Prior to the year 2003, the Venus had just been one of the very cool things that my Dad had accomplished back in the early 50’s. All that remained were some B&W 8×10 photographs; a ragged copy of a one-sheet brochure; and one of the Motor Trends where the Venus article appeared. I considered trying to find one, but to do so meant publishing a 1/4 page photo of the Venus in a Hemmings Motor News asking if anyone had one. That was going to be costly, so I never attempted it. (Remember, this was way before the Internet became popular). Before Ken passed away, I remember him telling me not to buy one should the opportunity arise. He claimed that the resin used back in the 50’s was quite different from what is used today, and the odds were very good that a Venus body had become way too brittle to work with.
I used to maintain a website on the collector cars I owned and restored, and just for grins, included a short section on the Venus along with posting a bunch of the B&W publicity photos I had on hand. My “main” car was a 1966 Jaguar E-Type OTS (open two-seater) that I had owned and restored for 37 years. (It is HERE if you’d like to see it). That Jaguar E-Type was my pride and joy, and took me over 20 years to finish it. Mind you, I was a college student; did a stint in the US Navy, and trying to get a career off the ground, so funds to throw at the Jaguar were nonexistent at times.
Out of the Blue
Around May of 2003, I received a rather interesting e-mail from some folks up in Massachusetts, stating that they owned a Venus and would I be interested in buying it. I was somewhat skeptical that anyone had a Venus, let alone one way up in Massachusetts. I asked for some photos and they sent the ones shown below. Sure enough, it was a Venus, but in very rough shape. To my knowledge, this was the only known Venus in existence, so yes, they had my attention.
I speculate that someone did an image search for “Venus car”, and boom….there it was on my humble little website. Of more importance (to them) was that they had the son of the car’s designer. The line was cast and the hook was almost set. Realistically, this Venus was not worth much, especially in this condition. Any car that requires a frame-off restoration, be it fiberglass or metal, is an expensive proposition. It is so very easy to spend much more restoring a car than it’s ultimately worth. Lucky for me, I am mechanically inclined and can do most of the work myself, but that’s beside the point. Ultimately, a price was settled on, pending an in-person inspection. Hindsight being 20/20, I probably should have passed on this Venus. (Fiberglass cars of this era don’t command much respect or value as many collectors call them “kit” cars [or worse]. I won’t get into that argument, but quite frankly, the opposite is true).
Four months after receiving that e-mail, I flew up to Boston on Sept. 5th, 2003, rented a car, and drove west to a little town called Fitchburg where I met the owner(s) of the car, Mr. McArdle and his daughter Robin. They told me what little history they knew of their Venus, including that it was owned by a guy who kept it out in a field (or in a barn) with chicken coops stacked on top of it. How the McArdle’s came to own it, I’m not sure. They had no old photographs, documents, or even a title. I don’t know how many prior owners it had nor who had done all of the “work” on the Venus.
The good news is that after a quick examination, there were no indications of any repairs to the body as a results of a traffic accident. The underside was very clean, and by the looks of it, the car hadn’t run in a very long time. Even the tires still had little nubby whiskers on them, telling me it hadn’t seen the road at all. Mr. McArdle told me they restored the car “not long ago”….I wanted to ask him which part he was talking about because I sure didn’t see it! 🙂
The engine was not original to the chassis, however, it was period correct, being a ’51 Mercury flathead V8. The chassis is an early 50’s Ford. I was so disappointed to see it in such condition.
