This is the first installment of a 2 part series of articles on:
Woody’s Woodill Wildfire – By Glenn Brummer
I’ve wanted to meet Glenn Brummer for years. And finally last year it happened. Good friend Gregg Griffin put me in touch with Glenn, and Glenn’s e-mail inbox has never been the same 🙂
I wanted to meet Glenn because he had authored one of the best articles on the history of Woodill Wildfires in 1998. This was one of the first retrospective reviews of the history of Woody Woodill, and it remains an excellent source of information on these cars today (Michael Lamm has also written an excellent article in Collectible Automobile about this car, and we’ll discuss that in future stories).
Glenn has turned out to be a great friend and even a more impressive historian than I could have imagined. He continues to share with me his knowledge of Count Alex de Sakhnoffsky, Teardrop Cars, and other points of knowledge and interest. He even recently found 3 original pictures I had not seen of my 1948 Kurtis Omohundro Comet!
Glenn is one amazing guy and someone all of you should know.
And that’s what I’m doing today – introducing you to our “friend of fiberglass” Glenn Brummer and the first part of his excellent story on the Woodill Wildfire published in 1998.
Off we go gang….
Woody’s Woodill Wildfire (The Mile Post, January/February 1998)
By Glenn Brummer
Lead In: The little-known Woodill Wildfire….America’s first production fiberglass sports car. Was it the Cobra of its day? It’s the car that almost became the Willys Wildfire. A comprehensive article on this unusual car is in this issue.
B. Robert “Woody” Woodill had been a professor at U.S.C. in Los Angeles, California, teaching Aeronautical Engineering during World War II. After the war, he became a partner at his father’s successful Dodge dealership in Downey, California. Dodge cars and trucks were selling well, in Southern California, and in 1948, “Woody” bought his father’s share of the business.
By late 1951, “Woody” got the urge for a sports car, almost buying a Jaguar XK-120, against the wishes of his service manager. In this same time period, Willys-Overland of Toledo, Ohio was rolling out their new line of passenger cars – the Willys Aero. Woody became a Willys dealer, setting up his agency in buildings he already owned, next to the Dodge dealership.
The sports car urge was quenched when Woody went to visit Bill Tritt, the owner of Glasspar, in Santa Ana, California. Tritt had been building fiberglass boats for a number of years and had designed, and built, a one-piece fiberglass sports car body in 1950. The Glasspar body was being marketed as a kit to be retrofitted on a number of different chassis. Woodill liked what he saw and bought two of the fiberglass bodies.
The next step was to find a chassis. Woody went to see Harold “Shorty” Post at the Post Body Shop in Orange, California. “Shorty” quickly developed a chassis and, using Woody’s contacts at the nearby Willys assembly plant in Maywood, California, they adapted a Jeepster front axle assembly, bumpers and other Willys parts.
Doors and a hood opening were cut into the one-piece body shell, a false hood scoop was added and the rear fenders were extended and modified to accept the Willys Aero taillights. These first two cars, powered by a Willys F-head, in-line six cylinder engine, became the basis for the Woodill Wildfire.
“Woody” had talked a friend into buying one of these first two cars, defraying some of the development expense. He kept the second car for his own use and showed it to the public, for the first time, at a major auto show in Los Angeles on November 10th, 1952. The six day show, sponsored by Petersen Publishing Company, brought throngs of people and the Wildfire caused quite a stir.
W. M. Canady and D.G. “Barney” Roos, President and First Vice President at Willys Overland, heard about this sports car built with Willys components and began thinking strongly about the possibility of a sports car to add to their line of cars. Nash had introduced their Nash-Healey aluminum bodied two-passenger sports car in February of 1952. It used a 125 horsepower, 234.8 cubic inch overhead valve in-line six; however, it weighed 2,690 pounds and sold for $4063.
They chartered an airplane and sent it to California to pick up “Woody”, wife, Chris, and the car. A “Willys Wildfire” license plate was affixed to the car and it was shown to Willys dealers who were attending a sales meeting in Toledo, Ohio….they loved the car. The Wildfire utilized the Willys 161 cubic inch F-head six, rated at 90 horsepower to 135 horsepower (depending on modifications) but the car only weighed 1,620 pounds and would sell for $800 less than the Nash-Healey.
Negotiations began for “Woody” Woodill to build this car for Willys; however, on April 29th, 1953 Willys-Overland, Inc was acquired by the Henry J. Kaiser Company. Kaiser already had its own sports car under development – the Kaiser Darrin – and Kaiser already had a heavy investment in Dutch Darrin’s creation. The Darrin became the sports car of choice for production.
In the meantime, Woody Woodill had built and sold five more Wildfires, at about $3,400 a copy. With his failed attempt to become a sports car manufacturer for Willys, his thoughts turned to building kit cars that anyone, with some mechanical aptitude, could put together in a weekend and wind up with a quality sports car.
Woodill sold his Dodge agency and began concentrating on his Woodill Motor Company, Inc. A new design was needed for kit plans to become viable. He knew that hot-rodders and hobbyists were using mostly Ford components for their creations with good reason….they were inexpensive and plentiful.
He had his Production Manager, Howard Miller, design a new rectangular tube steel frame structure that easily accepted 1939-1941 Ford suspension components. Woodill returned to Glasspar and had Bill Tritt build a second generation body to Woodill’s specifications. The second generation cars, on a 101 and 1/2” wheelbase, were much more refined than the first series of cars. Many aluminum castings were made for the door, hood, and deck lid assemblies so that the car would look and operate like a finished production automobile.
It had larger, higher doors with roomy compartments; a functional carburetor air scoop in the hood; large luggage space which could be locked and accessed without removing the seat back and a larger cockpit for the “long of leg.”
In 1953, the frame and body kit sold for $1,208; by 1954, the combination kit had risen to $1,617. Factory built, completely assembled cars were available at $3,160. According to notes provided by Howard Miller, concise production records were not kept. However, it is thought that at least seven of the series one cars were manufactured with one of the two originals residing with Milestone members Fred and Deanna Roth of Thousand Oaks, California.
The December 1952 issue of Motor Trend magazine has an article covering the first series cars. In the June 1954 issue of LOOK magazine, two photos of the Glasspar fiberglass body (very similar to the Series One Wildfire) can be seen being pushed off a hundred foot cliff, with no resultant damage.
That’s the end of the first part of the Wildfire article by Glenn Brummer – and what an excellent article it is for all of us Woodill Wildfire enthusiasts out there.
One note though….
I’ve found reference to the LOOK Magazine article above (June 1954) but I’ve never found the article or pictures. I’ve bought the appropriate LOOK Magazines on ebay (there are 3 issues of LOOK in June 1954) but none have this article. Glenn found this reference in a Special Interest Autos Magazine article and I’ve followed up with both the editor at the time (Michael Lamm) as well as Glenn. The true source of this story involving pushing bodies off a cliff still remains lost. So…if anyone has an original copy of this story showing a Glasspar body being pushed off a cliff, be sure to let us know. I’d like to have this reference for our Glasspar library in place and accurate for everyone.
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
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