1955 Astra Coupe
|Model History||Auction sales research||Specifications||Body styles and Chassis Data|
Engine/Mechanical Component Photos
Often, these one-off wonders bear strong ties to the national automotive design cultures of their homelands. In Italy, where refinement, elegance, and style were key to the quintessentially Italian car, small carrozzerie crafted stunning bodies with seamless perfection. In the United States, custom shops tended toward the alteration of existing bodies to create new shapes that emphasized the fundamentals of American motoring: speed, power, and freedom. Builders and designers of different lands all had their own ideas on how to best approach the custom car, but everyone seemed to have a goal in common. All customizers, from around the world and throughout time, have sought to forge their emotions in sheet metal and to express themselves with the clarity afforded by a purpose-built automotive creation.
Despite this common aspiration, there have been few well-known custom works to embrace elements of design from across the globe. One man, though, was able to create a vehicle that combined European grace and American attitude in a package that excited auto enthusiasts with its distinctive flair. His name was Jay Everett.
Everett may not have been a prolific car builder, but he had a talent for building and design in general that endowed all of his projects with inherent quality. He was responsible for the classic shape of the Michelob beer bottle, and developed pre-production models for the instantly recognizable Earnes molded chairs. After Everett grew 'tired of looking at lead barges,' he decided to construct an automobile that borrowed from the classics of European design while retaining its Yankee identity and strong ties to the American hot rod scene.
His creation, which came to be called the Astra Coupe, began life in 1952. Everett was living in California at the time, where for a brief time he took classes at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Many fine car designers were emerging from that Pasadena school around the time that Everett attended, placing him at the center of the unbridled imagination of 1950's automotive design. California was, additionally, at the heart of hot rod culture. Everett had a small garage behind his house where he could work, and it was there that the Astra was born amidst a Californian sea of custom creations.
There was much to set the Astra apart from its contemporaries. The vehicle was built almost entirely from scratch when it was most fashionable (at least in the U.S.) to adapt existing cars to the tastes of builders. Everett's Astra had its own exclusive chassis, built by Paul Koonz. This was a framework of triangles constructed of 2.375-inch steel tubing. Atop the chassis, Everett used smaller diameter tubing to define the shape of the car and provide a frame onto which the body would be fastened.
The body of the Astra Coupe was an aluminum skin that had been formed to Everett's design by Jack Sutton and Dennis Powers using an English wheel. The Astra's appearance was too radical to have belonged to a production car. The front pontoon fenders and rear tailfins formed one continuous, relatively horizontal and flat line that swept across the length of the car when viewed from the side. A pronounced fastback roofline and daringly low nose, though, provided visual drama. The proportions of the Astra, with its long nose and short deck, had a European feel to their execution.
When Everett's car first appeared in 1953 at the Petersen Motorama, it had distinctive front and rear grilles made of flat stock and tubing. The radiator was located ahead of the rear grille, an innovative touch. The car was little more than a design study at that time, though, and it is suspected that it didn't even have an engine or driveline installed yet. The racy looking vehicle didn't even have an official name upon its debut. But by 1956, Everett had thoroughly reworked his car. He had made it a drivable, fully functioning automobile with improved interior and exterior design—it was then that the Astra Coupe designation was first officially applied.
By the time the Astra name was adopted, Everett's vehicle had lost its rear grille. A more conventional front-mounted radiator was installed to cool the engine. A chin scoop was created to allow airflow to the radiator, and a hood scoop was also added. The front fenders were shortened, and the chrome rocker panels sprouted small side pipes for engine exhaust. Though the functional grille was gone from the back of the car, the Kamm tail remained and had a ribbed metal façade as a reminder of the old grille. A billet fuel filler was added, a feature that was so far ahead of its time that it would be widely copied decades later by the Audi TT and many others.
The Astra's reworked interior was clean and modern, with a handmade banjo steering wheel placed in front of a gauge cluster whose shape and material mimicked the detail work around the car's headlights. Bucket seats replaced the bench that had originally been fitted, and six artfully arranged gauges emphasized that the Astra had finally become a functioning, useable vehicle.
The Astra's European proportions notwithstanding, its copious metallic detailing and incorporation of a few existing auto parts, such as Chevrolet Fleetline rear glass and '52 Cadillac windscreen, gave it a distinct hot rod feel as well. Also imparting a taste of hard-hitting hot rod was the Astra's 303cid Rocket 88 Oldsmobile V8. This mill was linked to a Lincoln automatic transmission with overdrive, leading to a 1937 Ford tube axle.
The building of the Astra Coupe predated Everett's later contributions to design. The car was clearly the work of a capable craftsman with great potential, and his success in its creation seemed to encourage Everett to continue into the future as an inventive designer. When the Astra was first shown in 1953 (without the 'Astra' nametag attached), Jay Everett was only 25-years-old. It had taken him under two years to ready the vehicle for its debut at the Petersen Motorama, and its substantial updates over the next few years showed Everett's eye for detail and his drive to continuously upgrade his work until it met his high standards. The Astra Coupe survives and will be auctioned at RM's Automobiles of Arizona event on Friday, January 22 with an estimate of $150,000-$250,000.
'Lot No. 242: 1955 Astra Coupe.' RM Auctions Web. 14 Jan 2010.
Shelton, Chris. 'Building the Astra Coupe.' Rod & Custom (2009): Web. 14 Jan 2010.
|Auction Sales Information|
|Auction||RM Auctions - Automobiles of Arizona|
|High Bid (Lot was not sold)||$120,000|
|Auction||RM Auctions - Sports & Classics of Monterey|
|Auction||Mecum - Monterey, CA|
|Mecum - Monterey, CA||Gallery|