But I have to remember that at least someone had saved this Venus rather than it ending up in a land fill. What are the odds that almost 50 years later, a Venus would find its way back home where it all started. Some might call that fate. What if I never had a website with Venus photos on it? Or what if the little “Venus” script emblem not exist on the car…how would they know what the car was called to begin with? All of the right things had to fall in place for me to have the opportunity to acquire it. And what would have been the fate of this Venus had I passed on it? More than likely, the Mercury V8 flathead engine and the chassis were worth more than the custom fiberglass body. Let’s face it…the design is not to everyone’s taste, but you have to put yourself in the early fifties to appreciate what a tremendous departure in design from what was available back then. Deep in my heart, I felt an obligation to my Dad to at least have one Venus survive, given the massive amount of work he put into creating it. Even with it’s tiny, almost insignificant lifespan, the Venus deserves to be represented and remembered in automotive history. If my Dad were still alive, he would get such a kick out of helping me restore his car! So you see, I really had no choice in the matter.
From an objective POV, the engine compartment was real mess. The single carburetor was very tall, and I believe the engine came out of a truck. As a result, someone cut and heightened the gorgeous original air scoop just for that carb to fit. Quite frankly, it looked like something from a Mad Max movie. Surely a low-profile carburetor was available instead of carving out the air scoop! The windshield was cracked in several places; it was made of glass, not Plexiglass, so it was not an original windshield. The steering wheel was from a 70’s Cougar; had red velour upholstery; and an 8-track tape deck and set of switches. For certain, this Venus needed to be rescued!
So I handed over a check and had a roll-back wrecker standing by to snatch the car (above). (Unfortunately, I have lost these original photos, and only have these thumbnails)
Luckily, Intercity Lines (classic car transport company) had a warehouse nearby (I assume in Boston) where they kept the Venus for me. I was not in a hurry to get the car, and I let them wait until they were doing a Southern run at their convenience, which was a month or so later.
Rather than trying to have it delivered and off-loaded at my residence (narrow streets), I met the InterCity transport at a nearby mall. I had another wrecker on site to take the Venus to a storage facility. It was only then when I had time to give the Venus a thorough examination. Riveted to the firewall was a Ford ID plate with a VIN stamped on it. I can only assume that this plate was from the donor vehicle. I also got a grasp as to how much work laid before me, and it was going to be daunting.
Lakewood Concours d’Elegance
For several years, I had been showing my restored Jaguar E-Type at a very prestigious concours event, known as “Keels and Wheels”. Having known the chairman of this event for some time, Mr. Bob Fuller, I copied him an earlier version of this document and told him I had located and purchased the last known remaining Venus up in MA. He was very interested in the story, and made me promise to show the Venus in “as found” condition at the 9th annual “Wheels and Keels” car show. Having bought the car in September, I would have to wait 8 months for the show to come around before starting to disassemble the car. I was more than glad to wait for this show, as I was busy with production work anyway. I only hoped that I would get a good spot at the show after waiting for so long. I was not disappointed.
As the Venus was being winched out of my trailer on the day of staging, Bob Fuller possibly had second thoughts because the Venus was indeed rough. He had forgotten that the engine wouldn’t run and that there were no brakes. The Venus was towed from the off-loading area to its designated spot via a little mower tractor. “What in the hell is that?” was a common murmur I heard from onlookers as we passed them by on the way to my car’s spot.
Quite frankly, I was amazed at the placement I was given for the concours; the coveted “special” circle area near the clubhouse. I shared this space with some truly awesome vehicles: Fred Astaire’s Rolls Royce Limousine; Rita Hayworth’s Ghia-bodied Cadillac, both from the infamous Peterson Museum in Los Angeles. There was also a 1930 Isotta Fraschini Flying Star and a purple V-12 Aero Coupe Rolls-Royce (a custom creation). There was a no-show, which gave my Venus an even wider berth. So there was my “lump of coal” amongst all these diamonds. Very cool, yet very unnerving.
I had prepared some nice display boards that featured a collection of the 1953 publicity photos, as well as the Motor Trend article, and a short “Story of the Venus” page. I also placed some little photos on different “problem” areas of the car (hood scoop, instrument panel, front grille) to show the public what these areas will be restored back to. Note the “stacked” tail lights in the last photo (click on any photo for a larger version)
Some photos of the Venus on display are shown below. It was a very popular exhibit if I do say so myself, and drew in an awful lot of people.
