Gordon Vann's Body Shop

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Bill Irwin's 1949 Ford Convertible, of Pasadena, California was restyled by Gordon Vann's Body Shop in 1952
This photo, taken across the street from Gordon Vann's shop shows an aluminum bodied coupe that Andy Graybeal helped design during the years of 1953-1954. Andy had to leave the project partially designed due to the army. This photo was taken on a weekend pass in the fall of 1954. Photo courtesy of Andy Graybeal.
The coupe was built around a Studebaker firewall, windshield and door mechanism. The rest of the body was inspired by the Ghia concept cars done for Chrysler in the early 1950s Gordon decided that building his own chassis for the coupe wasn't profitable, so he built it on a Kurtis 500K chassis with torsion bar suspension. Photo courtesy of Andy Graybeal.
Gordon Vann's Fiat Abarth. Kit Sagen was Gordon's neighbor in Walnut Creek, and he took this photo in 1961. Kit was just a teenager in 1961, but to his recollection, Vann built the car for himself; "I know he eventually sold it. It was red, and I think aluminum. This was built when sports cars were not mainstream in California but were gaining in popularity with sports car clubs and raceways popping up." Photo courtesy of Kit Sagen.
A rear end shot of Gordon Vann's Fiat Abarth. Photo courtesy of Kit Sagen.

Gordon Vann's Body Shop was an auto body shop in Berkeley, California owned and operated by Gordon Vann. Gordon preferred to not use any lead while doing bodywork and restyling. In addition to being costly, the lead added unnecessary weight to sections of the body. If used in large amounts the lead would tend to throw the body out of balance. Equipped with a torch and hammer, Vann was one of very few body men who could tackle and perform to perfection such jobs without the aid of lead.[1]

In 1953 Gordon gave Andy Graybeal a little office space with a window at the West end of his shop. Andy, who was 20 years old at the time was very interested in auto design, and he had a sketchbook full of designs that he showed Gordon. According to Andy, Gordon was a non-conformist. If you look at his 1917 Dodge roadster, he could have found a number of T-buckets and 1932 Ford radiator shells to use when he built the roadster, but he wanted an original. Andy "marched to the beat of a different drummer as well", and they hit it off, so Gordon asked if Andy might like to try his hand at designing an aluminum coupe he had scheduled to build. Andy remembers the first time he saw Vann's Body Shop. A beautiful Ferrari was parked in the entrance of the building. It belonged to a San Fransisco attorney named Alfred Ducato, and it had been featured in Sports Car Illustrated. It was designed by Vignale and inspired some of Andy's later designs. Inside the shop, over in a corner was a Bentley touring car from the 1930s covered in dust. It was having some work done on it for collector Bill Harrah. Andy worked out of Gordon's shop during the years of 1953-1954. While working out of the shop, he drew plans for a sporty coupe. The coupe was built around a Studebaker firewall, windshield, and door mechanism. The rest of the body was inspired by the Ghia concept cars done for Chrysler in the early 1950s Gordon decided that building his own chassis for the coupe wasn't profitable, so he built it on a Kurtis 500K chassis with torsion bar suspension. It had an early Ford rear end with a torque tube. Due to the Army, Andy had to leave the project partially designed. The coupe was the third custom project while Andy worked out of the shop. The first project was a roadster built on a chassis that was one of Road & Track's Sports Car Design series by Chuck Manning. He remembers the car was being worked on the first time he visited the shop. It was being fabricated by one of the skilled fabricators Vann had on the payroll, and various jigs had been made to facilitate the cutting of the tubing. Once completed, Gordon entered that car in the Golden Gate Park sports car races. The next project never got off the ground while Andy was around. It was a coupe designed so as the owner who was quite large wouldn't feel awkward getting in and out. The coupe was supposed to use the Manning chassis and power from a 1954 Mercury OHV engine. Another project in the shop was an OSCA sports car that was being refinished for its owner Chick Leeson. These little cars came with about 25 lbs of body filler smeared in all the crevices of their aluminum bodywork, typical of low production Italian-cars, and Vann's would strip, metal finish the body and repaint it. Total cost would be around $700.00. A traditional custom car Andy was associated with during his time at Gordon's shop was Brian Burnou's 1953 Chevrolet. Andy wanted the side treatment to slope upward toward the headlight more, but Gordon decided to keep the lower line parallel to the upper line.[2]

By 1955 Vann had given up the business of hot rods and customs and was all into sports cars. At the 1955 National Roadster Show Vann exhibited three cars.[3] These were Warren Gonzales' 1950 Ford, an aluminum-bodied hand-built roadster, and an aluminum body coupe owned by Wayne Smith.[4]

Cars Restyled by Gordon Vann's Body Shop

Bill Irwin's 1949 Ford Convertible
Warren Gonzales' 1950 Ford
Bob Bean's 1951 Ford Victoria
Brian Burnou's 1953 Chevrolet
Gordon Vann's 1955 Ford Thunderbird
Phil Sheehan's 1955 Ford Thunderbird
The XR-6
Gordon Vann's Fiat Abarth



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