Following the Tracks of the Glas GT in America

The train stops for a smoke break every few hoursAxel Coelln told me that he would really like to travel through America by train and visit the west coast.  I was fired up right away.   We also would visit as many Glas Club members in the USA as possible.  It would be a unique experience: 3000 miles by train, 2200 miles with a convertible along the west coast, and then back again by plane to New York.

The day finally came on October 8, 2013 when I flew in to New York and the next day began the train trip to Chicago.  Once we arrived there, we took a well-known train, the Empire Builder, over the Rocky Mountains to Portland, Oregon.  In barely just three days we completed the trip in a sleeping car and a sightseeing car.  It was an impressive journey filled with different types of landscape.

Axel in the sightseeing carAt our destination we picked up our rental car: a red Chevrolet Camaro convertible—wow!  After we had just gotten the car we were off to our first meeting, with Glas Club member David Rives, who came with his white 1700 GT, and Ted Davis, who owns a BMW 1600 GT.   We met at the Widmer Brothers Brewpub, a German-inspired restaurant with its own brewery.  After an American beer and a little refreshment we headed to the home of David Rives.


I never leave my Glas alone

 Beautiful GLAS GT from David Rives

David Rives is an old friend of ours, since he has already been to several Glas meets in Germany.  He loves his car and will never leave it parked on a street out of his sight.  He bought the car ten years ago.  The chassis and interior are in a very good condition.  Once a few details get taken care of it will be a nice car to show.  We inspected the car and showed him what could be improved.  We promised him that we would help to get the missing parts.  Finally, he showed us his collection of literature which included a lot of newsletters from the earlier American Glas Club.  That’s not all he collects, he also has an enormous record collection.

Fully motivated, David under the GLASDavid is an English teacher and studied a few semesters in Freiburg, Germany.  German is not a problem for him.  In the meanwhile he is working as President of a large teachers union.  We had an enjoyable time with him.  When we dropped by the next day, he was so motivated from our visit that he was already lying under his Glas and fixing his exhaust system.  Afterwards, all of us went to see Ted Davis.




A boyhood dream becomes reality

Ted Davis was already inspired by the BMW 1600 GT as a young man and showed us his brochure collection from his younger days.  Buying a BMW GT several years ago fulfilled his boyhood dream.   The finish was completely stripped, a few spots were welded, and then it was perfectly repainted in original color.  Ted puts a lot of value on getting his car in absolutely original condition.  We also helped him to get the parts he needed.  Apart from that, Ted sells mobile homes—he has a company for beautiful models from Airstream.  He was a member earlier and has now joined the club again.

Redwood ForestThe next day was for sightseeing and we visited the Redwood Forest.  We were met by gigantic trees, some over 1000 years old.  In one area they were so densely packed together that instead of daylight it was pitch black in the forest.  Then we drove further south and left Oregon.  In California we visited Napa Valley, a sunny valley where German immigrants discovered wine-growing.  The region is very famous, visited by many tourists, and the wine is excellent and well-known.  Afterwards, we traveled further south to where Bill Watson awaited us.



Bill Watson- racing is his passion

Bill runs a tuning shop for historic BMW cars of the 70’s and 80’s, located on the racetrack at Sonoma, about 50 km north of San Francisco.  He owns three Glas 1700 GTs which all are in need of restoration.  He wants to retrofit them to BMW engineering.  He loves the Glas style, but the BMW engineering.

Bill Watson and his motor with 245 hpWe told him that it is very complex to install complete BMW engineering in a Glas, but he explained to us that he already was aware of that.  By the end of our visit we knew that Bill was in a position to undertake these kinds of modifications.  First he showed us several friendly shops right nearby that restored historic cars.  There was a 2.3 liter 4-cylinder BMW M10 engine on the test stand that put out 245 HP.  This was this kind of motor he wanted to install in the Glas.

In the next shop, we met Tom and a partner, who repair old Formula 1 cars.  Familiar names like Mario Andretti or Ayrton Senna sat earlier in the cockpits.  I asked both where the replacement parts came from.  They both laughed, “We make them ourselves.”

