Most of us are probably confident that we know a thing or two about these old cars which we so love. Having been absorbed and engulfed by all things classic car for more than a quarter of a century now, I’m honestly no different. However, there are few things I enjoy more than when its proven to me that I still have more to learn about our hobby – such as when an old and classic car which I have never seen or heard of before is suddenly presented to me.
That happened just this week as I was having a quick look at what was happening over on Bring-a-Trailer. A somewhat rough and in pieces, but still clearly very crisp and sleek coupé body suddenly stood out from all the usual 911s, E-types, old Alfa-Romeos and Triumphs. Certain design elements looked remarkably familiar, yet I was immediately aware that I had never before come across this intriguing creation. Curiosity was killing me as I craved more information.
My mind scrabbling for traction, I vaguely recalled some early fifties very-low-volume American sportscar called the Victress S1. But wasn’t that a curved and shapely roadster of sorts used to set some speed record on the Salt Lakes? Hmmm, I drew a blank on this beautiful coupé. At times like that, google is your best friend, because to quote our very own Claus Ebberfeld: “Everything was better in the old day, except the internet”…
The Guy Mabee Special with a Victress S1 fibreglass body setting a new speed record exceeding 200mph at Bonneville in August 1953.
Apparently, after introducing the shapely S1 roadster in 1952 during the very early stages of the American craze for fibreglass specials, Victress continued to introduce other and new models. First came further roadster designs which were perhaps more mature designs but ultimately not as pretty as the S1, which had been inspired by the pre-war BMW 328 Mille Miglia and the post-war Jaguar XK120. Then in 1956 they gave us their first coupé with the beautiful C2. Only one year later, they launched their similarly designed but slightly larger Victress C3.
By this point Merrill Powell, a design student from the Art Center School of Design, had joined Victress and even bought a 49% stake in the company from William “Doc” Boyce-Smith who had originally founded the company only a couple of years earlier. Powell was also the man responsible for the handsome and well-proportioned design of the C2 and C3. You might look at the coupé today and plainly announce that while pretty, there’s really nothing there which you haven’t seen before. But rethink that for a second, as this design saw the light of day as early as 1956, and back then it would have been rather ground-breaking and trendsetting. Sure the rear is remarkably similar to the Corvette Stingray, only the Corvette is more muscular. But bear in mind that the Chevy wasn’t introduced until 1963 – a massive seven years later! The Victress design truly was several years ahead of its time. I can’t help but wonder where the likes of GM’s Larry Shinoda, Peter Brock and Bill Mitchell found the inspiration for their now so iconic Corvette Stingray design. All they really had to do was broaden the Victress’ rear haunches a little and then add a strip of fibreglass longitudinally down the middle of the rear window, and Hey Presto…
However, the technical side of the Victress C3 wasn’t quite as impressive. Like with pretty much all other low-volume fibreglass specials of the fifties and sixties – whether from one or the other side of the Atlantic – the Victress relied heavily on mechanical components from existing and much more ordinary mass-production cars from the bigger car manufacturers. While Victress offered their customers the option of a Mameco Corp chassis with the sleek coupé body, many simply grafted the fibreglass shell onto an old Ford chassis from the forties. From there almost all options were open when it came to the drivetrain, as Victress had designed it big enough to accept most of the period American V8 engines. While far from the most avantgarde approach, there’s no denying that it led to great looks, relatively low curbweight and strong performance, which largely summed up what the American sportscar enthusiast wanted at the time.
The kits however required a fair bit of ingenuity from their first owner if they were ever to see the road. It wasn’t just a matter of bolting on a few parts which came with the kit. Real engineering skills were required and multiple parts besides the drivetrain had to be sourced, such as bumpers, seats, instruments and inner door apertures. Perhaps that goes to explain why so few Victress C2 and C3’s were produced – depending on which source you believe, numbers vary from approximately 40 up to maybe 50 coupés.
By 1961, Victress were so busy manufacturing all sorts of products in fibreglass that they simply didn’t have the time, space and staff to continue producing car bodies. This was a lucky break for the Canadian company La Dawri Coachcraft. While founded in Canada, they had a similar background to Victress and had even moved the company to the US in 1957. Four years later, they managed to expand significantly through buying all the body molds from Victress, and thus the Victress C2 became the La Dawri Sicilian while the Victress C3 became the La Dawri Castilian. They were given a few good years, but as the sixties proceeded the specials craze subdued and by 1965 La Dawri ceased operations.
So back to this C3 on BaT. Well, the auction finished last Tuesday and bidding was slow to say the least. In fact, with a highest bid of only US $ 4,300 the Victress didn’t sell. Granted, it was very much a project car requiring plenty of work to finish, and not least more parts to be sourced. Judging from some of the comments on BaT, there seemed to be some concern about the chassis too. To me, the build year 1968 seemed a bit at odds, as it wouldn’t have been a Victress after 1961 and even La Dawri disappeared in 1965. I suppose the ’68 stamp might have either been down to the chassis used for the car, the first registration of the finished car, or something like that… Still, there were a whole lot of new or refurbished parts with the project, and the fibreglass body looked in quite good condition judging from the pictures. I for one was expecting much stronger bidding. Here’s a link to the now finished BaT auction: Victress C3 project on BaT
Hmmm… maybe I should have got in there with a bid of my own? If I find it exciting learning about classic cars previously unknown to me, just imagine the rush I would experience if actually buying and owning a classic which I’ve only just met for the first time.