When Jay debuted his car at...
When Jay debuted his car at the '53 Petersen Motorama, he was in good stead. Legendary panel beater Bob "Beanie" Sorrell rolled out a Kurtis 500KK race car chassis with a body of his own design (probably not so coincidentally, Jay and Beanie later forged a friendship, according to Jay's son, Terry). The fiberglass "Ferrari-like sports rod" that Dick Jones showed became the Meteor, one of the first kit-type cars. With changes it also became the Byers SR-100 and later a Kellison. Bill Burke, famed racer and one of Robert Petersen's right-hand ad men, splashed his boss' Cisitalia 202 coupe to make a fiberglass shell that he and Mickey Thompson raced and a roadster version that sold under the Allied Fiberglass name.
In the very early 1950s a proverbial tree fell, but today almost nobody remembers hearing it. It certainly wasn't due to mediocrity; with its scratch-built tube chassis, handformed alloy body, and domestic V-8 grunt, the Astra Coupe is a true handbuilt sports car/hot rod hybrid cast in the same mold--or is that beaten over the same buck?--as Briggs Cunningham's legendary race cars from the same era.
While it never achieved the performance or cult status of Cunningham's cars, the Astra did get considerable press in its day. It was recognized as a visionary's idea of the ultimate sports rod and a testimonial of what an ordinary guy could achieve. Nor was its life short-lived; whether or not mixed praise in a major magazine initiated it, its restyling in the mid-1950s (where the car picked up the Astra Coupe name) put it back into a limelight that glowed well into the following decade.
One of the things that make this particular car stand out is the role it played in its owner's life. After selling the Astra, Jay Everett embarked upon a prolific career as a prototype builder. Among his highlights: an animatronic display his company built for IBM that debuted at the same World's Fair as Disney's Lincoln Speaks, a bottle proposal that became the iconic and award-winning Michelob beer bottle, and fiberglass seat shells and cast-aluminum legs for chairs that Charles and Ray Eames designed.
Though he'd long sold it by the time he made his mark on the design world, the Astra resurfaced in Jay's life in various ways. Whether it was fiberglass cupolas for the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Las Vegas or computer cases for early IBM minicomputers, each project embarked upon by Jay Everett owed at least a part of its existence to his automotive construction background.
While no one source knew the Astra's whole story, each person in Jay's life revealed fragments of overlapping information. When combined with what appeared in the dozen or so articles written about the car over the years, a really comprehensive picture emerged.
Of course the flip side to a wealth of information is size, and to present everything we now know about the Astra in one sitting might be a bite too big to swallow. So we're going to try something different. We're going to tell the Astra's story in two parts: the way it was using photos taken of it during its heyday, and the way it is now.
"I'mtired of looking at lead barges," Jay proposed while talking about his car in the January '54 issue of Hot Rod magazine. By that time, Jay was a freshly minted father from Gardena who'd claimed 15 years of automotive experience in his 25 years.
The suspension mounting system...
The suspension mounting system was similarly clever. To tune ride height, Jay created this adjustable rear spring perch. To ensure that it wouldn't slip under load, he made it from serrated plate. The entire rear suspension came from a '48 Ford and wore earlier Lincoln self-energizing brakes.
Though Jay's claim may sound a little boastful, his creation was tangible proof of experience beyond his years. At the very least, friends and family noted that Jay did attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena for a period, and "I remember that Jay worked at Gordon's Body Shop in the very early 1950s," said Beverly Mason, Jay's first wife.
Despite admitting a lack of formal training in that Hot Rod article, Jay produced something that wasn't standard fare, and the difference went deeper than the car's light-metal skin. Whereas most "handbuilt" cars of its time were based on production cars or at the very least their frames, Jay's car sat on a chassis that Paul Koonz created from a triangulated network of 2 3/8-inch-diameter tubing.
Jay arched a network of smaller-diameter tubes arched over the chassis in the body's general shape. Spanning the gaps between those tubes was a skin that Jack Sutton (who built many a body for '50s race cars, including several bodies for Max Balchowski's Ol' Yallar race cars) and Dennis Powers formed on what Tommy Amer referred to in that Hot Rod article as an "English wheeling machine." Incorporated within those panels were various OEM components, like the majority of the windshield from the '52 Caddy and a Chevrolet Fleetline rear window. While the Chevy glass came with its own trim, bear in mind that Jay made full OEM-style trim for the cut-down Caddy glass.
Jay fastened the panels to the framework, and what emerged from his garage was a long-hood/short-deck creation with generously radiused wheelwells--both common practices among Continental European sports car manufacturers of the time. Though the design wasn't universally accepted, Jay left the ends of the car open and filled them with grilles made from flat stock and tubing. In retrospect, it probably wasn't the best idea, but Jay installed the radiator behind the grille in the Kamm-inspired tail, presumably with the idea that the low-pressure area behind the car would pull air through it. It's somewhat common practice today, but when Jay assembled the front fenders and hood as a clip that tilted forward from the chin in 1952, it wasn't in the least.