If you love cars that come with stories, the Pick of the Day comes with a humdinger. The car is being advertised on ClassicCars.com by a dealer in St. Louis, Missouri, as a “1957 Custom Automobile,” but it’s actually the Vignale-designed — and by none other than Giovanni Michelotti — Bill Frick Special GT Coupe.
“To anyone involved in the burgeoning American sports car scene in the 1950s, Bill Frick is a legendary character,” the dealer reports. “As early as the 1930s, Frick was stuffing big engines into small cars, and gearheads soon came to know him as ‘the king of engine swaps’.”
At some point, Frick connected with racing driver Phil Walters, “a hotshoe driver known for his wild, aggressive style and who raced under the pseudonym ‘Ted Tappett’ to keep his family from discovering his dangerous hobby. The two men made a successful pairing, with Frick turning wrenches and Walters doing the driving.”
The pairing did well enough to launch Frick-Tappett Motors in Rockville Center, New York, doing sports car sales, repair, engine swaps and race prep.
“In 1949, Cadillac introduced the new 331 cubic-inch OHV V8 engine,” the dealer picks up the story. “Despite it being saddled by heavy bodies, Frick immediately saw the engine’s potential, and shoved a 331 into a considerably lighter 1949 Ford chassis, and the ‘Fordillac’ was born. One notable early customer was Briggs Cunningham, who bought a Fordillac after seeing one tear up a hillclimb event in Connecticut.
“Cunningham was so impressed by Frick’s work that he purchased Frick-Tappett motors, relocated it to Florida, and hired Bill to prepare the team’s Cadillac-powered machines for the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans. Walters, incidentally, served as a driver and team manager.”
Those cars would be the now-famous Cadillac Spyder and Type 61 Sedan de Ville.
“While Le Mans was not a favorable result (Le Mans records show the De Ville finished 10th and the Spyder 11th), the team achieved 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.”
Frick left Cunningham’s Florida operation to return to New York and build cars under the Bill Frick Motors banner. One of his projects was to put a Cadillac powerplant into 1953 Studebaker coupes, the result dubbed the “Studillac.”
He not only swapped engines, he redid parts of the chassis, suspension, brakes and steering so the car could deal with the V8’s output. Not only were there customers, but Ian Fleming included a Studillac in Diamonds are Forever.
The dealer reports that Frick was much less impressed with the 1955 redesign of the Studebaker, so he removed the body, installed heavy-duty suspension and sent the chassis to Vignale.
“When it returned,” the dealer notes, “it was dressed in beautiful new coachwork designed by the great Giovanni Michelotti. Despite the promise of the high-performance chassis and wonderful Italian coachwork, the project was fraught with complexities, and Frick threw in the towel after just two coupes and a cabriolet.”
One coupe was a prototype, the other the GT coupe that is the Pick of the Day.
“The $9,000 grand tourer was ordered new by Mr. John Blodgett Jr., a fabulously wealthy heir to a Michigan lumber fortune,” according to the dealer’s research. “He wanted to enjoy an open-air motoring experience but preferred the looks and handling of a coupe, so he specified a full slide-back fabric sunroof. He also requested a Pont-a-Mousson 4-speed manual gearbox, against Frick’s recommendation.
“Period photos show the car left Vignale finished in a striking light-blue livery with a black roof, light blue-gray leather interior, and dressed with wide-whitewall tires and elaborate wheel covers. Frick later updated it to Borrani wire wheels.
“The robust history file shows that Mr. Blodgett owned the Frick GT into the mid-1960s when he gifted it to his secretary and her husband. By 1970, it transferred to its 3rd owner, Mr. Emmett Boitz of Monmouth, Oregon. By then, the light-blue paint was looking a little shabby, so he repainted the car silver.
“After three years with the Frick Special, Boitz passed it to fellow Oregonian Earl Benz, who rarely used the car, and kept it tucked away until the late 1980s. In 1989, it was repainted its current red with a black roof and sold to Michael Pomerance of Massachusetts. He recognized the car’s significance and spent years corresponding with Bill Frick and others to document the car’s remarkable history, as well as sparing little expense preserving it.”
The dealer reports the car is in “marvelous condition,” apparently driven only 41,000 miles since new.
The car rides on the Borrani wheels Frick selected, has “Bill Frick Special” badges, and gray leather seats “displaying a wonderful careworn character.
“Details like the SW gauges and Magic Aire ventilation system hint at its Studebaker roots, while the 3-spoke alloy Nardi steering wheel is pure coachbuilt Italian magic.
“Mechanically, the Frick GT is in excellent condition, thanks to consistent care and maintenance, and the robust nature of its underpinnings. The Cadillac V8 is believed to be the original and is backed by a Pontiac-sourced T-10 4-speed, fitted by Frick to replace the troublesome Pont-a-Mousson.
“Engineered by the legendary Bill Frick, designed by Michelotti, and built at the storied Vignale workshops, the Bill Frick Special GT is bursting with motoring history,” the dealer adds.
The one-off car with its wonderful story and amazing history is being offered for $325,000.