To anyone involved in the burgeoning American sports car scene in the 1950s, Bill Frick is a legendary character. 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.” Customers soon came knocking to have Frick built their racing cars. In the local oval-racing scene, he met 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. They eventually formed Frick-Tappett Motors on Sunrise Highway in Rockville Center, NY, dealing in repair, race prep, engine swaps, and sports car sales.
In 1949, Cadillac introduced the new 331 cubic-inch OHV V8 engine. 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. While Le Mans was not a favorable result, 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 soon returned home to New York to resume his car-building activities as Bill Frick Motors. He became enamored with the new 1953 Studebaker coupe but was equally unimpressed by its anemic 120 horsepower engine. Naturally, this led to his latest project – the Cadillac-powered “Studillac.” Much more than just an engine swap, Frick modified the cross members, suspension, transmission tunnel, brakes, and steering to handle the additional power of the Caddy V8. By 1953, the Cadillac V8 was making 210 horsepower in stock form - and very few Studillacs left Frick’s shop with stock engines! The Studillac had searing performance to match the beautiful looks, and orders came pouring in. It became a highly exclusive and eminently desirable performance machine, and it even featured in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, Diamonds are Forever.
When Studebaker unveiled a considerably less graceful design in 1955, Frick went looking elsewhere for his next project. He shipped a Studillac chassis outfitted with heavy-duty dampers, springs, track bars, and anti-roll bars off to Vignale in Italy for a bespoke body. When it returned, 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.
Offered here is the one and only Bill Frick Special GT Coupe. Frick completed three cars – a prototype, a convertible, and this single “production” GT. The $9,000 grand tourer was ordered new by Mr. John Blodgett Jr., a fabulously wealthy heir to a Michigan lumber fortune. 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.
Today, the Bill Frick Special remains in marvelous condition, showing just over 41,000 miles and with its older repaint remaining in fine order. The original bumpers and exterior trim are in place, and details include the Borrani wheels fitted early in the car’s life, bespoke “Bill Frick Special” badges, and quad-tip sports exhaust. The original gray leather upholstery is beautifully preserved, 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. Its availability represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to add this genuinely unique Grand Tourer to your stable, where it is sure to be a standout.
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