Then we went on to see Jon Ennek.  There were some gorgeous treasures on exhibit in his shop, which he and his team restored.  On display were many Bugatti T 35s, a quite rare Bugatti Atlante, and further on a rare Lancia Aurelia B24 convertible.  There were Formula 1 cars there too.  Two Chevrons were already finished for a race and were ready to be delivered the next day.  It is hard to list all the cars that that were assembled here because it was such an incredible collection.

AlcatrazNext Bill accompanied us into his own shop.  There was a BMW 2002, a beautiful BMW E9 race coupe, and a 3 series BMW race car, all in the white BMW racing color.  Bill showed us Formula 1 and M3 motors which he had rebuilt into new condition.  He picked up a titanium piston that was lying nearby that cost $1500.  Many parts were individually constructed.  He has the knack for combining parts from different models to improve an individual motor.  It was a long and memorable evening for us.

We reached San Francisco the next day.  As we crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge and entered the city, the famous bridge was encased in fog.  We were not surprised by this because there are even postcards of the foggy bridge, but later we had the chance to experience the bridge in all its glory.  You can spend days and days in San Francisco, but we did not have a lot of time and limited ourselves to just the essentials.  That included a city tour in an open top double-decker bus, a visit to Pier 39 with its well-known seals, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Lombard Street, full of curves and flowers with cars weaving down its steep incline.  There was an impressive view of the famous prison at Alcatraz, nowadays a national museum.  We skipped getting on a cable car after we saw the hour-long line.   The next morning we drove on to see Andrea Moore.

That’s my baby

There is still some work to be done

The Glas GT 1700 of Andrea Moore: how does a young woman come to a car like this?  That was our question as we visited Andrea, her mother Judy, and her partner Doug nearby San Francisco.  We were heartily welcomed by the family and Andrea told us that two years ago she and Doug had visited a friend who owned the Glas.  Andrea immediately fell in love with it and the friend gave it to her.  She joined the Glas Club and would like to drive the car very much.  The chassis is in very sound condition and only needs a pair of small welds.  However, the entire car needs to be restored.  We’re looking for someone in the area with the technical knowledge who can help her with the project, since the family has no experience in this.  Her mother, Judy, showed us a wonderful 1934 Ford V8 Coupe in the garage that was fully driveable.  She had inherited it from her mother and drove it to classic car meets.

Yosemite National Park We left San Francisco and then drove to Yosemite National Park in the interior.  At the entrance we saw vast areas of charred and damaged trees.  Just a few weeks before, a forest fire had wreaked its devastation.  Soon after that, we arrived in a fantastic valley, enclosed by cliff walls.  This wonderful densely forested area is visited by many tourists, so we were lucky to get a room in the park.

The next day we drove high up to Glaciers Point.  From there we had a stunning view over the entire valley.  Finally, we went on to Mariposa Grove and saw very old and thick sequoia trees, a type of redwood.  Once more we admired gigantic trees that had lived for hundreds of years.  Next we went on to see Kathleen und Tom Kerber in Merced.




On a honeymoon in a 1700 GT

Tom Kerber astounded us with his story about buying his Glas at the end of 1967, making him one of only two known original owners in the USA.  His friend worked for Harons Motor Sales, and when that import dealer got the new Glas 1700 GT in the showroom, it caught Tom’s attention.  He liked the great design and the instrumentation so much that he immediately bought the car.

Wedding in a GLASHe married his wife Kathleen in May 1968 and used his Glas as the wedding car.  Overnight, his brother-in-law, as was the old custom, wrapped the whole car in toilet paper.  Tom didn’t care for that at all.  He was so furious that when he ripped off all the paper, he damaged the antenna.  Otherwise, the couple had a lot of fun with their Glas and people would marvel at the unknown car with the classy looks wherever they went.  Tom drove the car daily up until 1978, always bringing it to a shop near San Francisco that worked on German cars.  However, one day the timing belt jumped and then the car just sat for 35 years in his garage, even moving along with the family a few times.  Tom joined the American Glas Club because he hoped to get parts.  He has been a member of our club since 2005 and would like to repair his motor and get the car in driveable condition.

