When one thinks about the history of fiberglass and its use for car bodies, it is likely to be assumed to be one of the many post-war plastic developments. Its history can be traced all the way back to the ancient Phoenicians and Egyptians who discovered how to make glass fibers and used them as a means of decoration and reinforcement on pottery. By the 1880s, fiberglass cloth had become to be fairly well developed and had been patented. In 1936, Corning Glass and Owens-Illinois developed it further and patented the result and named it Fiberglas in 1936.
In 1936, Carlton Ellis of DuPont was awarded a patent for polyester resin, which combined with fiberglass cloth or strands and cured, produces what is referred to as a composite. One of the earliest known uses of the developed material may have been a fiberglass boat made in 1937 by Ray Greene, who worked for Owens-Corning.
With World War II approaching, the Germans refined the polyester curing process further; it has been reported that British intelligence agents soon stole the formula for the resin and shared it with allies. By 1942, the American Cyanamid Company had perfected a usable polyester resin that could be quickly cured. By some point in 1942, Owens-Corning was producing fiberglass components for aircraft use.
Bill Tritt of Costa Mesa, California, owned Glasspar, one of the leading post-war fiberglass boat building operations. He produced the company’s first car body for Ken Brooks who built a sports car based on a 1940 Willys chassis; the attractive and successful finished car was named the Brooks Boxer. Following that project, Tritt as part of his efforts to expand the operation also had in mind the possibility of producing fiberglass car bodies for the custom sports car movement that appeared to be gaining ground.
At the time, Tritt needed to find a supply of resin at what had become a difficult time for a recreational fiberglass boat builder, when all of the available supplies were going to the Korean War effort. By chance, he became connected with Naugatuck Chemical, a division of the U.S. Rubber Co. of Naugatuck, Connecticut, a supplier of polyester resins. The management at Naugatuck was very impressed with the Brooks Boxer and its fiberglass body and delivered the needed resin quickly, they also backed the effort to build better molds for a small series of prototypes.
The feature photo at the top of the post was one of a series of images taken by Life Magazine photographer J. R. Eyerman, it and the two other images by him included here show the results of the Glasspar-Naugatuck arrangement. The innovative photographs were the result of the promotional efforts of U.S. Rubber Co. and Life. The photo shoot used lights arranged under a body shell on the floor, and with it held in place above a chassis, both produced a dramatic effect with the translucent fiberglass for the magazine article.
You can learn the entire Glasspar G2 Car story, in a multi-part series at Forgotten Fiberglass run by early fiberglass car expert and researcher, Geoffrey Hacker, who supplied all of the images for this post.
Thanks also go out to reader Roy Cousins of the UK who sent in the link for the interesting British Pathe news clip (below) showing some of the first fiberglass bodies that were produced for the Glasspar G2 car in 1952. In this informative and interesting video you will witness the production process, and one of the bodies being damaged only after severe and repeated blows with a hatchet, and then watch as it is repaired quickly.
Look Magazine on November 3, 1953, published an article titled Custom Cars For Everyone by George Koether. Featured in the piece are the three photos shown (below). In a dramatic demonstration of how strong the Glasspar G2 fiberglass body was, one was thrown off of a one-hundred foot high cliff. After landing upside down, it is shown without damage being held aloft by three models. The photos are from the Alden Jewell Collection.
The photo (above) is from the Life Magazine photo feature and shows the first Glasspar G2. Note the crew is standing on the car with only their socks on. This car is also shown (below) in an image that was used on the cover of a Naugatuck Chemical brochure for an advertising effort between 1951 and 1952. It told the story of the vibrin plastic car body, vibrin was the resin the outfit produced, Learn more about it here.