AU 12 Ref 119 – 1953 Woodill Wildfire Series II
Wednesday February 12, 2014
AU 12 Ref 119 – 1953 Woodill Wildfire Series II
Postwar America saw a number of attempts by would-be automakers to produce new – and often novel – sports cars. They all failed: Bobbi-Kar, Davis, Playboy Keller, Kurtis, Muntz, and others. To that list must be added B. Robert “Woody” Woodill’s two-seater sports car, the Woodill Wildfire.
Woody was always a car nut, and eagerly went into partnership with his father at the family Dodge Agency after World War II in Downey, California. In 1948, he bought out his dad’s share, and with buildings available, he soon added a Willys franchise.
With success in the car business, sports car fever soon afflicted Woody. He wanted a Jaguar, but his service manager talked him out of it as an undependable and costly to fix choice.
Undaunted, he decided to build his own, and to do it largely with Willys parts — an assembly plant was nearby. So was Glasspar, a pioneer in fiberglass technology, who also was busy building bodies for the Kaiser Darrin. Also close at hand was the Post Body Shop, which built a frame out of “angle stuff,” as Woody put it. Thus, Woody ended up with a car with a custom-built frame, Willys engine, and a Jeepster front axle and bumpers, and called it the Series I. He later modified the original Glasspar body with a higher hood, rear deck, and doors, as well as a dummy hoodscoop and neatly integrated Aero-Willys taillights, and created the Woodill Wildfire Series II.
The Woodill Wildfire was first seen at the November 1952 Motorama in Los Angeles — not the General Motors show, but one put on by Petersen Publishing Company, of Motor Trend fame. Interest ran high, so Woody set about getting his sports car into production, both fully assembled and as a high-quality kit car. A rectangular steel frame was devised, with the idea that it accept Ford engines and running gear, although other engines and transmissions could be — and were — fitted. With the motor pushed rearward in the chassis, most any engine chosen still left the Wildfire with close to 50/50 weight distribution. The fiberglass body kept weight low — only 1620 pounds with the Willys engine — so performance was brisk, even with the little Willys six in Wildfire #1.
Soon, Ford Flathead V8’s were used for more power, which proved to be a potent combination. Our auction car today has a well-built Ford V-8 with the best period speed equipment, including Offenhauser heads and intake, an Isky cam, and twin Stromberg 97 carburetors. It features a 3 speed column shift transmission with a Columbia 2-speed rear end. This rare example wears new 72 spoke outside laced 2 bar custom Dayton Wire wheels and proper wide whitewall tires. The car runs and drives well, with brutish power and impressive acceleration, and is one of the fastest sports cars of the era.
Brock Yates believes there were 15 Series I cars built in the factory, and just 9 factory assembled Series II cars. The 1953 Wildfire seen here is #23 of the 24 factory built cars, with the factory VIN plate in place on the passenger side door jam. It features the authentic Woodill chassis, and is one of just 2 Series II factory built vehicles known to exist.
This example was purchased in 1976 by a noted Corvette restorer, who had been searching for one for years. He knew the history, and knew fiberglass cars, and paid the then-princely sum of $7,000 for the car – more than any new sports car of the day. It was stored and lightly driven for decades, and the car remains in highly original condition, including the original white body paint and dashboard. The leather seats were re-created recently, and only sympathetic and essential repairs have taken place to the mechanical systems. It’s easy to see why it survived is such intact condition, as the car shows only 1,602 original miles.
The Wildfire is believed to be the first production fiberglass sports car, predating both the Corvette and the Kaiser Darrin. Woodill received a lot of publicity in movies like Knock on Wood, Written on the Wind, and Johnny Dark, – a racing film starring Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie where the Wildfire is prominently featured in the racing segments. The Wildfire also received publicity in Time, Life, Newsweek, and of course, all the car enthusiast magazines were enamored by the new technology.
No matter, the Wildfire never really did become a major production car, as only about 25 were built, plus an estimated 100-300 kits. Part of the challenge was the new Corvette, which did not sell in large numbers in 1953, but make no mistake, the Vette was here to stay, as it was backed by a national dealer network and had a lower retail price than a Wildfire.
Though it certainly deserved a better fate, the Wildfire can be appreciated for the pioneering role it played in using fiberglass bodywork, and like hundreds of small manufacturers in the early 20th century, it came down to Woody Woodill’s drive to simply build a better sports car. He produced a bona fide, high-quality, handsome, and competent sports car that today is considered to be a landmark vehicle, with performance on par with anything in the world. Today, you can become the caretaker of a piece of automotive history, and enjoy owning a fast and very rare American sports car.
1,292 cc 4 cylinder engine, 4 speed manual transmission, front beam suspension, rear leaf springs, 94” wb
In June of 1936, The Motor ran an article announcing the new MG T Series cars, replacing the venerable P types. By early 1939, Abingdon had produced the last of 3003 TA’s, which were the genesis of the entire T Series that ran until the late 40’s. This beautiful example, #0510, was completed on September 2, 1936, and survives today with just 58,000 original miles.
The new TA of 1936 featured the Morris 1292cc overhead valve pushrod 4 cylinder engine, but fitted with twin bronze-bodied SU carbs, producing around 50 HP with plenty of torque. Also new to the marque were hydraulic brakes and a synchromesh 4 speed transmission.