After a pleasant evening together, we drove past huge vegetable and fruit fields the next day to the coast and took the famous Highway 1 toward Los Angeles.  This road is fantastic.  It is full of such different kinds of plant life, and it twists along for miles between mountains and the ocean.  Shortly before Los Angeles we traveled further inland, first through a fantastic desert area, where we barely saw any cars, and then up to the mountains.  After a few hours, we met up with Steve Smashey in Cuddy Valley.

46 years in original hands

Steve SmasheySteve Smashey is the original owner of his Glas 1700 GT and lives on his ranch among a beautiful landscape in the middle of the mountains, where he met us at the entrance.  First we sighted a Ford pickup with a flathead 8-cylinder built in 1940.  The 73 year old vehicle was completely covered in surface rust, but was still driveable and original, with a glorious patina.  Steve still drives it daily and bought it from the original owner.

The Glas GT 1700 was parked in the barn next door.  It was in very good running condition.  He had driven it daily for many years and then stored it away.  Eight years ago he pulled it out and got it back into running condition.  He has a lot of other hobbies, namely racing a superfast car on the salt flats. It won the record for the fastest vehicle in its class with its 4-cylinder motor.

We spent a few hours with him while he told us the story of his Glas.  We will report on that later in our Glas GT special issue.  Later in the afternoon we had to be on our way over to see Ray Marson.


25 cars await Roy Marson

GLAS 1700 GT

About 30 miles from Los Angeles, Roy and his wife, Carol, live on a huge piece of land, most of which he has rented to a nursery.  At the entrance were a rare DKW 1000 Universal and two Citroën ID 19 Breaks with appropriate patina. Roy gave us a hearty greeting and then led us on a tour of his property, where he’s stored 25 vehicles.  The cars were in all kinds of condition, most of which require a lot of work to restore.   The Glas 1700 GT was in a garage, and Roy had washed it especially for us.  He had bought it in 2002 for $1100 and tried to get it running.  On a visit to Germany in 2005, he took his carburetor to Dingolfing to have it looked at, but he did not have enough time and brought back it home.  In the U.S. he found a specialist who rebuilt carburetors.  After that, he installed a different transmission and drove the car to Mexico, where he got the interior and the headliner replaced in one day.   However, he was soon busy at work, so the Glas got put back into storage.  Now Roy has retired and would like to restore the Glas.  After we had dinner together, we left him and drove directly to Los Angeles the next morning.

Shops on Rodeo DriveThe highway had six lanes on either side, and was completely jammed with traffic for kilometers ahead of us.  They have devised a system where vehicles with more than one occupant can use an express lane and drive past the long line of idling cars.  That was a big help to us and we could now see the extent of the traffic chaos.  Los Angeles indeed has some of the largest traffic volume in the world.  The city sprawls out through its suburbs for 1,200 square km.  The public transportation system is not well developed, so everyone drives his own car and encounters huge traffic jams.  The people here are resigned to it since they really are not familiar with any other way. 

The wealth of the city was on display with the wonderful villas in Beverley Hills and many other neighborhoods.  In the heavily jammed traffic you could discover, again and again, beautiful old Ferraris, Maseratis, Porsches, and a lot more.  We drove on the famous streets like Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard, where we visited the entrance to the Chinese Theater.  There we saw the hand- and footprints of the famous actors immortalized in concrete.  Rodeo Drive was lined with expensive shops in which many women would enjoy taking a look.

1,000 miles in 40 years

In Santa Ana, about 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles, we met Tom Lansberry.  A friend of his had bought the car new in 1967.  Later, he sold it to another friend who wanted it for his wife.  At that time the car was not running because the fan had destroyed the radiator.  Tom helped to fix the car and get it on the road.  The wife wanted the car repainted from the original white to silver, so that was done.   Unfortunately, the wife had an operation and could no longer shift a manual transmission.  Tom bought the Glas in 1973.  At that time it showed 35,200 miles on the odometer.  Today, 40 years later, the car has been driven 36,284 miles! 

