In 1950, the Ford Motor Company decided to hitch its wagon to the unpredictable whirlwind known as Motor Trend. They hatched a wild notion that the unwashed masses should have a voice in the sacred arena of automotive design. And when you’re dealing with Joe Public, why not squeeze every last drop of marketing juice out of the squeezebox, right?
Thus, the seeds of a madcap competition were sown. Motor Trend tossed out the challenge: Submit a body design that could snugly drape itself over an Anglia chassis. A jury of automotive luminaries, including the likes of Frank Kurtis, Walt Woron, and Lynn Rogers, would serve as the gatekeepers, the judges of destiny. The grand prize? A modest sum of $500 to set your design dreams in motion. But here’s the kicker – those who dared to dream and win were contractually bound to manifest their vision into tangible reality.
In this carnival of creativity, one Vincent E. Gardner came charging in like a bat out of hell. He brandished two photographs of a scaled model, a visual masterpiece, and an artistic rendering of a low-slung, sleek, and downright sexy design. The judges, clearly swept away in a maelstrom of admiration, declared the VEGA (Vincent E. Gardner) as the undisputed champion.
But $500 was pocket change in a world of big dreams and even bigger ambitions. So, enter stage left, Henry Ford II, the man with a wallet as deep as the Mariana Trench. He gallantly stepped in and agreed to bankroll the rest of the spectacle – a princely sum of almost $10,000. Emil Deidt, the master of form, took up the mantle of crafting the body, while none other than Phil Weiand, the wizard of horsepower, handled the heart of the beast – a flathead powerplant hot-rodded with his signature heads and intake.
When the VEGA emerged from this automotive alchemy, it graced the cover of the September 1953 issue of Motor Trend. The people reveled in Vince’s creation, and he, in turn, toyed with the notion of offering it in a kit form with fiberglass bodies. But alas, Ford had their own designs on this siren of the asphalt, parading it ceaselessly for their promotional pleasure. Vince never quite got around to making those molds, and his design career rocketed into the stratosphere, leaving the VEGA in the dust.
For five decades, the VEGA slumbered, waiting for a savior. Along came John Muir, who gallantly attempted to breathe life back into the beast during his spare hours, only to find himself running on empty. The car exchanged hands more times than a hot potato at a carnival, until it fell into the clutches of Fran Roxas, the illustrious Cadillac maestro. Under his command, the VEGA rose from the ashes and was reborn.
In 2006, the VEGA was sold at the Barret-Jackson auction for a staggering $385,000, a testament to the enduring madness and magic of the thing… I’m not sure where it is now who owns it, but it’s hard to argue against the lines and even the idea of the competition.