Finding Lost Herb Adams “Vivant”
So, in the March 2009 issue of the HCC Lost & Found, which is currently on newsstands and in mailboxes, we included a handful of Robert Werner’s images of his most recent find, an unidentified two-seater with an aluminum body and a Pontiac engine.
It appears that this was a home-built roadster of some kind rather than a factory display car because we searched through all of our references on Pontiacs and show cars and found nothing.
However, home-built roadsters rarely have aluminum bodies, and even when they do, they are rarely embellished with this level of fine craftsmanship. Look at all those lovely curves; not a single hammer mark can be seen.
Even better is found towards the back, where someone clearly took inspiration from Alfa Romeo’s B.A.T. show cars. But since those were from the 1950s and this car appears to have been constructed in the early to mid-1960s, someone must have had the vision of those B.A.T. automobiles in their head for a considerable amount of time before to constructing their own.
But what strikes me as unusual is not the automobile itself, but rather how little people appear to know about it, therefore we’re going to upload more pictures here in the hopes that something about this car will catch someone’s eye.
As always, if you have any information, please post a comment below and we’ll forward it to Robert.
The appearance after renovation
If you didn’t grow up around muscle cars, you might not know the name Herb Adams. Herb graduated from the GM Institute and then worked for GM’s Pontiac division until 1961. In four years, he advanced from air conditioning engineer to plant liaison to managing a test crew at GM’s Milford Proving Ground.
He transitioned from the Proving Ground to Advanced Design under John Z. DeLorean, GM’s newest division chief and the man responsible for the 1964 Pontiac GTO, the first muscle car.
GM’s response to Ford’s 1964–1965 Mustang was Pontiac’s 1967 F-body Camaro. At DeLorean’s request, Adams worked on the Firebird’s suspension and handling. There were sold 82,560 1967 Firebirds.
Adams made his wooden 1:12 scale model into a real car after entering it in the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild design competition when he was a young man. The Alfa Romeo Berlinetta Aerodynamica Technicas (B.A.T.) designs created by Franco Scaglione and manufactured by Carrozzeria Bertone in the early 1950s were the inspiration for Adams’ open-top roadster design. Fins that were comparable but more restrained emerged from the two grille holes and curled inward at the back.
Using materials from a junkyard, including a Pontiac Super Duty axle, Adams built the tubular, space-frame chassis 63-0001 at home. Its front suspension was a four-link torsion bar, much like the VW. independent shocks, coils, and three rear links.
Adams chose a 1958 Pontiac 6.1L 370-cubic-inch V8. The 370 “Trophy” had a bore and stroke of 4-1/16 (103.2 mm and 3-1/4 (82.6 mm, respectively). The engine was 650 lbs. heavy.
The offer of fuel injection was later dropped. Adams’ engine was a Ray Nichols-built “Super Duty” 370 with a Carter 4bbl carb made for NASCAR. 405 horsepower were produced by Adams’ $75 engine. powered by a 4-speed manual Muncie.
Vivant, the French word for “alive or vivacious,” has eight lugs. These 8-lug Pontiac wheels were produced in 1960 by Kelsey-Hayes Wheel Co. Iron-lined brake drum and finned aluminum hub.
The hub is held together by 5 lugs. truly strange Firestone Wide Oval E70-14 tires up front and back. Adams was assisted in creating the all-aluminum body by three British residents of Detroit.
Former Rolls-Royce employees John Glover, Jack Henser, and Harry Kennedy operated Proto Products in Troy, Michigan, where they built racecars for “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and “TV Tommy” Ivo. According to Adams, the gang created the body at a modest cost to showcase their metalworking abilities.
Unfortunately, following the 1966 Detroit Autorama, Adams sold the Vivant. He listed the car for $4,500 in the October 1968 issue of HOT ROD Magazine.
Investors discovered the car in Ohio after it had been missing for 40 years. Jake Yenny of JEM Motorworks in Loveland, Colorado, was hired to rebuild it after Dr. Mark Brinker of Houston, Texas, purchased it. “I immediately contacted Adams, and a friendship grew,” stated Dr. Brinker.
When I told him I wanted to show the car at Pebble Beach, he was thrilled and got involved in the restoration, providing important information.
Recent images show a very simple instrument panel made of laminated metal. The Brinker model has two nacelles divided by a large transmission tunnel and is more finished and factory-like. The hood addition blends well with the grooved aluminum. Oil pressure, water temperature, amperes, and fuel gauges are located on the center console.
The color palette is enhanced by NOS ‘Twin Blue’ Stewart-Warners from the early 1960s. The blue version of Adams’ original white bucket seats. The steering wheel, steering column, and seat belts are all NOS GTO Sports Coupe components.
The Vivant won first place in the category of 1960s American Dream Cars at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance after two years and 4,000–5,000 hours of repairs.
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