Late last year we found and acquired another interesting hand-built car. We bought it (actually traded for it) and took a risk like we always do. What was the car? Who built it? When was it built? What was the design inspiration? All good questions that we had no answers to. From first look, it was a custom steel-bodied custom car and had an airbrushed name on it called the Asteroid (actually mis-spelled “Astroid”). We had no more information.
As we have done in the past, we partnered with our good friends at Hemmings (thanks guys!) and Dan Strohl posted a story about our “find” early in December last year asking for help in identifying the history of the car. Dan also ran the story in Hemmings Classic Car magazine which yielded a second find – one of the two original builders of the car.
As you read the Hemmings story above, you’ll see that we didn’t know what the car was, but it had some unusual body features – creative ones actually:
- The hood was from a 1966 Buick Riviera welded into place and extended at the back and sides
- The donor car was a 1960 Corvair station wagon and the front trunk lid had been moved to the rear of the Asteroid for a new hood
- The rear fenders were taken and modified from a 1966 Corvair (could have been a coupe or four-door)
- The car was built with center-steering
Hemmings has a terrific reach in the hobby and it wasn’t just a few days until a post showed up from Linda Bartlett Perez – a former owner of the car. She helped us connect the dots and learn more about its history. The car was designed and built by Bill Meador with help from his friend Jesse Cochran in the mid to late 1960s. Their shop was in Grand Prairie, Texas.
As with show cars of the times, it changed hands and changed looks over the years, and the color of the car varied from white, pink, light pearl blue, dark metallic blue and more – although the name of the car never changed – it always remained the “Asteroid.”
Bill sold the Asteroid to Kenny and Glenda Rushing in the early 1970s who successfully showed the car and won many trophies thru the late 1970s. Next owners were Gerald and Linda Bartlett who continued to show the car and use it as a feature car in many of the car shows in the midwest, north and east. Finally the Asteroid was retired in 1985 after a paint mis-hap, stored in a trailer and remained untouched (and uncared for) for 35 years.
Undiscovered Classics now becomes the fourth owner, and the first to have to restore rather than change the looks of the car so we did what we always do – jumped right in and began the restoration in January of this year (2021). Our first task was to identify and bring in our team a Corvair expert. We got lucky – Jody Summey, has been working with Corvairs in the Tampa, Florida area for over 40 years, and is well known in the Corvair community. Jody became our dedicated Corvair historian, expert and mechanic.
We’ve also asked Don Keefe who is both a friend of Undiscovered Classics and the Executive Editor of the Corvair magazine “Corsa Communique” to join us on our restoration journey and help us make the best restoration decisions. Since, January, our team has been operating at full-speed.
Design Origin of the Asteroid
When we look at the designs of the handcrafted cars of the 50s and 60s, we find many who used original design and others whose builders were inspired by show cars of the era. For the Asteroid, Bill Meador used the basis of the 1963 Chevrolet Monza SS as his inspiration. The Monza SS was powered by a Corvair drivetrain but the chassis was custom – a shorter wheelbase than the 108 inch wheelbase sported by early Corvairs such as the donor car for the Asteroid. We’ll talk about this implication in a bit.
Our Asteroid uses an unmodified Corvair chassis which changes the look of the Monza SS by adding length. You can see this added length in the Dan Palatnik renderings we commissioned to help us restore the Asteroid below:
Two Types of Corvair Specials
Whenever a new “Special” arrives here in Tampa, Florida we always begin research on it. Depending on the “build” of the car, it lends itself to different characterizations or descriptions. We’ll use the Asteroid, today, as an example. The Asteroid sits on a Corvair chassis. That means that the pan, wheelbase, and main structure has little to no modification. With our Asteroid, the steering had been modified to create a “center-steer” car like the Mclaren, and the springs had been shortened. But these were the only modifications made. This makes the Asteroid can be characterized as a “Special-Bodied” Corvair sports car. We hear more about “special-bodied” cars from our European friends than here in America. Each year at the major concours, you’ll see special bodied Cadillacs, Corvettes and other cars as well.
You can contrast a Special-Bodied Corvair with a “Custom Corvair” which often means a Corvair powered sports car that sits on a custom chassis. General Motors built three Corvair show cars/concepts and each was on a custom chassis:
- 1962 Corvair Monza GT
- 1963 Corvair Monza SS
- 1967 Corvair Astro I
You can see these custom chassis Corvairs and others too on the following page:
We did a bit more research and looked for Special-Bodied Corvairs built on Corvair (unmodified or little modified) chassis and found the following cars that were know to be built and fit this classification:
The Race Begins
So in January, 2021 the restoration was off. Jody and I first started to look for a donor car. We love donor cars and often we can save time and money by finding the right one with the right parts restored to the right point for the right price. And we did it. Less than 100 miles from my house was a partially restored 1965 Corvair Corsa with engine and transmission rebuilt. It included lots of new parts – most of which we could sell to recoup our cost and put to the restoration of the Asteroid.
I asked Jody to be the project manager for selling parts for us as well as begin the assessment and mechanical restoration. Here’s what the Asteroid looked like when good friend Jack Farr brought it to us on one of his Texas-Florida-Texas trips (thanks Jack):
The Asteroid During It’s “Show Car” Days
The Asteroid was always treated as a “custom car” and not a “sports car”. It has beautiful lines for a full steel-bodied custom but you’ll see some pretty wild photos of it below when it was winning awards. The photos in “pink” were from the 1971 Texas Autorama. The next photo is from several years later in a midwestern show. The final photo appears in the 1975 issue of “Hot Rod Show World” and discusses it’s championship status in the caption area. Check out the photos below.
Dan Palatnik’s Renderings
As most of you know, we begin our restorations here at Undiscovered Classics with the talents of Dan Palatnik leading the way. We assembled a team to set our goals for the restoration and this included Raffi Minasian, Don Keefe, Jody Summey, Guy Dirkin, Rob Hernandez and myself. We tried out a few color schemes and for now settled on one that Don Keefe posited based on the 1956 Pontiac Club de Mer show car (a silverish-blue). You can check out some of the renderings and color considerations below.
So the restoration is well underway and we’re hitting all the milestones for the car to debut in 2022 in restored condition. Our team made a choice to restore the car as a sports car concept and not the custom car heritage that it cut its teeth on in the 1970s and 1980s. The lines of the steel bodied Asteroid are attractive and giving the car its first “sports car look” will be the next iteration of this car as it appears on the show scene 60+ years after its initial build – a great way to celebrate the work of the original builders of the car – Bill Meador and Jesse Cochran.
Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember…
The adventure continues here at Undiscovered Classics.