Sunday, January 11, 2015

Is this Chuck Koehler's Fibersport?

I was poking around on Cliff Reuter's Etceterini site the other day, doing some research on Giaur cars for an upcoming issue of the Tin Block Times (the Crosley club newsletter I edit).  The site is a never-ending source of wonders - no matter how many times I visit, it seems like there is always another surprise awaiting...

As I ogled the photos of sleek Giaur racers I suddenly noticed car #14, positioned directly in front of a Giaur in a photo identified as having been taken at Meadowdale Raceway in 1958. That shape is unmistakeable: the car is a second generation Fibersport.  A quick look at the program for the event (also posted at the same site - thanks Cliff) confirms that car #14 was indeed a Fibersport, driven by Paul W. Meters of Mt. Pulaski, Illinois.
Fibersport, for those not up on their midwest HMod history, was a tiny producer of Crosley-powered specials, based originally in Bloomington, Illinois and later relocated to Florida to be nearer to Sebring.  The Fibersport was the brainchild of John Clator Mays who built a special and promptly tore the road tracks of the midwest to pieces with it.  Mays turned the family basement into a factory, and he, his sons and one employee, Dutch Burmaster, turned out perhaps as many as five complete cars and another dozen or so fiberglass bodies (in two styles) between 1953 and 1962.

I have a special interest in Fibersports because I have one - or at least a Fibersport body on an unknown chassis. There is so little documented history on the Fibersports that no one knows exactly how many were made, or where they went.  My guess is that my car was a homebuilt special completed with a Fibersport body.  The car I own has a sturdy tube chassis - very different from the modified swiss cheese Crosley Hot Shot rails the other Mays cars used... but their literature listed a tube frame as an option, so who knows? (By the way, if YOU know, please get hold of me immediately!)
Fibersports were rare when new, so they are almost impossible to find today.  I began tracking them as I researched the history of my car.  I knew that a Northern California racer named Terry Matheny had restored and raced one in the '80s, selling it around 1990 or so.  Matheny died some years back and no one seemed to know where the car had gone to - I found one photo of it on a track shortly after the sale and then it dropped from sight.  I called all over the US looking for it with no luck.
Then, about five years ago, Chuck Koehler, a vintage racer and Crosley nut located the car not far from his home in Pennsylvania.  It turns out that the guy who bought it from Matheny had blown the engine during the very first race he'd run and then tucked the car in storage for the next 20 years. Chuck bought the car, and the chance to see it in person spurred me to attend my first national Crosley Club Meet back in 2011.  It's a nice car - likely one of the few genuine 'factory' Fibersports - and Chuck is the perfect caretaker for it.

Given that there were so few Fibersports built, there should be little question which one is which.  Unfortunately, that's not true.  The Fibersport factory files appear to have been lost, and there is very little documentation with any of the existing cars.  The best-known and most successful Fibersport was # 41 - the first car built and the one that John Mays and both his sons raced at various times. Number 41 dropped out of racing in the early sixties, and was mothballed at Mays' house in Florida for the next four decades, so I knew Koehler's car couldn't be that one.  But which other one was it?

Call it a gut feeling, but I think the car leading that Giaur at Meadowdale in 1958 may be the same car in Chuck Koehler's garage today.  The biggest part of that intuition is the paint scheme - at some point the car was redone, but look at the paint in this photo of Matheny racing the car in 1988:
The livery design is extremely similar to the 1956 photo.  Now it's possible that Matheny could have randomly assigned that scheme to the car, (or had access to photos of another Fibersport with that livery) but I believe it is much more likely that he based the paint on the scheme that already existed on the car.

Also note the funky square hump in the center of the dash - that hump provides streamlining for a rearview mirror that Mays scavenged off a passenger car.  Not all Fibersports had that element (mine doesn't, for example), but both the Meadowdale car and Koehler's car do.
The only other Fibersport that I am aware of that had matching features (the single center stripe paint scheme and the mirror hump over the dash) was #41 - Mays' personal car.  I believe that the car in the Meadowdale photo is either A) Chuck Koehler's Fibersport; or B) #41, rebadged for some reason as #14.

Perhaps Mays allowed Meters to race the car, but made him run under a different number?  Would Mays have let someone other than himself or his sons drive the car?  I don't know - I've never found any examples of a Fibersport registered as #41 in any race with a driver other than a Mays.  I do find it interesting that neither John Mays, nor his son Bill (who was actively racing the car in this period), were registered in a race which was practically in their backyard.  Their absence lends credence to the idea that #14 may be #41 with the numbers flipped.  But, if it's not #41 in the Meadowdale photo, I'll bet it's the car now in Chuck's care.

We may never know.  I did some cursory digging around to see if I could turn up anything about Paul W. Meters, but found nothing.  Perhaps with some more research Chuck may be able to find out if Meters was connected to his car - or if he was a friend of the Mays family who lucked into a ride in one of the most successful Hmods in history.

I hope so, and I'll keep you posted.


giuseppe randone said...

I have same car as your body 39... are u sure about Fiberglass? My body is in aluminium chassis is a Fiat and engine is a Siata

Ol' Man Foster said...

HI Giusseppe- I have no paperwork with my car- but I sent detailed photos to the family that built the Fibersports back in the mid 50s-early 60s. Dave Mays, the oldest-living member of the family, told me unequivocally that the body of my car was a later-period Fibersport. I do not know if the chassis of my car was built by the Fibersport people or if they simply sold a body to someone who built a one-off special. That Fibersport origin fits, because my car came from Chicago, which was very close to Bloomington, where the Fibersports were built, and uses many Crosley parts, which is what the Fibersports were sourced from.

My car has a fiberglass body over a tube frame. As far as I can tell, the only Fiat components are the brakes, which I believe may have come off a Fiat Multipla.

Thanks for sending the pics of your car to my FB page!