seeing track time at a number of popular circuits including Reno, Golden Gate, Stockton and Moffett Field.
He typically drove either his Siata or his distinctively painted blue and white Singer SM 1500C. With his interest in racing, a successful dealership and an interest in promoting the Singer marque, Gardner had the resources to build the BMC into a formidable speed machine. Where Qvale’s interest lay in the concept of providing interchangeable bodies for small, unmodified British sports cars, Gardner was out to squeeze as much power with the least possible baggage as he could.
This we can see from a series of photos taken by Dan Nichols, a young photographer from the Fifties with a keen interest in racing. His photos track Gardner’s build of the 2nd BMC, including a few shots taken at Moffett Field where Gardner gave the car its inaugural run on August 16th, 1953. He placed 13th in the 2 ½ hour Distance-Formula race, competing against the likes of Sterling Edwards (Ferrari 4.1), Phil Hill (Ferrari 2.9), Fred Coppel (Osca) and Jon Von Neumann (Porsche 1.5).
Clearly the car performed well against well-heeled and better sorted competition. The build shows us a spanking new Singer SM 1500C chassis, with an Amal quad carburetor setup, used on several occasions by Dick van Laanen and Lammy Lamoreaux. Presumably similar internal modifications, such as the Chet Herbert roller rockers, cam, and flow through head used by Lamoreaux at Bridgehampton 3 months earlier, supported the unusual carburetor setup.
Other visible modifications include the custom banana manifold, a dual exhaust system, an oversized radiator, gas shock absorbers, and a large rear mounted fuel pump. Gardner chose a colour scheme reminiscent in tone and format of the one used on his Singer roadster. Both cars were run under the number 116 at Nationally sanctioned races.
Let’s take a look at some of the photos that Dan Nichols sent in of Vern Gardner’s BMC Singer Race Car.
As with all photos here at Forgotten Fiberglass, remember you can use your mouse to click on the image and make it appear larger on your screen.
Vern Gardner’s BMC Singer Racecar: Dan Nichols Collection:
Here are two photos from Dan Nichols of Vern Gardner’s business truck – a piece of art in and of itself.
We thought you might enjoy:
We’re hot on the trail of finding Vern’s car and we have found the “scent” of another too – which should be BMC’s prototype fiberglass-bodied Singer. But then again, as we have with the story of John Bond and Strother MacMinn’s LeMans Coupe, there may have been more than just “two” BMC fiberglass sports car bodies built.
Anyone want to go on a fiberglass scavenger hunt in and around the Bay Area of California?
Thanks again to Peter McKercher and Dan Nichols for making this story possible, and sharing it with our Forgotten Fiberglass enthusiasts out there.
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
Click on the Images Below to View Larger Pictures
I lived on 50th ave in Oakland between E14 th and E12 and raced a Triumph Cub in the 250 class and I had a BSA 250 Star
that I also raced on local tracks back in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Was in and out of Verns Shop on E14th and Nelson Bros down the street. Bought a new Honda CB77 from Nelson Bros and went on to be a partner in Sonic Plastics in Hayward making and selling fiberglass gas tanks, fairings for racing and street along with racing seats for TT, flat track and road racing. Was part of motorcycle history in the early years of road racing. We made all the team road racing tanks, fairings and seats for BSA , Triumph and Harley Davidson factory racers, we were the first to offer fiberglass racing parts distributed by Rocky Cycle, and Hap Jones in the bay area.
I now live in Hawaii and I’m 83 years old still at it with vintage Honda racers and fiberglass parts
His shop was on east 14th in Oakland south of High street a few doors down from Nelson Brothers, another motorcycle shop. Vern sold quarter midgets and Cushman scooters. My uncle had a bakery nearby. I would love to see that frame, I would like to have one for my 1959 Cushman. maybe we can chat. Gary 510-672-0113 Emeryville
I just bought a motorcycle license frame that was made before 1962 with Vern Gardner Oakland on it, I would love to more about it. Where was the shop located and what motorcycles did he sell? Also was his Siata powered by the Crosley engine or Fiat?
it was on E14th street just before High Street and down from Nelson Bros Honda Shop at the time. He was the Triumph motorcycle distributor along with other British Motorcycles. They had show windows in the front of the building and i remember seeing a TiooR flat track motorcycle for sale displayed in the shadow box, ah, the good old days. This was 1961, Nelson Bros was still a British bike shop and had Phil Cancilla as a rider for them at the early days of Daytona on the beach track. !/2 sand and 1/2 paved road. Phil later became a Triumph Bultaco dealer. We all used to meet at Belmont 1/4 mile track for races on Friday nights.
Thank you for writing such a wonderful article on my uncle, Vern Gardner. He was my mother’s brother, she was Annie Gardner of Fresno, CA and they were the two oldest of 7 children raised in Fresno, CA. We spent lots of time visiting at his shop in Oakland, CA, and had lots of good times riding in the old truck – you did bring back many wonderful memories – again, I thank you so very, very much for a job ‘well done’!!!!!!!!!
I just saw this site today and did wish Uncle Vern was still here to see how you honored his work! GREAT WRITE UP!!! Thanks again!
@Peter….yes that would be him. Vern Gardner from the San Francisco Bay area…
Hi all, came across your web site while searching for Vern Gardner.
Story is, an Austin Healey Sprite MK 1 came to light in Germany with a lot of stickers / metal plates from events in california 1960 / 1961 and one metal plate , a red / white/ blue telling us : Tuned by Vern Garner.
Any Ideas ?
Greetings from Bremen, Germany
Great pictures ..Keep em coming..
Wow! These photos are awesome! Thanks to everyone who contributed to this story.
Being a engine guy mainly, i belive those Amal carbs would take some creative jetting with the lack of a real manifold?
Interesting carb set-up. They are from a motorcycle. It usually took 2 to feed a 750 cc Crosley H-mod.