By on October 1, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride was formerly unknown to your author. A brief boutique brand in the Fifties, Woodill went away long before most of you were even born. Let’s see if we can learn a bit more about this American take on the classic British roadster formula.

In the early Fifties, fiberglass started its spread across America as an easily workable, affordable material for use in the construction of sporty car bodies. The first of this new kind of sports car to enter production was the Glasspar G2, produced by Bill Tritt (a yacht maker) in 1949. In those days such roadsters were not offered by the major OEMs in Detroit, which opened a path for smaller shed-built, or “boutique” if you prefer, cars.

In short order, car dealers entered into small-scale production of their own takes on the idea created by the G2. That’s where Woodill entered the picture: A successful dealer of Willys trucks in California, he imagined his own G2-type vehicle. The roadster would of course be driven by Willys parts underneath. Woodill commissioned a Glasspar-built body from Tritt, then took his idea to Willys HQ, where he was quickly shot down. At the time Willys was in merger talks with Kaiser, and the Kaiser-Darrin roadster was already well into its development.

“I’ll do it myself then,” said Woodill. Shortly thereafter, the new Woodill Wildfire was ready for sale. Available at his dealership, the Wildfire used Willys mechanicals as planned; a low-power inline-six and manual transmission. Starting in 1952, the car was available in kit form, or as a complete car built by Woodill.

The Wildfire dumped the mostly unsuitable Willys engine for a Ford V8 at some point, but by then a little fiberglass competition had arrived – the Corvette. Corvette spelled the beginning of the end for piecemeal fiberglass cars from car dealers when it was introduced in 1953, as consumers eagerly threw their dollars at General Motors. The Wildfire remained on offer through 1958, with roughly 300 produced. Of that figure, 15 were sold as complete cars, and 285 as kits.

But today’s Rare Ride is an even rarer subset of those kit cars. In 1954 a few kits were purchased by a Buick dealer in California, Harry Clark. Clark put his own (fairly extensive) Buickification on the Wildfire. The front featured ’53 Buick lamps, and a modified form of a Chevy grille from the same year. He used a more curved windshield than the standard Wildfire. Clark also grabbed the rear fender molds from a ’53 Buick, and made them in fiberglass for his roadster. And perhaps most notably to add an upscale Buick vibe, a continental kit was attached at the rear. Chrome bumpers front and rear were donated by Ford, for some reason.

Power for these few examples was GM as well, in the form of the new 322 cubic inch Nailhead V8 from Buick. It was luxuriously matched with a Dynaflow automatic transmission, with floor-mount lever.

The extensive changes turned the Wildfire into a Wildfire-Buick, its only badging the Buick crest on the steering wheel. Perhaps the only one left today, this fully restored roadster asks $67,500. The joy of explaining what it is every time you park is thrown in for free.

[Images: seller]

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14 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1954 Woodill Wildfire-Buick, Fiberglass and Fun-sized...”


  • avatar
    Russycle

    Very nice, love the swoopy dash. Not a fan of the continental kit.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The most unusual example of a Wildfire I’ve ever seen. IMHO, it detracts from the styling of the Wildfire. If you want more information on cars like this, visit Geoff Hacker’s Forgotten Fiberglass site:

    https://www.undiscoveredclassics.com/forgotten-fiberglass/

    Last week I was watching the 1956 Robert Stack-Rock Hudson-Lauren Bacall-Dorothy Malone film, “Written on the Wind” on TCM. in the film, Dorothy Malone drives a Woodill Wildfire.

  • avatar
    Sobro

    That Buick nailhead motor was an interesting take on design. Buick decided that instead of horsepower wars with her sisters, they would go all-out on torque. The nailhead featured extra-long valve stems with relatively small valve diameters, making each valve look like a nail (sort of). This allowed a very long throw and duration for the valves and produced gobs of torque. With a pentagonal combustion chamber and high dome pistons, these motors became very popular in racing circles. In the 60’s, Buick proudly displayed their torque numbers on the breather cover.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Never heard of this Woodill before either and I was born in ’47 and was a car nut a decade later.

    I have sampled a 322 cubic inch Buick V8 in a ’53 Buick along with the useless Dynaflow transmission. Couldn’t get out of the way of a Mitsubishi Mirage today. Felt like a river of sludge straining against a two-ton rock, oozingly slow. But a one gear slushbox is like that, all torque converter. Too bad the dope at university in ’65, whose father had bequeathed the turquoise and cream chariot to him, was only worried about “V8” when he challenged my friend and his B18 Volvo 544 to a drag race. Not even close. That thing did in 318 Plymouths and 283 Chevs — people then just hadn’t got a clue about real world get up and go. Quarter miles were in the 18.5 second range unless you sprang for a a big inch motor or a 327 Chev. God knows what a ’53 Buick did in the quarter, but likely over 20 seconds.

    Sydney Allard was a Brit who took to making a roadster with the original Cadillac V8, and took on Le Mans with the result. He had started prewar with Ford V8s in light cars, then once he got his hands on the first modern ohv V8, he was off to the races.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Looks bad from the rear but still an interesting car .

    To bad about the DynaSquish box, you have to suffer driving one to fully grasp how awful they are .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Old_WRX

      -Nate,

      Was the DynaSquish one of those auto boxes that took two or three seconds to slur between one gear and the next? I remember two speed autos like that from the early sixties.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        No, the Dynaflow slush box had three ‘turbines’ in it and never shifted ~ it just smoothly sped up over time as you held the accelerator down .

        Smoothest slush box I ever drove but the worst for acceleration and fuel economy .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The tail lights look like those on a 53 Buick. Looks like they reached into the parts bin for 53 Buicks.

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