Over time, the silver metallic finish peeled off and Tom got it painted again in the original white.  His house was built in 1975 and the Glas moved into the garage, where it spent many years intact.  It always remained registered and could be driven at any time.  The garage caught fire in 2005 and the paint was damaged, so Tom had black primer applied to it.  The windshield was also destroyed in the fire, so a Plexiglas windshield was installed because there were no Glas windshields available in the USA.  Up to now he still cannot decide which color it should be and he would like to sell the car.

We took the car on a test drive.  The motor ran great and was very smooth.  The chassis looked rust free.  A few bubbles on the hood could be the result of a failed paint job.  Parts on the rest of the car, for example, all the rubber parts, have to be replaced or rebuilt.  In conclusion, it offers a good foundation that does not require welding, but otherwise it needs a lot of work and a paint job.

Going to see a Karmann Ghia

There was just one more visit left in California, to see Peter und Doreen Friedrichsen.  Peter was an earlier member of the Glas Club and owned the yellow Glas 1300 GT that Chris Wider later bought.  He emigrated from Germany and ran a Volkswagen agency in Los Angeles.  He lives with his family in the mountains near Los Angeles.  He was not able to show us a Glas any longer, but he did show us a beautiful 1959 VW Karmann Ghia convertible that he had given to his wife in the early 1960s.  The car was in original condition with an attractive patina.  We spent a nice afternoon with the couple and enjoyed a great dinner.

Farewell to California

We saw so much on our tour and met a lot of nice people who are connected by Glas cars and the club.  We are really left with many impressions that are beyond words. Unfortunately we could not visit more members since there was not enough time.  On Sunday, October 10, 2013, we flew back to New York.  Then we drove to Norwalk, 50 miles east of New York City, to Axel Coelln’s home.

Axel—over 20 years in the Glas Club

Here Axel livesAxel Coelln came to the USA from Germany in 1967 and has since become an American citizen.  In 1967, as a twenty-year-old, he bought his first car, a Glas Isar.  When he discovered a Glas GT 1700 in a junkyard in 1990, it reminded him about Glas and he bought the car.  He joined the club in 1991 and came to his first club meet in Saalfelden.  Since then he has been to many club meets and is our longest club member in the USA.  He helps all the Glas enthusiasts in the USA where we have since grown to 20 members.

He completely restored his Glas 1700 GT and has since then sold it.  In its place, he found a Glas 1300 GT convertible in 1996, and has restored it to perfect condition.  In addition he also bought a BMW 1600 GT with a sunroof, rare in the USA, in 2009 and has gotten it into very nice condition.  I have been good friends with Axel for over 20 years and that is how this extraordinary trip came about.  But it still was not over.  After a short stay, we headed to Boston.

100 cars and more


Charles and his Maicomobil  


First we met Charles Gould, who we visited last year.  You will remember the report in the Glas Club Newsletter 105, where we took an Amphicar out on a lake.  Charles had already cleaned out both his garages and reorganized them.  There were some new arrivals to his car collection.  This year we drove a Citroen DS 20 with semi-automatic transmission on our way to lunch.  It was a new experience to use the shifter on the steering column to start a car.  We said “goodbye” and drove an hour to meet Chris Wider in Norfolk, Massachusetts. 


Chris’s comfortable abode

GLAS 1300 GT 1965Chris has a wonderful old house that has been restored and is filled with great old furnishings.  In the barn he keeps two donkeys and a big family of chickens.  In the garage there is a Porsche 912, a Porsche 914, a Nash Metropolitan, a Vespa 400, a VW 181 (called  the  “Thing” in America), and a yellow Glas GT 1300.  All are beautifully restored.  He is waiting for a pair of Goggomobils which are being restored to similar high levels.  We ate dinner with Chris and spent a night at his home.  The next morning we returned to Norwalk.

Finally, our grand trip had come to an end.  I stayed a few more days with Axel and then flew back to Munich at the beginning of November.  I returned with a lot of great memories that I have described here.

Uwe Gusen

Translation in English: David Rives

Fotos: Axel Coelln, Uwe Gusen