Old Cars

The Norman E. 1948 Timbs Streamliner Rised from the Ashes

After his home and his collection of 76 unique and rare custom cars, race cars, and other vehicles were destroyed by the Woolsey fire that tore through parts of Malibu in November 2018, Gary Cerveny decided to save just four: two Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts, a belly tanker with sentimental value rather than monetary value, and the 1948 Timbs streamliner.

Less than ten years after Cerveny’s initial restoration, the latter, which he regarded as the collection’s focal point, will soon rise once again.

Although Cerveny’s 21,000-square-foot home and the entire collection were described as a total write-off in media stories published shortly after the fire, enough of the streamliner was still salvageable even though practically the entire aluminum body had melted away. Ironically, Cerveny’s choice to revive the streamliner was motivated by the same set of causes that he accuses of causing the first loss of his property.

He lamented that the L.A. Fire Department had chosen to only respond to emergencies that put lives in danger due to the size of the fires, which had destroyed 1,600 homes in his neighborhood. His residence wasn’t a priority as he and his wife Diane weren’t in the area at the time. The home was on fire for days.

The house and collection might have been spared by any response to the fire. Cerveny is convinced, though, that if water had been sprayed on the fire once it had begun to burn the house, it would have crystallized and perhaps distorted the chassis, rendering it useless. Instead, the remnants of the streamliner cooled gradually, so Cerveny plans to use the chassis Magnaflux as the foundation for his second restoration of the vehicle after having the entire unit evaluated.

In 2002, Cerveny first encountered the 1948 Timbs streamliner when he went to a Barrett-Jackson auction at the Petersen Automotive Museum with the goal of buying a Ferrari for Diane. He occurred to raise his hand in the air as he waited for that Ferrari when the old streamliner that had previously been abandoned rolled onto the block. He admitted, “I didn’t know anything about the car then. I sometimes assist the auctioneers by starting the bidding on a car, so I was talking to a buddy when they suddenly dropped the hammer, at which point my friend informed me that it appeared as though I had purchased the vehicle.

He invested slightly more than $17,000 in it with the idea that he would give it a fast refurbishment and use it for events like automobiles and coffee. He soon learned, however, that he was in possession of a vehicle that “should be one of the most significant automobiles in the hobby… It was a total one-off by a very significant individual who didn’t get the exposure he deserved in his lifetime.”

The work that Timbs did on the Blue Crown Spark Plug Specials, which won the Indianapolis 500 for three years in a row, may make him the most well-known engineer. Or for his several other Indy car designs, such as the Cummins Diesel Special built by J.C. Agajanian and the Howard Keck family. Nevertheless, as Ken Gross noted in the judges’ book for the streamliner, Timbs had a varied career.

He worked as a junior engineer for Preston Tucker, designed a significant portion of the Halibrand catalog, including the company’s renowned quick-change rear axle, contributed to the Davis three-wheeler, and pioneered the use of negative pressure underneath race cars—a technique we now know as ground effects.

Sometime in the middle to late 1940s, he began working on the streamliner for his own benefit rather than with the intention of constructing the concept. He began by welding the 1947 Buick straight-eight in the middle of the 117-inch-wheelbase chassis, which was constructed from four-inch chromoly tubing. The rear suspension was made up of an independent swing axle that Timbs developed around a rigid-mount Packard middle section, while the front suspension was a straightforward Ford beam axle.

Timbs then built a wooden buck for a two-seat roadster body that he imagined would have few to no breaks in its body lines and was inspired by the Auto Union streamliners. No door apertures, separate fenders, hood, or roof, not even. The two-piece body was only made up of the rear half, which raised up on a single hydraulic piston to access the straight eight and spare, and the fixed front section with the cockpit. Timbs only permitted a simple roadster windshield, step plates, chrome bumpers, and a modest grille.

The 1948 Timbs streamliner “must have like a car from outer space,” according to Gross, with a 17.5-foot-long body hammered out of aluminum (in 107 distinct pieces, then welded together) and painted in gold-flaked maroon with a tan leather interior. It was depicted in black and white on the cover of Motor Trend’s second issue and occasionally in other late 1940s and early 1950s periodicals.

But by the time it reached Cerveny, it didn’t appear to be much. Although it still sat on its original chassis and had spent many years being shown or kept outside in California, numerous difficult-to-find pieces had vanished from it. The streamliner underwent a seven-year restoration that culminated in its debut at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2010, subsequent appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2012, and inclusion in numerous Gross-curated art museum exhibits. Fortunately, Cerveny quickly located Timbs’s son, who had a scrapbook of articles and photos on the car.

According to Cerveny’s assessment, the streamliner is in far worse condition this time. Additionally, Custom Auto, a repair shop in Loveland, Colorado, has since closed its doors. And he will need to look for several of those challenging missing components once more, like the hubcaps and the 8,000 rpm Stewart-Warner tachometer made exclusively for race cars.

On the other hand, Rex Rogers, a Custom Auto employee who worked on the car’s initial restoration, has been enlisted by Cerveny to help with the streamliner’s current second restoration. Cerveny made a lot of laser maps of the car’s body during the first restoration, even though Timbs destroyed the original wood bucks for the body after the car was finished.

Aside from the body, Cerveny indicated that almost everything else should be able to be used again for the restoration, including the independent rear suspension that was designed by Timbs. And Cerveny claimed that Hagerty’s prompt response to his claim—the insurance was able to send a cheque within 10 days—was the only positive aspect of the fire’s aftermath. Furthermore, “if I did the car once, I will do it again,” as Cerveny put it,

Cerveny is still planning the project, and he and Rogers don’t anticipate beginning work on the streamliner’s revival until until January 1, 2021. He estimates that once they get going, the restoration will only take 18 to 24 months this time, with the streamliner making another post-restoration appearance at Amelia Island.

Cerveny will also rebuild the house, but he promises to build it this time such that neither it nor the 1948 Timbs streamliner would ever catch fire again.

Quick Recap is below:

In 1948, American engineer and designer Norman Timbs produced the Streamliner, a unique automobile. The Streamliner had a powerful, high-performance engine and had an aerodynamic, futuristic appearance. It was designed to be a quick, luxurious, and spacious long-distance vehicle.

The Streamliner was built on a tubular steel frame and had a fiberglass body fashioned like a bullet. It had a Studebaker V8 engine that was supercharged, allowing it to attain top speeds of more than 150 mph. The interior of the automobile was spacious and comfortable, with capacity for four people and their bags. The Streamliner also featured cutting-edge features like hydraulic brakes and suspension as well as a streamlined dashboard with gauges and buttons.

The Streamliner garnered a lot of curiosity when it was first unveiled in 1948 as a unique and cutting-edge vehicle. Due to the fact that it still has a popular and significant design, collectors and enthusiasts consider it a classic vehicle.

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4 Comments

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