Father and son’s dual Devins fuel a “Special” bond

Jon DeGaynor comes out of a turn in his Jim Melton-built Devin Special, #11, as his father, Scott DeGaynor pressures him in the latest version of the Devin Special, #111, he built over 60 years ago. Courtesy Degaynor Family Archive

It’s a scene as American as apple pie on the fourth of July: A barn interior, about half a century ago. There, in southwest Michigan, Scott DeGaynor and his six-year-old son Jon are working on a car. Though American in essence and origin, the machine is far from typical Big Three fodder. It’s a Devin Special—a fiberglass sports car body married to a home-built chassis and a V-8 powertrain. That combination afforded mid-century Americans of even modest means a chance at besting the rich kids in their imported Ferraris and Porsches.

In the barn, Scott DeGaynor is doing what he loves most, what he will spend a lifetime doing: building powerful machines. Young Jon DeGaynor is learning to take things apart, put them back together, and how to form metal and weld. He’s learning to appreciate and love automobiles, particularly fast and nimble sports cars of the homebrewed variety. That passion still burns bright five decades later.

Devin Special Degaynor
Scott DeGaynor confers with his son prior to the start of a Group 6 SVRA event. Courtesy DeGaynor Family Archive

Scott, now 81, and Jon, 57, still work on cars together. They are often preparing or racing one of their two Devin Specials, with which they’ve tasted victory in a variety of vintage racing series.

First cobbled together by dad in the early 1960s, the first DeGaynor Devin Special, modified and updated many times over, still wins races today. Like other homebuilt Devin-bodied sports cars, the Degaynor’s was inspired by the 1958–59 Devin SS, a rare American sports car that combined a powerful Corvette V-8 with a lightweight body and a refined ladder-frame chassis. Predating the Shelby Cobra, the SS won a number of class titles and made its mark at Pikes Peak, in SCCA racing, and at road courses around the country. That success continued well into the 1960s.

Oklahoma-born Bill Devin, aka “the Enzo Ferrari of Okie Flats,” was an aircraft mechanic and Navy veteran. Based in California, he got his start in cars modifying a Crosley Hotshot. He built his first from-scratch sports car, the Devin Panhard, in 1954, a year before the Corvette premiered. Constructed on a chassis of Devin’s own design, the Panhard sported a fiberglass body produced from a mold taken off a Deutsch-Bonnet. Molding fiberglass was a relatively new technique at the time, and Devin had to develop his own methodology.

Under the swoopy body was a 745-cc, horizontally opposed two-cylinder Panhard engine that Devin had fitted with overhead cam heads cribbed from a motorcycle. The car was successful on the track and soon Devin developed a shapely body that he could produce in 27 different sizes to fit a variety of chassis. He also produced some turnkey sports cars in limited numbers, such as the Devin C and the Devin D.

1959 Devin E roadster
Jon DeGaynor’s 1959 Devin Special race car, wearing #11. Cameron Neveu

The Devin SS, the crowning achievement of Devin’s work, was created in collaboration with two Irish race car drivers—Malcolm MacGregor and Noel Hills. The Irishmen engineered and built a tube chassis with fully independent suspension and disc brakes. After the chassis was shipped to the U.S., the curvy Devin body and 283-cu-in Chevy V-8 were fitted. The car was a technical success, competing head-to-head with Ferraris that sold for more than twice the price. Unfortunately, it was not a financial success; after completing 15 cars, Bill Devin was bankrupt.

1958 Devin-Chevrolet SS running at Goodwood front driving action
A 1958 Devin-Chevrolet SS running at Goodwood in 2016. Corbis via Getty Images

Today, very few examples of the SS remain, and Bill Devin died more than 20 years ago, but Devin bodies are still produced by Devin Sports Cars of Abington, Pennsylvania. And over the years, many enthusiasts and racers have mounted Devin bodies on homebuilt chassis or underpinnings cribbed from another car. The resulting vehicles are today known as Devin Specials.

Early Devin Specials—those built in the style of the SS, with V-8 engines and capable underpinnings—are considered classics in their own right. California hot rodder and racer Ak Miller created one of the best-known Devin Specials, which he dubbed the Cobra Kit Special. His creation was a Devin body mounted on an AC Bristol chassis. He added a Shelby-modified Ford 289-cu-in V-8 and won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1964.

Ak Miller ascends Pikes Peak in his Cobra Kit Special. Devin Sports Cars

When Scott DeGaynor broke ground on his Devin Special in 1962, he built it on MG frame rails with substantial bracing and a roll cage on top. For power he chose a Studebaker V-8, which soon yielded to a DeSoto Hemi, and, ultimately, a 327 cu-in Chevy engine. Over the years the car was continually modified, and when Jon was old enough to wield a wrench and a welding torch, he became part of dad’s team.

