The James McDaniel Special – One Of America’s First Fiberglass Half Midget Show Cars

Hi Gang…

Some research starts at the beginning…..some at the end.  This particular story was like reading one of Stephen Covey’s Management books which states that in business problem solving we should always “start with the end in mind.”

And that’s exactly what happened this time concerning the research on this neat little sports car.

Meeting Gary McDaniel

Back in August 2011, I saw a new person sign onto our “Forgotten Fiberglass Forums.”  His name was Gary McDaniel and he wrote the following message:

“My name is Gary. I’m a life time car nut. My father was in the business and built his first fiberglass car for my brother and me in 1952. My dad started building fiberglass cars in 1951. The first being a small scale car for my brother and me. It’s about the size of a golf cart.”

Gary then posted the following picture:

What a neat looking car!  And it looked bigger than he mentioned, but then again a golf car is not a quarter midget.  I couldn’t help thinking I’d seen the car before in a long-lost vintage magazine, so I pressed Gary for more information.  And Gary obliged.  In fact he still had the car.  How cool!  Here’s what Gary added to our conversation:

Geoff,

“My dad, James “Jim” McDaniel, had his own business in Burbank installing auto glass. This is where he started working with fiberglass, building a small scale car that later my brother and I were able to drive. The original photos I have of its construction are dated April 1952. The frame is channel iron. Front suspension is fabricated A arms with coil springs.

There is an automotive type steering box of unknown origin. The rear has a hinged subframe on coil springs and the power unit, originally a Mustang scooter engine, would mount to that. There was a door behind the seat backs that allowed access so the engine could be started.

The body was hand laid over a plaster model as one would construct a mold. This, however, was the final body. The entire surface was hand sanded to the finished surface for paint. It was originally painted a lime green. The throttle was a lever control mounted off the side of the steering column much like a spark advance on early Fords. The brake was mechanical and operated with a lever you pulled up on from the floor. 

The wheels are 6″ aircraft with 6.00 X 6 tires. I remember it would get loaded in a pickup bed or onto a small trailer and taken to parking lots where my brother and I could drive with Dad sitting up on the back edge supervising.

It was repainted candy red in 1961 and shown in the San Jose Motorama show and received a trophy that I still have. My brother and I had long outgrown the car and it was eventually parked in the backyard where it would fall into deterioration.

This did lead my dad to build several other fiberglass cars. One that never got finished, and I’ve lost track of, had a tubular space frame with a Buick engine and Dynaflow transmission. It had a first generation Corvette windshield. It was initially constructed with a tubular beam front axle on torsion bars. Later he was converting it to independent suspension with A arms from a Triumph TR3. He also built several quarter midget race cars, using a Wahlburg body as a mold, and two half midgets from a design my brother had drawn.

After his death in 1974, most everything was liquidated to close and sell the business he had in Mountain View, Ca. I’ve hung onto the small car all these years as sort of yard art. The engine is long gone and the fiberglass is badly deteriorated but still an interesting momento.

Gary McDaniel”

Let’s look at Gary’s vintage photos first:

The James McDaniel Special:  Vintage Photos:

Here is what Gary commented on the vintage photos:

“Geoff,

I have some more early pics of the small car. One is of my brother and me in the car, probably taken in ’53, at ages 6 and 4. The other, dated April 1952, is obviously when it was being built. and pics of the trophy from San Jose Autorama 1961.

Gary McDaniel”

The James McDaniel Special: Current Photos

As the car sits, it’s very presentable and a definite candidate for restoration.  Here are the photos shared by Gary of his car:

Alden Jewell To The Rescue

Alden and I have been working on a variety of fiberglass research projects and recently he sent me an excellent article which we both did not know the source.  The race was on….. and within a short time, we identified it as coming from a short-run magazine called “Sports Cars and Hot Rods” published by the editors of Mechanix Illustrated in October 1953.

