12 March 2015

Plastic Carmaker Had Burnaby Roots

LaDawri owned by Les A. Dawes made fibreglass kits to fit American car chassis

The annals of automotive history — particularly during the 1950s and 1960s — are full of failures.

A couple of North American attempts are the Davis three-wheeler and the Tucker, the latter of which had some government help to make sure that it did not succeed.

Before World War Two, the American public considered plastic bodied automobiles about as feasible as spaceships.

That perception changed drastically due to the postwar shortage of steel when the use of plastics in automobile manufacturing expanded and, almost overnight, glass fibre was accepted as an ideal medium for the bodies of lightweight sports cars.

The Victress manufacturing company located in North Hollywood was owned by Boyce “Doc” Smith.

With very little financial backing, he decided to follow in the footsteps of the Kaiser Darrin and Chevrolet Corvette and by 1952, according to the Victress catalogue, Smith was offering “America’s fastest and most beautiful sports car bodies.”

That claim of America’s fastest body for the early 1950s was accurate. A Victress SI was recorded at a speed of 327 km/h at Bonneville.

The style was very good looking for the era, with the windshield frame and doors looking very Jaguar- XK120-ish.

Victress cars were sold exclusively by the Hellings Co, also located in North Hollywood.

The SI-A bodies were designed to fit any 2.5-metre wheelbase chassis, and were available for $595 US, plus tax and shipping. The Victress S-4 body would fit any Chevrolet, Ford or Plymouth chassis, and was a bit more expensive at $695.

A Road and Track advertisement offered a copy of the Victress catalogue and construction details of the models available for 25 cents.

The dream of wealthy Hollywood stars driving Victress cars did not come true, however, with less than 40 bodies manufactured before production ceased.

But the company did not go broke; it simply had other business interests that ownership felt were more important than building cars, so the Victress automotive division was sold to LaDawri.

LaDawri was owned by Les A. Dawes who lived in Burnaby and built a few cars in British Columbia, before he moved his operations to Long Beach, California.

Dawes offered kits and complete cars during the period from 1957 to 1965, and built 800 units during that time.

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