By the time he was in high school, Jon was taking turns behind the wheel of the sports car, which had proved very competitive in local road racing events. Life, however, got in the way of racing for the DeGaynors, and they parked the Devin in 1984, soon after Jon graduated from high school.

Decades passed, but for a father and son who had worked and raced together, a restoration of the old Devin was inevitable—a matter of when, rather than if. In 2010, Jon and Scott started thinking about what they might do with their sports car that sat under a tarp. Rather than just dive in unarmed, they consulted with people who actively raced Devins in vintage events. That led them to Jim Melton in Wisconsin, who had built a beautiful and quick 1959 Devin Special for Group 4 competition in the Vintage Sports Car Driver Association series. (Group 4 is for pre-1962, limited-production sports cars.) Ideas started coagulating.

Jon and his dad couldn’t agree on how to spec out the Devin, so they instead decided to race two cars. One would be the car dad had built so many years ago, and the other would be Jim Melton’s Group 4 Devin, which Jon purchased. You can see where this is going; father and son could race each other in Group 4 vintage events. And they went at it with gusto.

Devin Special Degaynors
Father and son prior to competing head-to-head on the race track. Courtesy DeGaynor Family Archive

Soon thereafter, Dad’s car was stripped down to the bare outer frame rails and completely rebuilt with a new tube chassis modeled largely after that of the Melton-built car. In 2016 it was equipped to compete in Group 6, which allows wider tires and later-model engines among other things. Most important, Group 6 it draws larger fields and offers better competition than Group 4.

By 2018, dad was approaching 80 years of age and decided his days in the cockpit were over. (He still took to the skies in a BD-4 airplane, one of three aircraft he built over the years.) The DeGaynor father and son nevertheless remain inseparable, and they continue to race together. Jon takes the wheel of the Group 6 car while dad serves as crew chief.

Devin Special front three quarter paddock
The Group 4 Devin Special in the paddock at M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan. That facility’s American Speed Festival featured hundreds of race cars hot lapping the track. Paul Stenquist

I saw Jon’s Group 4 Melton-built car at the American Speed Festival in Pontiac, Michigan. It was one of a score of race cars the folks from the M1 Concourse track had invited to participate in the annual event. Sporting a very retro-looking 350-cu-in small-block Chevy topped with an ancient four-deuce manifold, plus a beautifully finished cockpit and shiny black paint, the Devin Special immediately caught my eye. A peak under the rear revealed a Jaguar rear end and fully independent suspension. Up front is rack and pinion steering. Coilover shocks sit at all four corners.

When they fired up that motor for a demonstration lap on the M1 tarmac, the car won my heart. On the track, it accelerated briskly down the straightaway and tucked in tightly in the corners.

The Group 6 car—the car with which the DeGaynors most often compete—is powered by a 327 Chevy with a single four-barrel carb. In the rear is a Ford 9-inch solid axle. Although less technically sophisticated than the Jaguar rear on the Group 4 car, Jon says the solid axle provides more predictable handling given that camber change is not part of the equation, as it can be with older fully independent rear suspension designs. Jon says his Group 6 car is approximately 10 seconds per lap faster than the Group 4 car on most circuits.

Devin Special front three quarter
Adam Baldwin of RN Motorsport in Wixom, Michigan, helps Jon get strapped into the Group 6 car prior to a demonstration run on the track at M1 Concourse. Paul Stenquist

As the 2023 racing season draws to a close, dad’s car has been doing great in Group 6 with Jon at the wheel. If the DeGaynors and their pretty all-American machine haven’t clinched a Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) Group 6 season championship by the time you read this, you can be sure they came darn close.




Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: Auction Pick of the Week: 1959 Peerless GT Phase II


    Great to see such a wonderful father & son story! I am sure my boys would love running my Porsches on the track! Something to discuss with them as they are graduating college.

    I had the opportunity to buy a Devin body / chassis that was set up for a Porsche motor back in the 1990s. It needed a lot of work (as in, take it completely apart, media blast it, and replace pretty much every mechanical part – but it was cheap ($1,500 as I recall). Probably should have made the leap of faith, but my marriage was more important than another car project!

    I had the fortunate opportunity to meet Jon at his M1 garage in Pontiac Michigan. He was kind enough to show me, a complete stranger, around his garage and give me a little background on this car I have never heard of.

    A true gentlemen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *