Last week, we took a road trip with Brian Lohnes, the unscrupulous leader over at BangShift.com. Our mission was to investigate a junkyard in northern Vermont, which was offering up its entire vintage collection for $500 per vehicle. What we found, we never expected.
About 75 percent of Gates Salvage in Hardwick, Vermont is your average New England junkyard, with Subarus, Toyotas and Ford Rangers aplenty. But 25 percent of its entire space is taken up with vintage cars, primarily from the 1950s and 1960s.
Gates Salvage experienced something of a minor internet sensation this week when it posted an ad on Craigslist offering all of its vintage collection for $500 per vehicle, provided you could come and haul it out in a reasonable period of time.
Lohnes and I had both visited a muscle car junkyard in nearby Vergennes, Vermont, and both left scarred by the experience. When I showed up to that lot, I was greeted by a half dozen German Shepherds. When Lohnes arrived a year later, a scoped rifle followed his car in the driveway.
So neither of us were quite sure what to expect when we drove in the yard at Gates Salvage. We were relieved to find that this one is run like an actual business where greenbacks are exchanged for products, rather than having to engage in some nebulous conversation that never manages to settle on a price, or even a commitment of sale.
The yard is packed full of Corvairs, the three Jeep FC-170s, the Hillman Huskies, and Sunbeam Imps, but the car that really had both of us thinking about cleaning out our meager savings was this unidentified sports car special from the 1950s.
In the 1950s, sports cars experienced a popularity which they’d never manage to achieve ever again. Servicemen returned from the European and Japanese theaters thirsty for excitement. Sports cars from Europe arrived at the port in New York, thanks to the foresight of one Max Hoffman, who imported everything from BMWs to Volkswagens.
The object of more lust than any car in existence at that time was the Jaguar XK120, simply one of the most beautiful cars ever built. It appeared over and over again in every one of the many sports car magazines that millions of Americans were reading at the time.
Trouble was, most Americans didn’t have the $3,945 (F.O.B.) to buy one. Average annual income was less than that, and most Americans were plowing all of their income into houses.
The answer for many handy do-it-yourselfers came in the pages of Mechanix Illustrated. “BUILD THIS MI SPECIAL 100-MPH SPORTS CAR FOR $500!” read the come-on below the cover illustration in the November 1951 issue. Hemmings Blog has the entire article helpfully posted on the site.
“Delage, Jaguar, MG, AC, Aston Martin, Nash Healey, Lagonda, Simca, Jowett Javelin Jupiter, Riley, Bentley — fabulous sports cars, but all running in the neighborhood of $1,900 to $14,000. But how about a real sports car that will not only cost less than $400, but will actually show its heels to many of the above buggies?” asked the text in that issue.
Over 11 pages that month, Bob Whitehead explained how to build a cut-down sports car for just $500, using a 1932 Ford Coupe — now a “classic,” then a tired, used car — as the basis for a “sportster.”
That article — and many other like it from Mechanics Illustrated through the 1950s — inspired many home-mechanics to build their own cars out of whatever they had lying around.
That, we suspect, must have inspired the construction of this car that we found at Gates Salvage. The chassis and running gear certainly bears that out, all borrowed straight from the 1930s Ford suggested in Whitehead’s article.
The body is another story entirely. It has the cycle-style front fenders of the MI Special, but the rear fenders are much more stylish and inspired by American iron rather than British. The rear decklid looked like it might have come from something like a slant-back Chevrolet, and it nestled between two fin-like fenders.
The way the bodywork was constructed is at least circumstantial evidence that Mechanix Illustrated may have been the inspiration. The MI article advises building a framework of 3/4″ thin-wall electrical conduit, and forming the body panels around it, and that’s exactly what the builder of this Special did. Up front, the nose differs significantly from the MI Special, with a grille made of steel mesh, behind three horizontal sections of that same thin-wall tubing.
Unfortunately, at some point, the car had an engine fire, which resulted the in the carburetor melting almost completely. When it ended up at Gates Salvage is hard to determine, but it probably wasn’t more than a dozen years ago. It still wears its last Vermont license plate, number N 4869.
One clue to the car’s age is the “SEE” on the license plate, to the left of “VERMONT.” That was eliminated from license plates in 1967.
Between us and our pals at BangShift, we’re looking to spread the word and find out what we can about this car. Brian’s got a whole video posted up there, too, that provides a few more clues to the car’s origins.
Were you a hotrodder in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Vermont? Do you have any recollection about this car at all? Shoot us a note in the comments, or post it up on our Facebook page.
CLICK ANY OF THE PHOTOS BELOW TO SEE THE FULL GALLERY