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The Glowing Glasspar G2 – Fifties Plastic Fantastic at its Best

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.

  • g3               One of a series of images by Life Magazine photographer J.R. Eyerman.

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.

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  •  Life Magazine – photographer J.R. Eyerman.

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.

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  • Look Magazine, November 3, 1953
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  • Look Magazine, November 3, 1953
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  •               Look Magazine, November 3, 1953

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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.

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11 responses to “The Glowing Glasspar G2 – Fifties Plastic Fantastic at its Best

  1. David…

    Nice work on story, and thanks for bringing the artistry of the car and the photoshoot to the forefront.

    Bert McNomee, an employee of US Rubber who was the parent company of the one making the resin for fiberglass, was the person who made the Life Magazine shoot happen. Bert has been a great resource for us at Forgotten Fiberglass for his insight into how the story of the first plastic car was celebrated in America in 1952 and beyond. This celebration really started with the Life Magazine and the photos. In a 1997 interview for Shark Quarterly (Corvette) magazine, McNomee said the following when working with his Life Magazine liason – Bill Payne:

    “Bill was also a car buff so he was quite interested in the idea of a fiberglass car for his section (Life Magazine). We met for lunch and talked about how the car body could be presented to make a really interesting story. We had to make it clear, pictorially, that this was a car body that was different from any other car body you had ever seen. I told him that before the car was painted, the body was actually translucent. That did it. It lit up all kinds of ideas in Bill’s mind. He started talking about how we could lower the body over the car and light it from underneath. The ideas cam together and he sold the story to his editors.”

    Bert was a superb marketing guy – the right man at the right place at the right time.

    Thanks for sharing the story David.

    Geoff Hacker
    Forgotten Fiberglass

  2. David, what ever happen to these little up start companies that have such good ideas? How come they disappear? Are the products bad? Are they bought out by bigger companies and quashed?

      • Hi Guys..

        We’ve put together an article that tells the tale of these cars which can be found here:

        http://www.forgottenfiberglass.com/welcome/american-postwar-sports-cars/

        At the end of the article is a section on “Additional Reading.” This section contains several retrospective articles which focus on this question from our group including an article that Robert Cumberford wrote on the difficulty of building these cars – which partly explains why these cars are as rare as they are today. Cumberford also shared his reactions to the article on our site – 50 years after writing the article.

        Lots of good stuff that will give you insight into the answer you seek.

        Hope this helps..

        Geoff Hacker
        Forgotten Fiberglass

  3. This is the story that propelled the Glasspar company to fame and fortune , and what a great way to show the car, (translucent) who could believe a material you could see through could be stronger than steel! As far as this car having no doors, Bill Tritt told me years ago that the first ten had no doors because they were used mainly for racing, have any others been found with no doors?
    Thanks Bert for making that article happen so many years ago, it’s the foundation of Glasspar history .
    Thanks to David , Roy and Geoff for sharing all this information

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