Who was the first author to critically review and research American postwar automobile manufacturers down to the tiniest detail? That might seem like an unusual question, but that’s what Rick D’Louhy and I started to ask early on in our research in order to try and wrap our arms around all of the different postwar fiberglass and sports car builders in America.
There were many books from the 1960’s forward that proposed to do just that – list and discuss all of the manufacturers. Most of these listed obscure cars like the Kaiser Darrin (435 produced) and maybe even a Kurtis or too. But nothing we initially found was comprehensive as we had hoped. We would soon see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Through meeting with collectors, historians, and enthusiasts across the country, we identified two individuals who wrote short and complete histories on American Postwar cars in the 1970’s – the first individuals to do so in a comprehensive way. These folks have since become great friends as well and I’m proud and honored to introduce you to both of them. They are R. Perry Zavitz and George H. Dammann.
Zavitz and Dammann’s Articles and Books:
Perry wrote a series of articles in Car Classics magazine in 1974 and 1975 titled the “Quarter Century Chronicle” outlining this very issue. It represented an incredible amount of effort by Perry and his team of historians. I wasn’t the only person to notice Perry’s work (though in my case, it was nearly 30 years after he completed it). Soon after publication of his articles, Perry was recognized by the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH) with the “Best Article Published” award (co-winner) in 1974 for his “Quarter Century Chronicle.”
George Dammann was also breaking new ground. In 1980, he co-wrote a book (the second in a series of books on this topic – the first focused on the pre-war years) with friend and historian James H. Maloney titled “Encyclopedia of American Cars, 1946-1959. George made significant contributions in his own right, and I’ll be writing more about him in a future article.
What makes both of these individuals stand out from all other books or articles on the subject is that they focused on the small marques – not just the major automobile manufacturers. Cars like the Meteor, Grantham Stardust, Glasspar, Savage, and even the 1947 Kurtis Omohundro Comet by Paul Omohundro and Frank Kurtis appeared in their work.
These are two special guys who captured history thru intense research and scrutiny of all magazines from back in the day, and in many cases with research involving the very people who built the cars in the 1940’s, 1950’s, and beyond. They didn’t have the Internet. They pored thru magazines, interviewed collectors, collaborated with historians, and in some cases even tracked down builders of these cars. You can see why both Perry and George are my historian “heroes” of the day.
Today’s article is the first in a series of 6 stories on Perry Zavitz and his articles on postwar automobile manufacturers.
Searching For Zavitz – The Quest Begins:
I first learned about the “Zavitz” articles from good friend and automotive historian James Giles of Calimesa California. James has been a collector of unusual cars for all of his life and helped fill in the details where possible as we began to accumulate and write about early fiberglass sports cars. During one of our discussions, James passed me one of the articles by Perry Zavitz to help with this process.
But who was Perry Zavitz, was he still with us, and where could I find him? This was early on in our research, and luckily had the help of some of my friends at the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH). I wrote a quick message to SAH President Michael Berger and asked if he knew what happened to Perry, and if he was still around. I received the following short note via e-mail back on September 29th, 2007:
“Hi Geoffrey: I received a message that SAH President Michael Berger relayed from you, wondering if I was still around, and if so, how to contact me. This e-mail confirms my existence, and gives you my e-mail address. I live, as I did back in the 1970’s, in London (Ontario). Look forward to hearing from you directly. Perry.”
When I received the e-mail from Perry, I immediately thought of the Mark Twain quote that went something like this:
“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Perry Zavitz: Automotive Historian and Great Friend
I was elated I had found Perry, and we soon carried on with e-mails and phone calls about these early cars. I also became good friends with Perry’s wife Sally, and had a chance to meet both of them when they visited Tampa Florida back in January 2010. I’ve learned quite a bit about Perry these last few years, and let me share a bit now with you.
Ronald Perry Zavitz was born in 1928 in Canada in London, Ontario. Perry tells me his first word, as reported by his mother, was “car.” I’m sure his mother would have enjoyed a different first word like “mom” or even “dad” – but it was “car.” Later, his first sentence had to do with seeing more than one car.
