When hearing the word "fiberglass", most people think of the Chevrolet Corvette, an iconic American sports car with humble beginnings. When Chevrolet wanted to dip a toe into the sports car pond, it knew the production numbers would be low and took advantage of fiberglass' simple and inexpensive construction technique to create a sporty body to sit on top of Chevrolet sedan underpinnings. A cottage industry of limited production sports cars, do-it-yourself kit cars, and replicas soon began and still thrives as a result of the material's ease of use.
Invented in the 1930s, fiberglass was first used as heat insulation before crafty designers and engineers came to recognize its potential as a structural material for everything from car bodies to boats, airplanes, shower and tub enclosures, furniture, lighting, and other products of modern design.
This construction material provided a very accessible way for a new batch of creative auto enthusiasts to build copy or modify the car of their dreams -without any metalworking skills- right in their own driveway. Customizers like Ed Roth took full advantage of the ability of fiberglass to mold to any shape by creating avant-garde hot rods with one-of-a-kind bodies while the rest of the custom car world was using a cut and weld method to modify production cars. This method gave birth to the "Show Rod" genre of custom car building that proliferated in the 1960s and 1970s.
The automotive aftermarket has embraced fiberglass, creating cosmetic, aerodynamic and weight-saving improvements on both race and street-driven vehicles. The material has also been widely used by every automobile manufacturer to enhance the style of their designs, changing Grandma's grocery getter into a full-blown muscle car (or at least the illusion of a muscle car) with scoops, spoilers, air dams, and body kits.
From Corvettes to dune buggies, the most iconic fiberglass customs and production cars of the past half-century will be on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum beginning February 27, 2010, through October 3, 2010. Together, they offer an interesting contrast to both the mainstream cars stamped out of metal that populate our motoring landscape and those made of carbon fiber, the newest wonder material to be embraced by today’s innovators.
The Petersen Automotive Museum Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charity. The Museum is located at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax) in Los Angeles. Admission prices are $10 for general admission adults, $5 for seniors and students with ID, and $3 for children ages 5 to 12. Museum members and children under five are admitted free. Covered parking is available for $2 per half hour with an $8 maximum for Museum visitors. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm. For general Museum information, call 323-964-6347 or visit the Museum’s Web site address at http://www.petersen.org