|1959 Bocar XP-5
|15–30 (complete cars vs. kits)
|Original List Price:
|Engine Number Location:
|Pad on block below right cylinder head
|Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA)
|Devin SS, Lister Chevrolet, Chaparral 1
This car, Lot 267, sold for $159,500, including buyer’s premium, at the RM Sotheby’s auction on Amelia Island, FL, on March 11, 2017.
The late 1950s were the glory days for hot rods and home-builts. The post-war economic boom was in full swing, America had saved the world with its industry, inventiveness and can-do attitude, and cars were still relatively simple machines with bodies completely separate from frames and drivetrains.
There were really no rules about what was legal for either a street or a racing machine. As long as your vehicle had fenders, headlights and some number to identify it, getting a “pink slip” and license was pretty much just a matter of going to the state, filling out a form and handing over some money.
Road-racing cars were even simpler. Rules did exist for production-car racing, but the rules for the Modified class were essentially fenders and two seats, with engine displacement defining which class you ran.
Both hot-rodding and road racing were growing like crazy during this period, and there was always plenty of room for new ideas and approaches.
Power and fiberglass
Other big factors that came into play were Chevrolet’s 1955 introduction of the small-block V8 and BorgWarner’s 1957 introduction of the T-10 transmission.
The small block was a revelation for a mass-produced and easily available engine. It was compact, with a low center of gravity. The T-10, introduced with the 1957 Corvette, was specifically designed to match the small-block V8 and was the first 4-speed fully synchromesh transmission that could easily handle V8 horsepower.
Together, the two anchored the first real American sports car in the Corvette and provided the core for endless fast-car fantasies in American enthusiasts.
The introduction of the fiberglass auto body was the last strand in the cat’s cradle of factors that pulled together to make low-production specialty cars possible.
The method of making very fine glass fibers was discovered in the late 1930s, but these fibers were originally used as insulation. After experimentation during the war, techniques for combining glass fibers with resins to create structural shapes were developed in the late 1940s, and the first practical car bodies were seen in the early 1950s.
The clear advantage was that while stretching steel into curved shapes took industrial-level tooling and presses, and forming aluminum required extreme levels of artistry and time, a talented and committed amateur could create a mold and build a fiberglass body in his backyard.
By the mid- to late 1950s, a cottage industry had sprung up to produce and sell fiberglass bodies to hobbyists. Bill Devin led the group, with Kellison and Victress, among many others, building sports car bodies that would fit over the small block and T-10.
From this base it was only natural that a few of the more talented, serious, ambitious, and/or well-financed enthusiasts would start to think in terms of creating their own frame-up racing cars.
The most famous of these was Lance Reventlow, the Woolworth heir who hired Troutman and Barnes to build his Scarab racers, but there were others. Bill Devin, who was doing very well building bodies for others, started building the Devin SS with its own bespoke chassis in 1957. Jim Hall started racing the Chaparral 1 in 1957 as well. The time was right for specialty racers with American V8 power.
Building the Bocar
Bob Carnes was a successful Denver businessman who took to road racing and hillclimbs in the years after the war. He started small and light with a Porsche spyder, but quickly succumbed to a horsepower addiction and bought a Jaguar XK 120, which very soon got a Cadillac V8 and became known as the “Jagillac.”
In 1957 he took the leap to build his own special racers called Bocars. The idea was to combine the light weight and handling of the Porsche with the horsepower that the new Chevy V8 could offer. He set up a shop and created a series of three one-off racers as he developed the concept — logically designated the X1, 2 and 3.
These were all 2-seat sports cars built with racing in mind, using fiberglass bodies of his own design, Chevy V8 power, and T-10 transmissions mated to an American live axle in back.
The intent had always been to develop a car that he could sell, and by the time Carnes got to the fourth iteration, he felt he had a competitive car, so that became the XP-4 (P for production). It was available either as a complete car or a kit, and he sold about five before moving to the improved version, the XP-5. The big changes were better drum brakes and moving the engine back in the chassis to improve weight distribution.
It’s hard to say how many Bocar XP-5s were built before a fire ended things —somewhere between 15 and 30 depending on to whom you listen. A few were built completely in the shop using their special tubular space frame and torsion-bar suspension, others were built and sold based on Triumph TR3 chassis and front suspension, and others were simply sold as body-plus-parts kits.
It appears that about six have survived. I remember Bocars from my youth; they were notorious for being brutally fast in a straight line but not very sophisticated when it came to brakes and handling. They were technically streetable (Bocar did offer street-car options including a radio) but only a fool would try.
Value of a one-off
How well the variants worked and what they are now worth both depend on the example, with the factory-built tube-frame cars being the top. By far the best was the one built for the Meister Brauser racing team that Augie Pabst and Harry Heuer drove beside the Scarabs in 1959. It sold for $412,500 at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction in August 2016 (ACC# 6804202).
Our subject car was one of those built as a complete car by the factory using a TR3 chassis, and as such has some collector interest beside its core value as a toy for vintage racing.
As a vintage racer, it will be welcome anywhere and attract attention because of its rarity and historic importance, but will be lucky to run above mid-pack in any actual races — it won’t have a chance against a Lister or even a good Devin SS. It is neither a serious collectible nor a really competitive racer, but it is fun and interesting for either purpose. I would say fairly bought.
(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)