Think of all the sports cars being designed and built in postwar Europe. It was a time of building and rebuilding.
Coachbuilding companies that started before World War II like Spohn were doing their best to take orders and fulfill new designs. In Spohn’s case it was custom cars for American GI’s, concept cars for Detroit manufacturers and custom work for old and new clients. Other companies were building low volume bodies for automobile manufacturers – including prototype and concept cars too. It was a busy time – it was also a time of opportunity.
All of the companies operating in the European postwar environment most likely hired those with pre-war skills of metal-shaping – artisans long out of work and needing a job. When you read today’s story by good friend Rick Kamen about his uncle’s car built in Italy, it certainly speaks of the talent needed to conceive of such a design and the skills available that could build it.
Over the years, Rick Kamen has been helping us learn about the Willys and how it was related to both American sports cars being built and the use of Willys in our favorite movie from 1954 – Johnny Dark. Let me turn the story over to Rick concerning his uncle’s lost car. And away we go…
From the Desk of Rick Kamen
My Uncle’s Italian Designed Austin-Healey
My uncle bought an Austin-Healey new back in 1954 and customized it in Italy. We are curious if it still exists, thought you might be the one to find it. Attached are pics of the car and here’s the story:
My uncle, David S Ehrich, Jr., bought his 1954 Austin-Healey 100H new in Tripoli for $2195 when he was stationed there with the US Air Force. When he was transferred to Italy in May, 1955, he shipped it there. On a road trip back to his base from the Aviano base, he was in a crash that damaged the car pretty badly.
He left it with a bus maker in Ugine, Italy to customize it to look like a Ferrari. The bus maker (he cannot remember the name of the company) wanted to do more custom coachwork on cars, like PininFarina, Ghia and others so they were excited about building this car.
Over the next five months, they fabricated a whole new front end look and customized the back end, but left the sides pretty much stock. A wrap-around windshield replaced the fold down windscreen and a removable hardtop was created for the car. Mechanicals were unchanged. It was returned to David in May, 1956. When he left the USAF later that year, he drove it to London and then shipped it back to the USA (northern New Jersey).
He drove it around town for a while and his father also enjoyed driving it. David sold it in March 1957 and never saw it again. We just celebrated Uncle David’s 90th birthday and I told him that there was a way to see if anyone knows of the car today. It would be wonderful to know that the car still exists and maybe he could see it again.
Photos Below Are From When The Car Was In New Jersey
Great thanks to Rick Kamen for sending this in and let’s see what we find as people read this story and perhaps remember the car. I’ve found cars that were missing many years longer than 1957 and I believe that as long as the car was never in another accident or damaged by fire, it lurks in someone’s garage like the Allied coupe I found many years ago in the link below:
Rick is also the Willys Aero champion to help save and document this model car. Click on the link below to learn more about Rick’s passion for these cars and how you can participate:
Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember…
The adventure continues here at Undiscovered Classics.
Rick sent in the image below of the back of one of the photos. He shares, “It shows “Cattelan Brothers” (F.lli. Is fratelli or brothers in Italian) in the city of Udine in northeast Italy. Pronounced U din a. I (Rick) have no idea if it is still there.”