John Gulow – LaDawri Historian Emeritus

 

Overview:The history provided here is a summary of the work completed in the 1980′s and 1990′s by John Gulow, LaDawri Historian Emeritus.  We have continued to build on John’s work below and have both added information where necessary and made corrections as well.  The new expanded and corrected history will appear in the upcoming Forgotten Fiberglass book as well as in the near future (a summary) on our website.  This new information in no way comprises the amazing amount of research and detail that John Gulow pored into this project, and we would not be able to recognize LaDawri – or even perhaps have found the Dawes family – without his help, guidance and encouragement at each step of the process.Thanks for your all your hard work and effort John!!!

The Last Short History of LaDawri Coachcraft, Inc. (1986)

Prepared by:John Edw. Gulow
12 Glenbrook Drive
Boonton, NJ 07005
(201) 335-6969

The attached short history of La Dawri is based upon a wide variety of sources which include factory catalogs and bulletins, magazine articles, and the compilation of numerous conversations with individuals throughout the country from which this history was pieced together.  Part of the information search I have conducted has been devoted to locating Les Dawes, a Canadian, who conceived the original La Dawri designs and who operated the La Dawri Coachcraft manufacturing operations in the Long Beach area of California from the early fifties through the mid-to-late sixties.  The validation of this history is contingent upon his location and interview.

A Short History of La Dawri Coachcraft Inc.

by John Edw. Gulow

Les Dawes, a Canadian, conceived the design of the Conquest about 1947 or 1948.  During the early fifties, he became interested in fiberglas manufacturing and moved to the US, to the Long Beach area of Los Angeles, California.  He started a small fiberglas manufacturing enterprise where during the mid fifties he did custom fabrication and design, building a car for the Nickel Silver Battery Company which became known as the Nickel Silver Car, and fabricated a quantity of fiberglas body shells for a golf cart that was manufactured by McCullough.  All during this time, his spare time was devoted to the manufacture of a body mold for his Conquest car and the design of the needed running gear. 

By 1957, just as the car was nearing completion, the staff at Road and Track magazine heard of his efforts, sent a reporter and photographer over to interview Les Dawes and his car with the result being a front cover picture of the La Dawri Conquest on the July 1957 issue of Road and Track.

By 1958 based upon the public response to the Conquest, La Dawri announced the availability of a smaller version of the Conquest named the Quest QT, designed to mount on an MG, Austin Healy, or Volksagen chassis.  Further design changes to a full width grill opening resulted in the release of three new models in 1960; the largest wheelbase Daytona, the intermediate Sebring of Quest QT size, and a new shorter size Del Mar intended for 84 to 92 inch wheelbase chassis use. 

Apparently La Dawri fortunes were still on the upswing while others were less fortunate for in 1961 acquired the Victress Manufacturing line of car body molds resulting in a considerable expansion in their model offerings.  It was Victress which had earlier acquired the molds to two superb body designs developed by John Byers of El Segundo. This total acquisition by La Dawri resulted in the largest single design source for fiberglas kit body cars in the US.  La Dawri immediately redesignated the entire model acquisition and refined many of the designs and molds to incorporate La Dawri developed techniques. 

This addition provided two different size coupes, two new full size convertibles, two competition roadster designs, a slick dragster shell and a T-body shell.  Also acquired were other molds, whose source has yet to be determined, which included a large size Batmobile-style convertible and a Class H formula style competion shell for Sprite/Crosley chassis use.

The La Dawri Coachcraft activity still retained its original flair for new and inovative fiberglas product design.  In 1958, one of its bulletins announces the forthcoming availability of a brilliant new outboard, “a revolutionary new design in boating”.  The 1961 catalog shows the availability of a “Convert-A-Top” removeable fiberglas hardtop for 1952 to 1954 Fords, and also shows a novel “Flip-Top Cargo Camper” designed to provide a Fiberglas hinged lid for use over Ranchero and El Camino pickup beds which when raised allowed canvas sides to unfold providing a camper type enclosure in the rear bed.

Apparently business through the early sixties was good and about 1965 La Dawri expanded their line of models with several new offerings which included a GT stationwagon based on one of the earlier coupe shell designs and an entirely new concept called the Formula Libre coupe where the shell dimensions were fabricated to specified order dimensions for front, mid, or rear engine locations. La Dawri further expanded its offerings into the competition dragster body shell line by offering Austin Bantam, Fiat coupe, Willys, Anglia and new design Dragster designs. They further added a complete line offering of fiberglas replacement body parts such as fenders, hoods, trunk lids, gravel pans, full noses, doors, etc for a comprehensive line of foreign and domestic trucks, passenger and sports cars.

