Famed Timbs Special custom streamliner lost in Malibu blaze

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Timbs Special
The Norman Timbs Special was a unique, hand-built custom | Amelia Island Concours photo

One of the most significant and imaginative of postwar customs, the streamlined 1948 Norman Timbs Special, has been destroyed in the devastating Woolsey Fire near Malibu, one of the three deadly wildfires wreaking havoc in California.

The Timbs Special, well-known for its swooping mid-engine styling, was destroyed over the weekend along with about 30 other cars owned by noted collector and shop owner Gary Cerveny, who reportedly lost his entire collection to the fire as it roared north of Los Angeles.

Timbs Special
A mid-engine Buick inline-8 was mounted beneath the long, flowing rear deck

Firefighters are struggling to control the Woolsey Fire, which has killed two people and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. Two raging infernos in northern California also remain out of control, killing at least 42 people and decimating thousands of acres of forest, homes and businesses.

Cerveny purchased the Timbs streamliner in junkyard condition at a Barret-Jackson auction in 2002. He had it completely restored to its original fettle, including the all-aluminum body with extreme cab-forward styling and a lengthy rear deck that lifted in its entirely to reveal the straight-8 Buick engine mounted amidships.

Timbs Special
The Timbs Special was profiled in ‘Motor Trend’ magazine in the late ’40s | Motor Trend archive

The Timbs Special was an award winner at the Pebble Beach and Amelia Island concours d’elegance, and was even made into a diecast model. It was also a familiar sight at Southern California car shows, its weirdly beautiful design attracting rapt attention everywhere it was shown.

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Norman Timbs was an automotive engineer who helped design the rear-engine Tucker 48. He also sought to create his own unique automotive vision, enlisting skilled body craftsman Emil Diedt to sculpt the Special’s form in aluminum.

Sadly, the aluminum body of the Timbs streamliner with its low melting point is unlikely to have survived the inferno in any recognizable condition.

The loss of the Timbs Special will be keenly felt in the collector car community as it was an evocative link to an exciting time of innovation and invention in the automotive world, particularly among the budding crop of southern California rodders who were discovering the creative possibilities of new-fangled fiberglass.

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Tragic. Saw this car in person. Stunning. A car like this will be restored. Not a question of if, only a question of when. (If not, I’ll buy it 🙂

  2. saddly, there have been so many classics sent on the road to "the kingdom", we have lost some super classics and some cherrished beauties owned by celebs and just your ‘LOCAL" farm boy, or enthusiast… one can only weep over their losses.

    some cars we have never heard of until tragedy strikes,,, whatever happened to the beautiful
    1936 designed "simone", built in 1939 by two brothes, for a client, as a gift i to his fiance,,,,
    i believe the last trace was a clone built from drawings found and what was left of information in a warehouse in europe !!! no-one has mentioned anything since…where is the ‘original’ which ‘disappeared’,, and where is the clone which,also seems to have vanished ?
    t’was a beautiful story of the love of one man for a woman,, this could almost be made into a film.
    such a life…””love my edsel 4 door 58,,(still in its process of rebuild) the colour will be as near as i can get, to "dillinger" which is a beautiful and customised 39 buick,, absolutely superb –looking;;hav’nt seen the inside.so not altogether happy its the best in the world ??

  3. So. so sad. Loosing cars like that….they are like people…they can never be replaced. Modern automobiles can BE replaced as houses can, furniture, and the rest of household furnishing…..but people and rare and historic vehicles cannot. At least we have photographs.

  4. So what engine DID it have then ? According to the charlie who wrote this article it was simultaneously a straight-8 (text) and a V8 (photo caption) – maybe it curled-up in the heat ?

  5. This is a link to our Automotive HISTORY That Should Not Be Lost!
    This is Were this Community Must com together to Rebuild if Possible,or At least a Replica Assembled.

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