The 1955 California Sports Special – Now On Display At the Sarasota Classic Car Museum

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Here’s the California Sports Special Before the Crowd Appeared on the Morning of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in March 2010

Hi Gang…

Rick D’Louhy’s 1955 California Sports Special is finished and on the road.  We’ve talked about this car before – most notably when it debuted at the March 2010 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.  Here’s a link to that story for those of you wishing to review:

Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance 2010:  The 1955 California Sports Special

Daniel Strohl of Hemmings Magazine was also kind enough to cover the challenges of our restoration and included some video I sent him of my friend Tim Masters and me driving the car on the street for the first time.  Very fun!  Here’s the link:

Maiden Voyages of the California Special

And now that it’s complete and on display at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum in Sarasota Florida, I thought it might be fun to review the basics of the car and what we’ve learned during its restoration. 

What We’ve Learned So Far:

The name “California Sports Special” seems appropriate because of its apparent Southern California heritage.  Originally, James Giles and I thought it might be an “Allied” or “Atlas” built by Bill Burke and Mickey Thompson.  However, this turned out to not be the case for two reasons:

The California Sports Special Has a European Flair When Viewed From the Front Or Side.

* I met with Bill Burke and showed him the car in 2008.  He confirmed it was not a car designed or made by him in the 1950’s.  Nor had Bill ever seen this body style – as far as he could recall.

* All panels of the body were made from a material called “woven roving”.  This makes the body extremely rigid and strong and is much more indicative of an approach a boat manufacturer would use to building bodies.  As far as Rick D’Louhy and I know, the “California Sports Special” bodies are the only ones made entirely from woven roving in the 1950’s – and perhaps ever.

Two Cars and a Body – Are There More?

Besides the California Sports Special, we’ve found one other vintage sports car with this body, and a third “body only” which was never mounted on a chassis.  Both of the completed cars appear to have been built in the mid-1950’s by the same individuals or company – based on the similarity in chassis and body construction.  

Racing Provenance:

The Souped-Up Mercury Flathead Has A Great Roar To It – I Love the Sound of Flatheads!

Interestingly… both sports cars have signs of racing history in their paint, bodies, and chassis design.  Focusing on the California Sports Special, we’ve found the following:

  • The car shows evidence of early competition with remnants of hood pins , filled holes next to hood indicating hood straps, and other race oriented features
  • The front suspension shows much work and features a hand-forged dropped axle, de-arced front spring with some leafs removed and eyelets reversed, and intact/not split front wishbone keeping integrity of front end in place
  • During restoration, racing numbers as well as racing stripes were found giving evidence of a previously unknown racing history – still being researched

Chassis Design and Build:     

  • The car sits on a 1940’s Ford frame – which was the frame of choice for specials built in the 1950’s
  • The body is properly fastened to the chassis with outriggers made of round tubing – not angle iron which was often used
  • The firewall and trunk have been professionally finished, and the inner fender liners are in place and properly constructed.  These appear nearly identical on both existing vintage cars with this body.

Drivetrain:

The California Sports Special features a 1948 59A style Mercury Flathead V8 which is 239 cubic inches.  It’s outfitted with Offenhauser speed equipment which includes aluminum finned heads and dual carb intake.  Two Ford 94 carburetors complete the package.  The transmission is a stock Ford toploader 3-speed.

The Interior Has Been Restored as Close to the Original Look and Feel of the Car as Possible.

 Styling Cues:

The styling of this car appears nearly unique among American Specials.  It combines American Hot Rod attributes and European sports car flair, and appears to have been heavily influenced by late 1940’s / early 1950’s European sports cars.  It’s similar to the Cisitalia 202 Pininfarina Coupe, Maserati A6G, Allard K3 Touring Car, and/or Aston Martin DB2, and has a hand fabricated stainless steel grill that uses an early Maserati or Mercedes 300SL them.

Accessories Help Date the Car:

Several accessories were installed and help date the car including a voltage drop installed on the firewall and a spindle nut keeper system.   I recently wrote about these in a story on our website focused on “Vintage Accessories” for your Sports Special.

Bob Duell’s Special:

Bob Duell’s Special Attracts Great Attention At Every Vintage Race Where It Appears.

Bob Duell owns the racing twin of the California Sports Special.  He vintage races this car in the Northeast, and recently an article appeared about Bob and his vintage racer in a French Canadian newspaper.  Bob was kind enough to send me a copy of the article and it appears in the gallery of pictures below.  However…..I do not speak French.  Oh well….

Bob is having a blast with his car on the vintage racing circuit.  And in a strange quirk of fate, he recently shared with me that his cousin had built a 94” wheelbase Allied roadster back in the day.  I just got some images of this car, and I believe it has survived.  Bob…if you’re reading this, give me a call.  I have some great news to share with you  :-)

Rick D’Louhy’s Special:

Rick’s car continues to get attention – all over the Internet.  Most recently it has appeared on the following three websites:

Concept Carz Website

 Supercars Website

 California Sports Special on Concept Carz   

Summary:

So….if you’re coming south this Winter, come on down to the Sarasota Classic Car Museum in Southwest Florida and you’ll be in for a special treat.  Not only will the California Sports Special be on display, but the museum has a wonderful mix of vintage race cars, sports cars, and other collector cars,  including  two cars owned by members of the 1960’s Beatles band too!  Definitely worth a visit.

And if you are coming down, be sure to give Rick or me a call.  We’ll be sure to do our best to meet you at the museum and say “hello”.

Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…

Glass on gang…

Geoff

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Technical Specifications
Body
  • 1955 California Sports Special
Body Work and Paint
  • Jonathan Rucker, St. Petersburg Florida
Upholstery
  • Tom Jaudon, Bay to Bay Upholstery, Tampa Florida
Restoration
  • Scott Miller, Brandon Florida
Frame
  • Modified 1940’s Ford Chassis
Suspension
  • The front suspension features a hand-forged dropped axle, de-arced front spring with some leafs removed and eyelets reversed
  • Intact/not split front wishbone keeping integrity of front end in place
Engine (make/year)
  • 1948 59A Style Mercury Flathead V8
  • Offenhauser aluminum heads and dual carb intake
Carburetion
  • Two Ford 94 carburetors
Displacement
  • 239 cubic inches
Horsepower (estimated)
  • Estimated: 120 HP at 3600 RPM (stock is 100 HP at 3600 RPM)
Transmission (type/year)
  • 1940’s Ford 3 speed
Rear Axle / driveshaft(open/closed driveshaft)       
  • 1940’s Ford Banjo
Wheelbase
  • 99 inches
 Track/Tread (front/rear)(distance between center line of tires)       
  • 58″ inches
Tire Size
  • 6:00 x 16 inches
Wheels / Rims
  • These are straight spoke Kelsey Hayes (KH) – not bent spoke Ford or K-H
Curb Weight
  • Approximately 2000 lbs
Top Speed (0-60)
  • Fast
Special Features
  • Hand fabricated stainless steel grill nicely compliments stainless steel dashboard pod
  • Transmission tunnel is also hand worked and pleated every half inch to maintain fit
  • The windshield channel is also custom, and the windshield (glass) is sectioned from a 1955 Ford Standard Victoria – not Crown Victoria
  • Body is properly fastened to the chassis with the outriggers made of round tubing – not angle iron which was often used
  • Firewall and trunk have been professionally finished, and the inner fender liners are in place and properly constructed  

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