27 October 2014

Woodill Wildfire was a (short) dream come true

Woody wanted a sports car so he produced 300 of them ... but only 15 left his factory

The photographed 1953 Woodill Wildfire Series II was one of the cars in the class that I was recently judging at the Santa Fe Concorso in New Mexico.

Apparently it is the first confirmed factory built Wildfire of the 15 examples that ever left the factory; only nine are known to exist today.

Most of the 285 remaining cars built were sold as kits.

This car was also one of the three cars used in the movie Johnny Dark, which starred Tony Curtis playing the part of the design engineer.

In the movie, when the company owner refused to sponsor the car in a Canada to Mexico race, Johnny stole the car with the help of the owner’s granddaughter and ran the race against the favoured driver who was Johnny’s best friend.

The real story behind the car revolves around Blanchard Robert Woodill, known as “Woody.”

He was one of the most successful Dodge dealers in the United States, with Downey, Calif. as his home base.

He had the financial means and always wanted to drive a sports car with his name on it. He took his direction from his next door neighbour Howard Miller during an over-the-fence conversation.

Miller suggested that he have a hot rod builder, Shorty Post of Post Body Shop in Orange, Calif., fabricate a chassis, which he did using Willys Jeepster suspension components.

A Willys Hurricane 161-cid engine (fitted with a custom manifold and three carburetors), which Woody had access to as a Willys dealer, was placed as far back in the chassis as possible to make for an almost perfect 50/50 power-to-weight ratio.

The body was a fibreglass Glasspar with some major modifications which included a double console hump dash, oval grill, lengthened drivers compartment and an opening trunk lid and doors.

Unfortunately, it all ground to a halt when Willys was purchased by Kaiser who had big plans for their Darrin sports car.

Woody knocked on the doors of Ford, Buick and Cadillac but the big boys in Detroit were not interested in supplying him power plants.

Woodill and Miller kept things going for a while by adapting their modified body to fit a 1939 Ford chassis and running gear.

They both deserve a lot of credit for building what is claimed to be America’s first fibreglass sports cars.

For more on this unique car, visit forgottenfiberglass.com/fiberglass-car-marques/woodill-wildfire

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