Paul Koonz (left) fabricated the chassis primarily from 2 3/8-inch-OD, 5/32-inch-wall mild
In the January '54 Hot Rod article, Tommy Amer said that a Cadillac engine sat 8 inches behind the axle. However, in the following month's Hop Up and Motor Life article, "Radical but Practical," Dean Moon noted that "Ample room remains for the late-model OHV V-8 engine, which will be installed in the near future." Dean could've gathered his information for the Hop Up article before Tommy Amer did for the Hot Rod piece, but it would've been exceptional for Hot Rod to not run a photo of an existing engine had it been there.
According to Beverly Mason, Jay's first wife, the car upon its debut didn't necessarily look the way most people remember it. "At the time the car was kind of a gold color," she said. Her recollection is consistent with the lighter finish on the car in the earliest articles. "I did go with him to a couple of car shows. He had a matching gold corduroy shirt--I just remember that scene. There was a lot of interest about the car."
"It was the envy of (George) Barris," noted one of Jay's future business partners, Jerry Williamson. "He couldn't stand that the car was upstaging him at that show. (Jay) was doing razor-crisp edges when they weren't very fashionable yet."
The body's construction largely follows wartime aircraft practice. Jay first made an armat
Though Jay had his reasons to design the ends of the car the way he did, it wasn't universally admired. In the September '55 Motor Trend, writer Ocee Ritch asked Detroit designers what they thought of the latest custom-car designs. Alongside images from Tommy Amer's Hot Rod article was Ocee's assessment: "...one of the recent best," he called it. Quoting the Detroit stylists, however, Ocee added that they "...have the feeling it was designed for ease of construction instead of being styled."
Whether or not it was due to the article, the car disappeared for almost a year. When it reappeared in the May '56 Rod & Custom, however, Jay's car looked decidedly different...and better by most accounts.
The fenders originally projected far ahead of the front wheels, but for this design Jay bobbed and tapered them to a point. He integrated the headlight covers with the existing hood scoops in this second design, la Lincoln's '55 Futura show car and '56 Premiere production car. The shark-nosed design effectively pinched closed the front of the car necessitating a scoop below to direct air to a more conventional front-mounted radiator.
By most accounts the presence of that chin scoop suggests the car's first engine, a 303-inch Olds. Though the car could have had an engine before, the extra clearance afforded by the cast-aluminum scoop that appeared on the hood in the new design suggests that it wasn't likely. As for the idea that the car had a Hydramatic as alluded to in one article, "It's obvious that the car was designed for a clutch pedal," said JF Launier, who restored the car. "It's not like something that was added at a later date."
The panel crowns were low, the lines were rather straight, and compound curves were minima
The tail retained its shape, but Jay closed off the old radiator hole with a black-painted aluminum panel and replaced the earlier grille with a lattice of broader aluminum flat stock. In lieu of the old design's round taillights were handmade acrylic lenses that followed the arch of the rear quarters. A vertical sheet of aluminum split each of those lights into stoplights and what looked to be reverse lights. Along the way the decklid picked up a machined-aluminum fuel-filler cap (we'd call it billet nowadays). A small-diameter side pipe emerged from the rear of the simple, chrome-plated rocker panels.
Photos shot on the lawn in front of Jay's house indicate that the two handmade tube-framed buckets that are in the car today replaced the bench. Between those buckets emerged two shifter stalks, indicating that the car definitely had an overdrive transmission--likely the early Lincoln it has today.
In place of the Cadillac steering wheel is a handmade banjo wheel with three sets of three small-diameter spokes and an aluminum horn cap along the same lines as the fuel filler. A handmade steering column mast jacket replaced the column-shift unit, and the gauges migrated into an amoeba-shaped, aluminum-rimmed pod around that steering column.
Upon closer inspection, two brass badges--one within the hood spear and another at the bottom of the decklid--indicated that Jay's car was no longer officially nameless; it was now the Astra Coupe.
Jay's car as the Astra Coupe officially debuted in the May '56 Rod & Custom. Though James Potter called the Astra black and white, according to Jay's brother, John, who has pictures taken the day James shot the car, "...it is most certainly blue, though dark." Furthermore, Terry Everett, Jay's son, also remembers another blazer his dad wore to car shows--a jacket the same blue as the car.
Regardless of color, one thing is certain: In that May '56 R&C, Jay's car made a splash that rippled for decades. To see what happened, check in next month.
The mahogany dash that Jay carved for his car transitioned into the doors. The steering wh
Proving that Jay really did try the rear-mounted radiator, he showed the design to Dean Mo
When Jay initially completed the car, he created the egg-crate grilles welding together st
In his original tail design, Jay incorporated a round taillight within the upper part of e
The restyle that Jay gave the car changed more than the car's shape; it changed its attitu
Jay bobbed the headlight doors but preserved their profile. The lower edges returned to cr
We generally take such designs for granted today, but the tilt-nose design Jay created was