Collector sports cars got their start in Tustin 

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

The Woodill Wildfire was conceived and produced in Tustin during
1952-58 by Dodge/Willys dealer B. R. “Woody” Woodill

Car collectors still recall that Tustin was home to Woodill Fiberglass Body Corp., which produced sports cars Wildfire I and II between 1952 and 1958.

They remember how B. R. “Woody” Woodill, a most successful Dodge Willys dealer who after going into partnership with his father in Downey, then buying him out in 1948, became a sports car manufacturer.

Woody wanted a sports car, particularly a Jaguar X K 120, but the mechanics at his dealership, disagreed. They said the Jaguar was unreliable and difficult to repair. His chief mechanic warned him, “Woody, she will be in the shop more than you’ll be driving her.”

Woodill was in a quandary. Most foreign made sports cars had poor reputations, and no U.S. auto manufacturer was making one. The solution came when his neighbor, Howard Miller, a man with a reputation of being able to make almost anything, suggested, “Why not build your own sports car using all American running gear?”

Ideas came rapidly. Brooks Stevens had used a Willys motor in his Excalibur J earlier that year. Bill Tritt, a boat builder, had come up with a Vibrin Fiberglas sports car body that could be used.
Shorty Post, a hot rod builder, could fabricate a frame to accept Willys Jeepster suspension components and adapt to the Glasspar body.

Two Glasspar bodies were ordered with specific modifications. Rear fenders were redesigned to accept the Willys Areo taillights. A fake scoop was affixed in front of the hood to balance the taillights. Two humps in the dash area gave the car the M.G./Allard look.

Once the bodies were delivered, work began in a Tustin shop. Howard Miller assembled the components and made the final adjustments. The engine was set far enough back in the car to give it an almost perfect 50/50 weight ratio. The car, which they named Wildfire, had superb cornering, a hot cam, three carbs and headers primed to reach speeds in excess of 120 MPH.

Woodill planned to keep one car and sell the second to defray his costs, but Willys decided to produce a sports car using Woodill’s design. Modifications were made and six cars were made before Willys was taken over by Kaiser Frazer. The new executives refused to replace their Darrin sports model with his car.

After failing to interest Ford, Buick and Cadillac, Woody and Miller designed a kit that could be adapted to a ‘39 Ford frame and running gear. Dubbing it a “14-hour sports car,” Woodill assembled one live on the television program, “You Asked for It.”

The Wildfire appeared in four movies, the most notable being “Johnny Dark,” with Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie. Woodill managed to keep the Wildfire alive until 1956 in this country. Then he went to other countries where he almost made it big in Australia.

Less than 15 of the two door two-seater Wildfires I and II were made between 1952 and 1958. The few surviving today are collectors items.
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