His true nature came out early in life
The first car he remembers riding in was his grandfather’s 1927 Ford Model T coupe. He would sit on the ledge of the back window to look forward and backward and watch the traffic and scenery go by. Perry drove his first car at age 13 with his grandfather at his side. Once, they were on a back road in a remote area of Canada and his grandfather asked him, “Would you like to drive?”
Perry immediately said “yes!” and proceeded to drive a full mile. What a great memory that must be for him!
After graduating from High School in 1947, Perry was off to the University of Michigan to study radio and electronics. He wanted to take electrical engineering, and started in on the classes, but to his dismay, the first 1-2 years were introductory classes and not much – or anything – about electronics. To add pressure and frustration, Perry’s mother was a school teacher and expected high marks in all classes. So after one semester, he packed his bags, moved home, and began searching for his first step in his budding passion – radio.
Perry was fortunate. When he got home, he immediately found work and spent time behind the scenes in radio, at first, and then television. All of this occurred in London Ontario, and he spent nearly 45 years in this career. He retired in 1992.
Perry started writing about vintage cars in 1965, and his first article published was about the history of the Canadian car called the “Gray-Dort” in a magazine called “The Reflector.” This was the club magazine for the “Antique and Classic Car Club of Canada.” Perry also wrote a column titled “Postwar Scripts” for Old Cars Weekly which he penned for 24 years.
Over the years, he has written for several magazines including: Collectible Automobile, The Reflector, Car Classics, and Old Cars Weekly / Monthly (Perry tells me that at first it was a monthly publication). Today, Perry continues his enthusiasm for writing about vintage cars and currently writes a bi-monthly column titled “Free Wheelin’” for Old Autos – a vintage automotive newspaper published in Canada.
Perry has also written about 10 books. Two of his favorites are “Canadian Cars 1946-1984” (Bookman Publishing, 1985) and “Monarch & Meteor” (Quad Publishing, 1993). Perry’s 83 years young this year, but he keeps going strong. He reminds me of the energizer bunny. He keeps going and going….
Recent Articles by Perry Zavitz:
Perry has been a friend of fiberglass for long before I met him. However, recently I had the honor of helping him with two articles. The first was published in Old Autos (Canada) on May 17th, 2010 and was an overview of fiberglass cars and collections that I’ve focused on the past few years.
His second article also appeared in Old Autos (Canada) and was published on September 6th, 2010. This article focused on Canada’s first fiberglass car – the LaDawri Conquest. Joan Dawes (LaDawri Founder Les Dawes partner and wife) and I wanted the first comprehensive article on LaDawri to be written by and appear in a Canadian Magazine. Perry did a superb job and made this a reality for us. Great job Perry!
Both articles are posted in the gallery below for your review.
Perry Zavitz: CAHA Historian of the Year
And…in talking with Sally (Perry’s wife) earlier this week, she shared with me the following news. On February 12th, 2011, Perry is being honored with an award that will be presented by the Canadian Automotive Historians Association (CAHA). Perry will be recognized as their “2011 CAHA Historian of the Year.”
The honor could not go to a more deserving man.
Car Classics: June 1974:
As I mentioned earlier, the article that introduced me to Perry continued over 6 issues of Car Classics starting in June 1974. The series of articles was called “Quarter-Century Chronicle” and was a thumbnail review of North American cars started after World War II.
I’ve provided scans of the article in the gallery of photos below. Some of the cars that have been identified as utilizing fiberglass include:
- 1945: Bobbi Kar
- 1946: Darrin
- 1946: Stout
- 1947: Convaircar
- 1948 Doddsmobile
- And others
And to whet your appetite for Perry’s work, here’s what he said at the opening of his first article (posted in full in the gallery of pictures below):
“Part I: The Post War Babies
1946-1948 by R. Perry Zavitz
Almost anyone even casually interested in automobiles knows that history books are crammed with names of literally thousands of cars that have been built over the years. For some odd reason, it is often thought that these cars appeared before the second World War.
The number of attempts to establish new cars since World War II has actually been about as frequent as it was around the mid 1920’s Here we have gathered some information on over 350 different North American cars which came on the scene in the years 1945 through 1970. Most of them were never commercially successful. Consequently, they are not at all well known. Others are better known, but for various reasons, production was so limited that we seldom if ever see any examples.
Then there are one or two which are so familiar that we forget they are comparative newcomers. Regardless, this is a survey of those cars which came into existence since the end of World War II. They appear here, more or less, in alphabetical order in the year each emerged, or the year of model designation.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this story on a very special person, important automotive historian, and good friend Perry Zavitz. The publication of his remarkable “Postwar Chronology” over 6 issues of Car Classics in 1974-1975 was recognized as a significant achievement back in 1974, as it is today. I’ll feature Perry’s remaining articles in future stories on our Forgotten Fiberglass website.
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
Note 2/5/2011: I just received the following kind words and additional information from Perry Zavitz via e-mail:
Thank you for such a detailed report on my mother’s only son. You did a great job, which both Sally and Michael (with whom you were talking to this morning) agree.
There is one part of my automotive experience, which I neglected to tell you about. But, it was not history related, although as time goes by it will become so. From 1992 to 2001, I tested new cars and reported my impressions for GT Magazine, a monthly paper, which had circulation in Canada’s Atlantic provinces, and was included as a supplement in the weekend Globe & Mail newspaper, Atlantic edition. (GT Magazine no longer exists, since its publisher/editor died.)
At that time, I was a member of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Consequently, I was invited to pre-introduction company tests, etc. Also, I participated in the AJAC’s annual “Test Fest,” testing the cars nominated for the AJAC ”Car of the Year” awards in various categories. As an AJAC member, I had a chance to test drive a wide variety of current cars from Yugo to Bentley Continental. It was lots of fun.
Thanks again for your interest and kind comments. I was thinking how crazy this situation is. When I wrote that series of articles some 35 years, it never occurred to me that someone far away would post comments about it on the Internet. By the way, what is the Internet? ? ? We never know what is ahead, do we?
Thanks again for your tremendous report.
Best to you,
Note 2/6/2011: I just received the following additional information from John “Gunner” Gunnell via e-mail:
Perry’s article was carried in CAR CLASSICS when Krause Publications (OLD CARS) owned that magazine. The car on the cover of that issue was a Gardner cabriolet owned by DaveLindsay of Manawa, Wis., the town where my shop is located. Dave still has that car and I would be happy to take you to see it if you have time to visit this summer.
I was not working there at the time that Perry did his list of low production postwar cars, but I did (still do) have copies of that issue. When I arrived at OCW in September 1978, Perry was still a contributor and columnist, doing a column on postwar cars. Many of his columns were reprinted in BEST OF OLD CARS and may even be available on a CD/DVD these days.
Old Cars Weekly was a bi-weekly (every other week) publication then. I am not sure if it was always bi-weekly. But I do know Perry worked for us when it was bi-weekly. It became a weekly in the fall of 1978. Terry also compiled the “Minor Makes” section in the first edition of the STANDARD CATALOG of AMERICAN CARS 1946-1975. I met Perry at Hershey at least once and possibly more.
A few weeks ago I was working on a 100 Years of Chevy story for AUTO TRADER and thought I would try calling George Dammann for quotes. the last time I had seen George was in 2000, on the day that he has a heart catherization procedure. We were on the HCCA “Millennium Tour” around Florida and a stop at a car museum in Sarasota was planned. Even though he said he would not be able to make it, he did come out later that day.
So last week I called his old Sarasota number. got no answer, but George did call me the next day. He had just had soe orthopedic surgery and said he couldn’t talk for long, but that he would be happy to help later on. I was just glad to hear that everything was reelatively OK wth him. He still lives in the Sarasota area.
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