#0501 was delivered new to Anstey’s Motors, and the car still carries the medallion fitted when new. It was exported after WW II, first to New Jersey, then Florida, and eventually to the garage of Jack Spaulding, before purchase by the consignor in 2001. It was completely rebuilt from the block up by noted specialist Lee Johnson, with the transmission done by John Twist. In 2005 a correct new wiring harness was installed, and the car converted to the more user-friendly 12-volt system in place today. New brake lines, brakes, and tires were fitted in 2009. The car runs well, starts easily, and literally everything functions perfectly at this time, including all gauges, the original clock, and even the factory trouble light that plugs into the dash.
The car is presented today with many spares straight from the UK, as well as many manuals, articles, receipts, and trophies from the past 12 years. There are 2 car covers included, custom-made lamp covers (the headlamp lenses are original and impossible to find), and both full and half tonneau covers. The top and side curtains are in excellent condition. All the original tools are included, and even the original key to the car.
The paint on the car is believed to be original, although there is no proof, but many experts have verified the quality of the vintage lacquer, which survives with a nice shine and few flaws. The original red leather interior survives in fine condition, with just the right patina, with only the carpets needing replacement. The owner has added just over 8,000 miles on the odometer during his 12-year ownership, and has literally never allowed the car to get wet. The ash frame is excellent, and it is clear that the body has never been off the frame.
This is a real find for an MG collection – an early, documented car that is numbers matching, highly original and exceptionally cared for. It represents the beginning of the entire T-Series, which is widely credited with bringing sports cars to the attention of America, and is certainly one of the iconic designs to ever come out of Abingdon.
Back at Concorso Italiano earlier this year, we happened upon this very nice Apollo GT. Most people have never hear of an Apollo, but luckily we’re here to tell the tale. The vehicle is unique to other Apollos, and was constructed with a 325 HP Chevelle engine instead of the standard Buick 5.0L engine. That would make this particular car one of the fastest sports cars around in 1967!
Unfortunately, the Apollo production company was struck with financial troubles soon after launching this classic, and only managed to produce about 88 vehicles over the span of several years. Many originals survive, and we were lucky to have caught this one. Look for us next week with our vehicle spotlight!
When Ford Heacock stood at the top of the Terrace Hotel during its restoration in the summer of 1999, he looked down to see a newly refinished and restored Lake Mirror Promenade, with its wide sidewalks and 1920’s grandeur. An idea formed that day which grew into the event we know today as the Lake Mirror Classic Auto Festival.
In the summer of 1998, our founder, Ford Heacock, attended the former San Bernardino Route 66 Rendezvous in California. At its peak, this event drew over 1,800 vehicles and 500,000 spectators to the San Bernardino area. Ford dreamed of creating an event like this in the Lakeland, FL area. In the summer of 1999, he sent out a mailer to 100 friends inviting them to participate in a car show to be held around Lake Mirror. It was never meant to be a recurring event, but the next year many participants called and asked “Where’s the show?” It was clear that there was a demand in the area for a classic auto festival. In the summer of 2001, plans began for the 2nd annual Lake Mirror Classic, and 14 years later our event has become larger than we ever imagined, including almost 700 vehicles and 35,000 spectators.
While Ford started the event, it’s been a labor of love for everyone involved. Heacock Insurance Group, the parent company of Heacock Classic, has been a major sponsor of the Festival from its inception. As a collector car insurance provider, we love classic cars. This event has been a great way to show it throughout the years, and we’re glad to continue that tradition in 2013. The Downtown Lakeland area is perfect for this event, and we’ve been lucky to be able to support this event for so many years.
The cars that appear at Lake Mirror on the third weekend of October are some of the best rides you’ll see anywhere. We’ve had priceless racecars like Brian Redman’s Porsche 910, The Dali Museum’s Rainy Rolls, Dan Gurney’s 1967 Eagle F1, a rare Delage D-8, Lucille Ball’s Rolls-Royce, the Cadillac Sixteen concept, and this list goes on. We’ve been lucky to have many of motorsport’s greatest personalities chair our events each year, such as most recently Wayne Cherry, Sir Stirling Moss, Bob Tullius, Brock Yates, and Don Garlitz. We also have many rare vintage motorcycles and beautifully restored wooden boats in the show, and every year it seems there’s something new.
In addition to the cars, the Lake Mirror Classic is also a philanthropic organization, and has raised money for many different non-profit organizations in the Lakeland, FL area, such as Junior Achievement and the Lakeland Regional Cancer Center. A new addition this year is the Friends of Lake Mirror Fund, dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Lake Mirror’s historic Promenade. We’ve raised over $135,000 towards our initial funding goal of $150,000.
If you’d like more information on the Lake Mirror Classic Auto Festival, please visit their website at www.lakemirrorclassic.com.
As a major sponsor of the Lake Mirror Classic Auto Festival, we’re lucky to be able to see some of the finest cars in the world. This rare (1 of 8!) Delage is just one fine example of a classic automobile. It was originally purchased in France by Felix Amiot, an aviation pioneer. During WWII, the German government seized the vehicle and sent it to Denmark around 1940. After the liberation of Denmark in 1945, the car was confiscated by the Danish government and sold to a famed resistance hero Jens Lillelund. A short time after, the vehicle changed hands two more times staying in Denmark until 2013, when it was imported to Florida.
This vehicle has quite an interesting story behind it, and we’re glad have learned a little more. Check back next week for our vehicle spotlight!