Barrett-Jackson has set the standard in presenting exciting, unusual, innovative concept vehicles by major manufacturers, design studios and individual designers. None of them is as distinctly original, creative and predictive of coming trends and features as Bill Flajole’s Forerunner (Lot #5003).
The Fifties were a time of unusual creativity and innovation. The automobile industry —particularly in the U.S. — was vibrant, expansive and confident. Daring themes, individual ideas and dramatic colors were in full flower, featured in auto shows and toured around the world to gauge consumers’ reactions and create a halo of innovation around mainstream products.
Featured on the cover of Motor Trend in September of 1955, the Flajole Forerunner was created by automotive designer Bill Flajole ( pronounced “Flay Jole”), the designer of the Nash Metropolitan among other singular designs. The Forerunner, the result of over 7,000 hours of design and construction, incorporates predictive design elements like its retracting tinted Plexiglas roof, high-back bucket seats and contrasting color fender coves.
Motor Trend featured the Forerunner on the same cover as Ghia’s groundbreaking Gilda design study, but while Gilda was a static display without engine or driveline, the Flajole Forerunner was from inception a fully functional automobile. Sports Cars Illustrated featured the Forerunner in a three-page article in October, 1955.
In 1951 Flajole had completed an assignment for S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. to design a unique promotional car to be used in a promotion of Johnson’s Wax products by Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams. The car was based on a Nash-Healey with minimal modifications, and the limitations of this assignment inspired Flajole to create something more imaginative.
Bill Flajole chose Jaguar’s high-performance 180 horsepower XK 120M chassis for the Forerunner’s basis. While Flajole’s studio was creating the Forerunner’s body, he brought the XK 120M to an SCCA race at Chanute Air Force Base. In the hands of Duncan Macrae, it came home first in class and second overall behind only a Ferrari 212.
The Forerunner’s glass fiber body employs advanced techniques like molded-in open louvers and elaborate compound curves never before attempted in fiberglass. Its high-back bucket seats with head restraints are central elements of the design. Their safety attributes and seatbelts contributed to the design of the fastback roof.
The Forerunner’s distinctive feature is its tinted Plexiglas retracting roof. Plexiglas’ strength, light weight and ability to be formed into complex, distortion-free shapes were essential for aircraft windows and canopies. The Forerunner’s roof slides down into the rear deck, but its transparency also allowed Bill Flajole to place the rear view mirror outside the car above the windshield header where it foreshadowed later designers’ use of periscope optics.
Flajole’s Forerunner parallels the creations of innovative designers like Raymond Loewy, Virgil Exner, Pinin Farina and Ghia, who created concept cars that expressed ideas more advanced than their clients and corporate design studios could attempt. Their independent work ignited the concepts that propelled automobile design in the Fifties and Sixties to unparalleled creativity and imagination.
Bill Flajole used the Forerunner for many years for personal transportation and promoting his successful independent design consultancy, William Flajole Associates. Bill Flajole’s daughter, Diana, who vividly recalls the attention the Forerunner attracted on Sunday morning drives to pick up the newspapers said “A 15-minute drive could stretch into a couple of hours as Dad talked about it with interested passers-by. He loved showing it off….”
The Flajole Forerunner was meticulously restored in its present dramatic colors in the early 1970s, fresh from Bill Flajole’s garage, by Jeff and Sara Tamayo. From there it became one of the long-term stars of the Blackhawk Collection, where it was prominently displayed beside the finest examples of classic era individual coachwork by Farina, Saoutchik, Touring and Figoni & Falaschi. It is extensively documented with articles, family photos of the construction process and its later history recently obtained from the family.
Its high performance XK 120M chassis and compact dimensions give it pleasing driving characteristics. Its dramatic design — teardrop fender coves encompassing the entire wheel wells, fastback tail, wraparound windshield, sliding transparent Plexiglas roof, chrome wire wheels with very Fifties’ white wall tires, broad eggcrate front grille surrounding its concealed headlights and extended front fenders — places it among the great concept vehicles of the Fifties and Sixties. It runs and drives properly, having been maintained and preserved for the last 40 years by a succession of owners who know and care about a car’s performance as well as its appearance.
Bill Flajole remembered it years later in an article for Collectible Automobile: “It was my best job. It really was a beautiful car.”
— By Rick Carey