THE MOTOR TREND GRAND PRIZE WINNING SEPTEMBER 1953 COVER CAR
1953 FORD VEGA PROTOTYPE ROADSTER
Chassis No. 0001
Silver with cognac leather interior
Engine: V8-60, est. 125bhp, L-head with high performance heads and Iskederian cams, two valves per cylinder, 2 Stromberg carburetors; Gearbox: three speed manual; Suspension: front and rear, solid axles with transverse leaf springs; Brakes: four wheel drum. Left hand drive.
In the early fifties the term 'sports car' was freshly entering the American lexicon and begging for a unique American definition. European sports cars created the frame of reference, but America persisted in defining not only its own terminology, but also its own sports cars. The year-old Motor Trend magazine spotted the trend and the opportunity, issuing a challenge in September 1950 for would-be designers to come up with a body to clothe a Ford Anglia chassis. It was no surprise that almost all the entries took advantage of the Anglia's short 90-inch wheelbase to propose a variety of open roadsters.
Among the entrants was brilliant Vince Gardner, a GM Fisher Body Craftsman guild winner, Gardner started his design career at Auburn working for Gordon Buehrig on the landmark Cord 810. His association with Buehrig continued at Budd, then Studebaker and Ford. His proposal for the Motor Trend contest, the car offered here, won the prize which was a new Ford Anglia and $500. Gardner sought, and got, $8,000 (a huge sum in 1953), in addition to the funding directly from Henry Ford II to complete the car which was built in time for its flowing lines to grace Motor Trend's cover in September 1953.
Gardner christened his sports car 'Vega', based on his initials. Speed equipments pioneer Phil Weiland built the high performance flathead Ford V8-60 with high compression heads, Iskiderian cams and a dual carburetor manifold which drove the narrowed Ford rear axle through the hot rodder's favorite 1939 Ford box with a Lincoln Zephyr gearset. The body was built of aluminum by Gardner and his associate Dave Todd. Details abound, including the chrome rear fender caps with integrated tail lights and the beautifully custom crafted vertical tube grille. The hydraulically operated, concealed headlights are strongly reminiscent of Gardner's first project, the Cord 810. The Vega was a featured exhibit at Ford's Fiftieth Anniversary celebration and no doubt influenced the thinking of its patron, Henry Ford II, during the Thunderbird's gestation.
After langushing unrestored for 40 years among various Detroit area collectors, Vince Gardner's Vega was eventually restored by Fran Roxas, famed for his meticulous classic restorations. Mr. Roxas reported that the Vega was highly complete when he received the car and he was able to utilize much of the car's original equipment. Mr. Roxas recently completed the show quality restoration of this beautiful and important concept car that helped shape America's definition of 'sports car'.
Concept and show cars are recognized for the important contribution they made to develop America's car consciousness. Only rarely does one with the beauty, style and history of Vince Gardner's Vega and the quality of Fran Roxa's restoration become available. The unique Ford Vega Prototype is fully operational and is eligible for numerous long distance touring events and is a welcome entry to many concours events throughout the world. The Vega has been distinguished at Hershey where it won a First Place, and at the prestigous Meadowbrook Concours d'Elegance where it created a sensation as it was fondly remembered by many Motor City executives including Dave Holls, who recalled the Vega's significant influence on Detroit. It deservedly won a first prize and received 'the Best American Sports Car' award.