This is the only Bill Frick Special GT coupe ever made, it has a body designed by the great Giovanni Michelotti and built by Vignale in Italy, but its modified chassis and tuned Cadillac V8 were all built by legendary American race engineer Bill Frick.
Bill Frick was one of those trackside racing mechanics who had an instinctive feel for the engineering that goes into a great race car, his natural talent would take him from local oval track races in America all the way to the 24 Hour of Le Mans in France.
Fast Facts – The Bill Frick Special GT
- Bill Frick started out in the 1930s doing engine swaps and performance modifications for road cars. He began modifying race cars, his cars had a habit of landing their drivers on the podium, and as a result Frick’s work was in much demand.
- When Frick partnered with renowned driver Phil Walters (known as Ted Tappet), the careers of both men would never be the same again. They became so successful that they opened their own garage in Rockville Centre, New York, and called it Frick-Tappet Motors.
- The work of Frick-Tappet Motors, in particular their engine-swapped “Fordillac” caught the attention of Briggs Cunningham, who hired Bill to prepare the team’s Cadillac-powered race cars for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
- The Bill Frick Special GT is a bespoke car with a modified chassis and running gear developed by Bill Frick, then sent to Italy to be bodied by Vignale with coachwork designed by Giovanni Michelotti. Just three would be made, a prototype, a convertible, and one production GT coupe – the car you see here.
Bill Frick – From Engine Swaps To Le Mans
When Bill Frick started doing engine swaps just before WWII in the United States he earned a reputation for quality work and an ability to make almost any engine fit into almost any car.
He became well-known in the early automotive performance modification community, but no one could have guessed just how far he would go – all the way to the most prestigious sports car race in the world – on the other side of the Atlantic.
After the war Frick became famous for his ability to get speed and power out of race cars, so much so that he rose up the ranks of NASCAR working on cars for a vast array of drivers. Once he started working for driver Phil Walters, better known by his pseudonym Ted Tappet, Frick’s life would never be the same again.
The two men would open Frick-Tappet Motors together on Sunrise Highway in Rockville Centre, New York and when Cadillac introduced their new 331 cubic inch V8 engine it would be Frick who recognized its performance potential.
Frick pulled the engine from the heavy Cadillac it came in and installed it into a much lighter 1949 Ford, he called it the “Fordillac” and it quickly became a favorite among those looking for genuine speed. One of these people would be Briggs Cunningham, a man of considerable means who had been born into a wealthy industrialist family.
Cunningham bought a Fordillac from Frick-Tappet Motors and he was so impressed with the performance modifications that had been made to the engine he hired Bill Frick to prepare his own cars for their assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Frick’s work for Cunningham’s race team would put him on the map, cars that he prepared took back-to-back 1-2 finishes at Watkins Glen and Elkhart Lake, earning Bill Frick the first ever “Sports Car Mechanic of the Year” award.
The Bill Frick Special
The Bill Frick Special started life as the “Studillac,” a custom car developed by Frick consisting of a 1953 Studebaker coupe with the 331 cubic inch Cadillac V8 and a number of other modifications to better handle the increased power.
These modifications included changes to the cross members, uprated suspension, changes to the transmission tunnel, uprated brakes, and modified steering. The completed car produced well over 200 hp, vastly more than the original 120 hp, and Frick received a flood of orders – in fact a Frick-built Studillac even featured in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, Diamonds are Forever.
The 1955 Studebaker was deemed far less attractive by Frick, and so he went looking elsewhere for a body.
He shipped a modified Studillac chassis outfitted with heavy-duty dampers, springs, track bars, and anti-roll bars off to Vignale in Italy where a young designer named Giovanni Michelotti penned a body for it. Michelotti would go on to become one of the most celebrated automotive designers of the 20th century.
Michelotti designed a new grand tourer-style body for the car with classic 1950s styling and a number of design cues we would see appear in modified form in his later automotive designs. In total, three cars would be built – an initial prototype, followed by a production convertible and a coupe.
Ultimately Frick would hit upon the same problems with cross-Atlantic automotive manufacturing that would be detrimental to many other small automakers in the 1950s and 1960s.
The car you see here is the only production coupe version of the Bill Frick Special GT that was made, it was bought new for $9,000 USD by Mr John Blodgett Jr., a wealthy heir to a Michigan lumber fortune.
The car passed through a small number of hands in its life and it’s now being offered for sale by Hyman Ltd for $325,000 USD.
If you’d like to read more about this car or enquire about buying it you can click here to visit the listing.
Images courtesy of Hyman Ltd.
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