This is an example of how I included notes/photos of the original Venus next to missing or altered pieces (click for larger image):
After this show, a full frame-off restoration began, and is covered in detail on a separate page.
Around 2007, I was able to scan many Venus-related documents that belonged to Mr. Jack Kovar. In this collection were two letters from George H. Jewett Company. It turns out that my particular Venus had originally been sold and shipped to Gordon Jewett in Worcester, MA, where it was mounted to a 1949 Ford (or Merc) that had rolled in a crash.
Fast forward to 2014, Geoff Hacker of Forgotten Fiberglass website told me that a friend of his, Paul Sable, had found a Venus car in a Souvenir Pictorial of an Autorama show in Hartford, CT, dated February 23-27, 1955. Geoffrey posted a story on his website here: http://www.forgottenfiberglass.com/fiberglass-car-marques/venus/im-venus-finding-history-car/
Clearly, this is a photo of my Venus after it had just been assembled. I was awestruck at seeing this old photo!
Not only did this confirm the existence and birthplace of the “Massachusetts” Venus, but I was able to see it’s initial configuration, a far cry from what I had found in Fitchburg! Most notable to me was that this Venus had the early (custom) windshield posts, yet had the later grille from a ’55 Chevy. Very cool hubcaps too. As seen in the photos from Fitchburg, the early tail lights from a ’52 Packard were used. (The additional pieces on the taillights had to have come later).
The “Venus” ID trim piece mounted on the nose is a custom piece made by the builder(s) is seen on the photo above, and existed on the Venus when I purchased the car.
Venus #1 is one of only two bodies that is documented to having been crated and shipped to a customer. (The other was to a Mr. D.C. Sampson in Dayton, Ohio). No, the proof is not in some official shipping manifest, but rather, a number of complaint letters from the customer. This body was shipped to Gordon Jewett, who owned and ran a rather comprehensive and large facility that provided a number automobile and truck-related services, including paint and body. After making a few inquiries, I managed to speak to XXXXXX whose father worked there as a mechanic. In fact, his father was a near equal owner of the company, and it was he who had actually done the work on the Venus. XXX says he even remembers the Venus body crate arriving at their facility. XXX told me that a ’49-’50 Ford vehicle had arrived at their facility, and that this Ford had been rolled. Someone remembered the Venus, made the call, and got one delivered. I do not know the date when the body was shipped, but the letters (shown below) are dated March 28, 1955, and May 17, 1956. Note that both letters were addressed to Frank Schulgren of Venus Auto Sales (i.e. Venus Corporation), not to Ken McLoad (Ratio Mfg). I only mention this to clarify who was in charge of things back then.
It seems as though Mr. Jewett had received the wrap-around plexiglass windshield (custom), but he was also looking for some trim and fasteners. The first letter speaks of a personal visit to Massachusetts in April 1955, but the second letter sounds as though that visit never happened. Both of these letters were sent after the Venus appeared at the Autorama show above, so the wrap-around windshield was presumably installed later. I would have given my eye teeth if the custom windshield posts had been saved. Instead, the posts for the wrap-around seemed to look like they came from a British car. Gordon Jewett was also a distributor of several cars back then, and he was inquiring about possibly distributing Venus bodies. Little did he know that the Venus Company was in the process of failing at that time.
To wrap up the history section of Venus #1, I’ve owned the car now for a little over 12 years now. I would like to say that I’m nearly finished with the restoration of this Venus, and in a broad sense, all of the difficult work has been done. All that’s needed is a good, professional paint job, a custom wiring harness, and upholstery. I am presently in the process of mounting the Venus body to the chassis, though this is no easy matter.
Below are a few photos of the engine, chassis, and the body. With exception to one or two items, I am restoring this Venus to period-correct standards. More detail of this can be found on the Venus#1 restoration page.