This magazine ran for only 2 issues, but the article was intriguing.  And in fact, the first picture of a fiberglass car was….the “James McDaniel Special.”  Wow!  No attribution was given and when I queried Gary about this issue, the article was completely new to him and his brother.   Pretty cool.  Let’s take a look at the two page spread which features Jim McDaniel’s special little car:

Start with the end in mind, Covey says, and finding the vintage magazine article provided by Alden Jewell shows that “others” felt the car was a very “special” Special.  This may ignite the spark so that Gary and his brother can begin restoration of this very early fiberglass car – no doubt one of the first fiberglass half-midgets built in America.

The article does raise another question, though, and that is what “show” or event did the car appear in?

Our thoughts given the publication date was that it appeared in the November ’52 Petersen Motorama.  This would have been when the Darrin Sports Car and Woodill Wildfire first debuted too.  So our crackshot Forgotten Fiberglass team is now off and running to see if we can find pictures of this car on display for the McDaniel family.  If we can, we would have added magazine and show fame to an already special car built by their father so many years ago.

Research Never Ends….The “Second” James McDaniel Special

That wasn’t the only info that Gary posted that day in our fiberglass forums.  His father built a second car.

Click here to learn more about this second car and join the hunt for his father’s second custom built fiberglass special.

I think you’ll like the story on the second car quite a bit – and maybe we can help him find it too.

Summary:

Thanks again to Gary for sharing the story and pictures of his car.

Now that weknow the real car survived and was recognized back in the day in at least one magazine, perhaps Gary and his brother are ready to take on the challenge and begin the restoration of their family car.  What do you say gang?  Why not give Gary and his brother words of encouragement by posting your thoughts and comments below.  If they take on the challenge, I know they would make their father proud.

And maybe….a full-size replica in the future?  I’ll be sure to keep the pressure on Gary if he takes my phone calls after he reads the challenge above  😉

Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…

Glass on gang…

Geoff
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Comments

The James McDaniel Special – One Of America’s First Fiberglass Half Midget Show Cars — 11 Comments

  1. I remember that magazine ! I have always been a Healey nut ( I have restored a 54 and a 53 BN-1. Donald Healey himself was driving that very blue 100 across the USA, drumming up sales etc. I have also been quite involved in Corvairs & noticed the 2 Rampside pickups in the background of his pictures of the little fiberglass car. I think it would be cool to get my hands on one of those to restore. Sorry, I didn’t say much about the cute F/G car, I just got carried away.
    Doug Ward ( friend of Alton Johnson / LeMans coupe fame )

  2. Very nicely done small car. I always liked little cars, from quarter midgets to Crosleys.

    The grille over the engine compartment looks like it may be a Porsche Speedster grille turned sideways ?

    This car needs to be restored. I’ m sure the waves in the glass can be smoothed out to the original form.

    I’m glad you posted this info. Another Gem sees the light of day !

    Tom in Detroit

  3. Next best thing to an Autopia “Monza”!
    Winter’s coming, looks like an ideal candidate for a project, as the whole car would fit on a caster table. Where is it? Would love to help if it’s in SoCal. Needs some attention and care, but certainly worthy. So glad it’s survived… keep us informed!
    Rodney in Escondido

  4. Completely agree too cool not to fix, the trim and the over all shape are a delight. It could be a show winner again I am sure. Hope the comments out here help create the excitement and energy needed to fix up this half pint Sports car.

  5. One has to wonder if Jim McDaniel knew Sterling Gladwin – Mountain View, CA is a pretty small community.

    Glenn Brummer

  6. The car is currently located in the central sierra town of Oakhurst, Ca. Great observation on the rear grille. It is a Porsche item and was added later in the cars life to improve cooling for the rear mounted air cooled engine.
    The recent interest in the car has certainly got me thinking about a restoration. I had written it off due to the excessive warping in the surface. Apparently this can be fixed.
    My dad operated an automotive business in Mountain View, Ca. from 1959-1974. I spent a lot of time there but do not recall the Sterling Gladwin name.

  7. Hi, Gary. Any progress as to the future of your little car? It’s worthy of a rebirth… I’m thinking. Be nice to get it indoors someplace, wouldn’t take up much more than a half a bay.
    Anything I can do?
    Rodney

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