This one-off hand-laid-fiberglass-bodied special was located in 2003 in partially restored condition. Built in California on a 1933 Ford chassis (and titled as a 1933 Ford, despite the “1955” catalog designation), it’s powered by a 1942 59L Ford flathead V8, with a ’39 Ford 3-speed manual floor-shift transmission.

The engine block has been bored to 3 3/8 inches, ported, and relieved — and equipped with a Winfield camshaft, a Harman & Collins dual-coil distributor, a four-inch Mercury crankshaft, dual Stromberg 97 carburetors on an Evans manifold, and reproduction Harrell finned aluminum high-compression heads. The engine and transmission have been rebuilt — as have the radiator, water pumps, clutch, distributor, brakes and exhaust system — with original parts. A tag on the engine states it was built by Coach Maintenance in Hollywood, CA.

Recognizable styling components include a cut-down 1955 Buick panoramic windshield, Buick “sidespear,” chrome trim, and Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels from a 1933 Ford.

The car has been displayed at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, and it appeared on “My Classic Car,” “Hemmings’ Lost and Found,” “Vintage TV,” and in an article in Rod & Kulture magazine. It received local awards at events that included Wheels of Time, the Hot Rod Hoe Down, and Lead East.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1955 Ford “Glass Wonder” show car
Years Produced:1955
Number Produced:One
Original List Price:N/A
SCM Valuation:$45,000–$65,000
Tune Up Cost:$200 (estimated)
Distributor Caps:$19.75 (Mac’s Antique Auto Parts)
Chassis Number Location:On frame near steering box
Engine Number Location:On bellhousing
Club Info:Early Ford V-8 Club of America
Alternatives:1952–58 Woodill Wildfire, 1950–53 Glasspar G2, any vintage homebuilt fiberglass sports car
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 4151, sold for $52,250, including buyer’s premium, at Auctions America’s Auburn Spring sale in Auburn, IN, on May 8–10, 2014.

Futuristic fiberglass

When Chevrolet’s Corvette appeared in 1953, its GM Motorama-inspired roadster body was made of a relatively new “miracle” material called glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), better known then as fiberglas. (Fiberglass spelled with two ‘s’s didn’t come until later).

The Corvette was not the first use of plastic composite for an automobile body. Henry Ford had long been fascinated with the automotive potential for soybean plastics, and Ford had built a prototype before the war broke out in 1941.

The urgent need for war materiel shut down Detroit’s assembly lines in 1942, but the U.S. military used fiberglass for a wide variety of parts and components during the war. When hostilities ended, new-model cars were in short supply, there was a massive pent-up demand, and enthusiasts began customizing older automobiles. Fiberglass proved to be easy to work with, making it a natural material for a handy guy who wanted to build his own car at home.

A new era in car bodies

Historians trace the beginnings of the fiberglass car-body craze to 1950, and a talented California boat designer named William “Bill” Tritt. He and his associates, Otto Bayer (from Wizard Boats) and Jerry Neiger, ran Glasspar in Costa Mesa, CA, where they produced fiberglass boat hulls.

Tritt and Bayer soon gained an auto client. Inspired by the Jaguar XK 120, Army Major Kenneth Brooks from nearby Lido Island wanted a custom sports car that would be attractive, affordable and composed largely of domestic components. With a body designed by Bill Tritt, the Major’s finished ’glass-bodied roadster was called the Brooks Boxer. Recognizing the potential for fiberglass car bodies, Tritt decided to build and sell body shells based on the Boxer design.

Later, Tritt partnered with Naugatuck Chemical and built them a prototype car, based on the Boxer, called the Alembic 1. A team of Naugatuck employees drove the Alembic 1 cross-country, displaying it at trade and car shows. It was featured in Life magazine, helping to publicize the use of fiberglass for home-built car production. Meanwhile, Tritt’s Glasspar roadster body went on sale, and he began making a somewhat different design fiberglass body for an enterprising California Willys dealer, B.R. “Woody” Woodill, called the Woodill Wildfire.

Tritt marketed his own Glasspar bodies, but it took a very handy enthusiast to assemble all the components needed to build a running car. Woodill assembled a few cars at his factory in Downey, CA, but largely sold body and frame kits nationally, with very detailed instructions, so backyard mechanics, using either Ford or Willys components, could build their own Wildfires.

Build it yourself

Glasspar, Woodill and countless other bodies for sale were relatively inexpensive. But in the era-prevailing spirit of “Do it Yourself,” a fair number of people across the U.S. built plywood bucks, covered them with plaster, bought the requisite resin materials, and designed and hand-built their own fiberglass bodies — which were then mounted on home-built or used production-car chassis.

Geoff Hacker, a Florida-based college professor, and his friend, Rick D’Louhy, are the enthusiasts behind “Forgotten Fiberglass,” ( a fascinating blog that discovers, reveals and details glass-bodied post-war cars of all types. If you’re interested in cars like this one, they are the source.

A special car without history

The DIY approach seems to have been the genesis of the “Glass Wonder.” Its styling borrows cues from the period’s best designs, such as the GM Le Sabre and the Buick Wildcat Motorama showcars, although its proportions are slimmer, the rear fins are larger and higher, and the components, based on an early Ford chassis and running gear, are hardly as sophisticated as the Le Sabre’s dual-fuel supercharged OHV V8.

The consignor was Mike Acerra from Allentown, PA. He bought the car on eBay, from a seller who had found the “Glass Wonder” in an ad in Hemmings Motor News a few years ago.

Acerra and his son Jason learned that the car had been stored at a local dealership since the early 1970s. They rebuilt the engine, found a set of re-pop Harrell heads, and preserved the original red and white lacquer finish. They note that the ’33 Ford frame was “Z-ed” in the rear, the dashboard is equipped with period Stewart-Warner gauges, and the interior is upholstered in tan Naugahyde. Workmanship is reportedly “top notch.”

Sadly, despite the fact that this car has been seen on TV and in magazines, nothing is known about its original builder, nor the origin of the name, “Glass Wonder.” The fact that it was listed as a 1955 “Special” might indicate the year it was initially titled.

Cars like this are something of an acquired taste, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Besides attracting attention, what do you do with a car like this? Sport Customs have been featured at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Amelia Island, and other primo events, so there’s always that possibility.

For a one-off, unusual, and oddly attractive special like this, with its little-known history, $52,250 does seem like a lot of money. But the market is seeing some increasing value in this type of car. There’s a Woodill Wildfire on eBay as this is written — and not a factory-built car — that’s nudging $40k. Kaiser-Darrin roadsters are rising in value, and C1 Corvettes are into six figures. And is heartily beating the drum for unusual glass cars.

On that basis, while I’d certainly call this well bought, I’d also say it was comparatively well sold.

(Introductory description courtesy of Auctions America.

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