This was to be La Dawri’s last effort as business seemed to be on the down swing, perhaps as a result of the availability of the wide variety of factory options and muscle cars. As business tapered off, La Dawri undertook other types of work to keep the operation going.  One story has it that in the final days La Dawri was building burial vaults.  The final demise of La Dawri Coachcraft has not been determined as one story revealed that La Dawri sustained a disastrous fire which destroyed all the molds and facilities from which La Dawri never returned. 

A second story reveals that La Dawri was closed down by the IRS for failure to pay back taxes which resulted in the disposition of all assets by auction.  The latter seems possible for business times were hard, however, whatever became of all the body molds for no further cars of the La Dawri design ever appeared from other fiberglas fabricating sources…in which case the fire story may have been correct.

 And what became of Les Dawes, and his family whose pictures appear within the La Dawri catalog?  That too remains unknown, although one story has it that Les and family returned to Canada with several of his prototype cars hoping someday to again build fiberglas bodies of the design that he conceived back in 1947 as the Conquest, a design which had been tested in the wind tunnel at the University of British Columbia.  Perhaps all will be revealed if Les Dawes can be located…Les Dawes, where are you?

 John Edw. Gulow

17 May 1996

It has been almost 14 years since I last edited this Short History.  During these years, there has remained a low-key interest in LaDawri as evidenced by the occasional evening phone calls from new people at scattered locations, and from occasional letters received.  From time to time, I would see some small ad in Hemmings or other auto magazine advertising the availability of another LaDawri, but my dedication to tracking down such leads had waned over the years; due to the pressures of work and my personal life; or perhaps as a result of all the fruitless blind alleys that I had chased in my first search.

I had made a lot of phone calls, I had written a lot of letters, I had spoken with a lot of people all across our nation; and I had spent a lot of scarce spare time in the process.  During this quest, I must say that I met a lot of great people and some really went out of their way to help me track down information about LaDawri and its elusive designer; Les A. Dawes. 

Perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of this search has been to now hear from some of those I had contact with over 15 years ago, that like I are now retired and have found the time to ask “I wonder whatever became of —-” and then proceeded to try to find out. The families are grown and out of college, the house is paid for, some are grand parents, and through it all the continuing interest in cars has survived, returning to their consciousness the recollections of another era; the good old days of the Beach Boys, high performance rods and customs, and the LaDawri … long before Catalytic Converters and No-Lead Gas.

Over the years, I have heard a lot of different stories about LaDawri and about Les A. Dawes.  Some were very contradictory, some not so nice, some very tragic, and some quietly humorous; and out of all of this I had tried to find the common thread that best told the story of it all.  I am sure that I have not heard all the stories, I felt that some of the stories may not have been too factual, and I am sure that there are still a few people out there that I have not met who have remembrances of their encounter with the LaDawri, and who could yet fill in pieces of the many missing gaps in this short history. 

And finally, the last part of the puzzle is, what ever became of Les A. Dawes … where is he now … where is his family …where are the employees who worked with Les to bring life to each hand-fabricated LaDawri? All, lo, any one of those elusive people could perhaps provide some critical information to finally finish the true story of the LaDawri automobile.  Les A. Dawes … where are you?

Somehow, informally and without ceremony, my name has become associated with the genealogy of LaDawri, perhaps for posterity as there seems to be nobody else who has tried to find out much about where LaDawri came from, what kind of an existence it had and then what finally became of LaDawri.  LaDawri owners remain a fragmented and disconnected group, most knowing nothing of any other, only a few knowing anything about their car, and most are only the current owner of a strange car that has gone through a succession of prior owners.

When I first bought my LaDawri in 1978, I had no idea what it was … and neither did the owner that I bought it from … only that it was titled as a 1954 Ford convertible.  After spending an entire day at the ’78 Fall Carlisle (PA) Swap Meet talking to people, showing photos of my car, and looking through hundreds of 50′s car magazines to no avail, I conceded defeat by frustration and from exhaustion, deciding to call it a day. On the way out of the Meet, I noticed laying on the ground at a vendor’s space a color sales brochure with a picture of a car like the one I had bought … at last I knew I had a LaDawri.

There was then, as there is now, no known archive or resource for LaDawri information other than that I have collected.  There exists other bits and pieces individually held, and scattered far and wide, some that I already know of.  Here then is my last effort, having sifted one more time through all the notes and information I collected and put now down together as the last most reasonably concise, factual and plausible story of LaDawri, as best I know.

John Edw. Gulow

17 May 1996


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