Buehrig’s Tasco to Headline Amelia’s “Weird & Wonderful” Class
On May 23, 2021 one special class will highlight The Amelia’s fondness for embracing a broader perspective of the established and traditional concours concept. To quote a well known (and maybe even famous) car designer, “Hey, Bill, what kind of weird class are you gonna have in 2021?”
A perfect question as The Amelia’s “Cars of the Cowboys” and “What Were They Thinking” classes were well received despite their non-traditional status. This year that class actually has the key word “weird” in the title! But when you host a March event in May, weird seems like the perfect adjective and announcing said class a few days after the date change feels like impeccable timing.
So without any further ado, mark your calendars for May 23, 2021 for the 26th Annual Amelia’s “Weird & Wonderful” special class.
It starts in the forties with a design and styling genius. Gordon Buehrig is the renowned designer of the Auburn 851 Speedster and the “coffin-nose” Cord 810/812. His Tasco – an acronym for “The American Sportscar Company – was a postwar (1948) project that followed the emerging fashion of investing automobile designs with aircraft themes. It was the year Cadillacs grew tailfins inspired by the P-38 and that sports cars first raced through the streets of Watkins Glen.
The plan was for Tasco to be a contender in those races that were usually well populated by imported pre-war models. Buehrig extended the aircraft theme beyond the exterior, filling the two-place cockpit with a binnacle and hand controls. The front wheels wore individual, steerable fairings recalling the style of the 1932 Boeing P26 “Peashooter” fighter.
The contours of the Tasco’s greenhouse bore familiar aviation perspectives viewed from inside or out. With a pair of transparent, lift-off roof panels Buehrig may have taken some conceptual cues from the prewar Coachcraft/Stengel Ford and Tom Tjaarda’s personal 1940 Lincoln Zephyr cabriolet. Yet Buehrig’s design went beyond both with a pair of removable transparent roof panels anchored to a solid center section. He had invented – and patented – the T-Top. Two decades later when Chevrolet introduced their T-Top on the 1968 Corvette, Buehrig showed them his US Patent # US2556062A (1951) for his “roof with movable parts.” Money changed hands.
Buehrig denigrated his lone prototype claiming that it was designed more by a “committee of investors” than his own (supremely gifted) hand. Tasco’s nose led him to joke that it was “my Edsel.” Built on a 1947 Mercury chassis and engine the Tasco never reached production let alone Franklin Street in Watkins Glen. Yet its long hood/short cabin proportions mirrored the profiles of classic pre-war European GTs.
Fast forward seven decades: Mike Vetter claims he never had a design course in his life but created his Extraterrestrial ETV by hand (in Florida) and sells them to those who are weary of automobiles of traditional proportions. Unlike the Tasco the ETV’s fiberglass body lacks a flat surface or a straight line. Like the Tasco there’s a real car under that skin; actually, more than one. Besides the donor car there are bits from a Chevy Cobalt, Chevy Cobalt SS, Chevy Aveo, Toyota Echo, Honda Insight, Toyota MR2 and a Porsche Boxster.
Meant to be a real car with real car utility, Vetter admits the shape may not be aerodynamically optimal, especially at its rounded rear. But its hatchback layout does allow normal-car utility without the dynamic compromises many custom cars demand. The verdict? Concept = weird, execution = wonderful, especially as Vetter has the skills and the courage to create a car to satisfy himself first . . . and for those who crave the sort of attention that a car that seems to be floating on air delivers. Every description of the ETV seems to include the word “futuristic”, as if public taste is linear and predictable.
The Corvair Futura seems to be the answer to the question nobody asked. That makes it a perfect match for the 26th annual Amelia’s Weird & Wonderful class. Based on a Corvair Greenbriar van the center-steer Futura fits no known automotive category: it is part station wagon and part soon-to-be-invented minivan. The Futura seems to be the project of an automotive enthusiast who didn’t like cars very much. Triggered by a sales concept of Kaiser Aluminum to sell more aluminum by building aluminum-bodied cars, the Futura leaves even hard core “car guys” scratching their heads. In other words, perfect for Weird & Wonderful and a contender in the unofficial “What Is That?” contest. Maybe a myopic glimpse into some alternate future where cars become appliances. Extra heavy on the weird.
“I love unusual cars that no one else has,” said Wayne Carini, long-time Amelia judge, owner of F40 Motorsports and host of MotorTrend’s “Chasing Classic Cars.” “The weirder the better.”