The Mabee Special: Part 2
It didn’t take long after writing part 1 before I was contacted by the current owners and restorers of the Mabee Special. While I got the history of the car right, I missed some really important details about the car’s saviors – Jim and Lea Ann Robinson. As the owners and restorers of the very special car, I thought they deserved their own time on the Journal. As such, I penned a quick interview.
TJJ: Where and when did you stumble across the Mabee Special?
Jim & Lea Ann Robinson: We had gone to El Paso, Texas to visit a friend who had been transfered there to open a plant in Mexico. Well my friend, Mike Downey, is a real motor head just as I; and one day we went out looking for old cars where ever we could find some. You see, both of us had grown up in the rust belt, Indiana, and anything in the fifties or later with minimal rust is to us – miraculous. Well, Mike had already seen the car sitting behind a mechanic’s garage. So after a while, we stopped by to see it. Looking through a chain link fence, we could tell she had really been something in her day. Discarded and forgotten, she was still sporting a one off aluminum body, a round tube ladder bar frame, a Kurtis front suspension, as well as torsion bar rear suspension, knock off hubs, early Halibrand double spot disc brakes, and more. We knew she had been a very special girl in her day.
After much discussion, speculating, and how it must have been racing, Mike and i went into the mechanics garage and asked him about it. He had some history on it from the beginning until her long hibernation in Mexico. Luckily, many of the principals of the day were still alive who recognized her and verified who she was. That evening on our way to a fine dinner, we stopped by with our wives to show them this Cinderella. I told my wife, “Wow, what a cool project this would be with all her (the car’s) history and all.” The owner said she was for sale, the price was reasonable, and my wife said, “She looks pretty rough to me.” Well, a few days later after we talked about it a few more times, a deal was made, and she was on her way to Indiana; and my wife and i were on a journey with Miss Mabee that has lead us to some amazing places and many new friendships.
TJJ: Was most of the research done or were your heads buried in old magazines and race results for a while?
Jim & Lea Ann Robinson: Much of the work had already been done by Bruce Gross as is evidenced by his article in Victory Lane Magazine. We have found more and we are finding more all the time. Shortly after purchasing the car we were fortunate enough to interview Ray Brown, the engine builder; Denny Larsen, the car builder; and Joe Mabee was gracious to tell many interesting stories of his father, Guy, and of his experiences with the car at Bonneville. Each gentleman had photos of the car the other did not have.
Also, in 2003 with the car unfinished, we took the car to Bonneville for it’s fiftieth anniversary. While there, a gentleman by the name of James Moore said he had photos of the car at Bonnneville in ’53 as he was there with his uncle. He had some tremendous black and whites. If anyone on the H.A.M.B. has any photos or knowledge of the car, i would certainly appreciate hearing from them. There is always more to learn.
TJJ: Research done. It’s time to start the restoration process. How did that go for you guys? Any specific challenges that you can remember?
Jim & Lea Ann Robinson: Finding an original Victress body was the most difficult part. It took two years of dedicated searching to find one. Then we had to buy a whole car just for the body. Since then, I have come across about a dozen of them. Go figure. When you’re looking for something in particular they are never to be had, but stop searching and then you are falling over them. A friend of mine did all the tig welding, the engine was professionally rebuilt, a former IRL fabricator in our area helped to align the chassis with the engine and set some other components correct after asking him to check our work. Most all of the body work and paint your see on the car was done by myself with the help of friends at a few crunch times, and my wife supported and propped me up many times throughout the restoration. Most of the remainder of the parts were found relatively easily.
TJJ: The Mabee car saw a few different looks throughout its life. How did you decide on the early look with the Halibrand wheels?
Jim & Lea Ann Robinson: We loved the Bonneville look and the color with the lettering and all. In 1954 it went back to Bonneville, but this time it was wearing knockoffs. Anyway, how could you resist the knockoff look it had had at one point… Just the cool factor. The Hemi was a no brainer… just the cool
factor. The fuel injection is well… just the cool factor.
TJJ: What are the plans for the future? Was there any consideration towards racing the car again?
Jim & Lea Ann Robinson: Well, we went to the Amelia Island Concours and the Ault Park Cincinnati Concours this spring. I would never have imagined going to places like that with a car. Of course, we would like to vintage race it and the thrills of being at the Monterey Historics and at Goodwood would be… well… ah… gosh… would be so very, very cool. Oh yes, and what about Pebble Beach? Hmmm. Do i have to wake up now?! We may have some museum invitations in the works, but the real deal is getting Miss Mabee out and about with the pipes a ‘roarin’, the sun gleaming off her blonde hues, and the feeling of another forgotten lady being reintroduced to society.