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						Damilla Spl 1
Testament to Resourcefulness

1953 Damilla Special Roadster

By Dean Larson

Photos: Seller, eBay

Sentimental, nostalgic, recollective and so on. Call it what you will, but a huge percentage of people feel a certain fondness for the past, even if they didn’t live through the period of time in question. Car guys (and gals) in particular honor the decades passed for the soulful vehicles that were once available, and a generally freer motoring experience unhinged from traffic jams, traction control, speed cameras, sky-high fuel prices and the like. After all, who can say they wouldn’t like to strap on their goggles and leather driving gloves, and hop in a little open-top classic roadster for the day just for the sake of driving. It was likely this sort of feeling, combined with a love for sports racing cars of the 1950s, which led an enthusiast named Ron Lawless to build the delightful Damilla Special in the mid 1990s.

Ron felt most inspired by the Fantuzzi-bodied Maserati A6GCS spyder, but knew a real one was out of the question, so he embarked on the admirable quest to construct his own. He knew of a re-creation kit that was available, but it wasn’t everything he wanted it to be. Not willing to cut corners, Ron eventually purchased a fiberglass spyder body from the Maserati parts supplier MIE, as it exhibited the right proportions (allegedly splashed off the real deal), and his build was under way.

Only a clean-sheet, purpose-built frame would do the replica bodywork justice, so Ron contacted Specialty Cars of Artesia, who constructed a square-tube chassis for the build. The company also constructed a superleggera-type framework to support the bodywork on the chassis, much like the original. A narrowed Ford 9-inch axle was used in the rear and the ever-adaptable Ford Mustang II front suspension was used up front. But to more accurately capture the feel of the period, drum brakes from a ’65 Comet were affixed.

Back in the 1950s, Maserati started with a single overhead cam six-cylinder in the A6GCS, before adopting a more powerful 170 hp, 1,985 cc dual overhead cam engine in 1953. But of course, you just don’t find these engines lying around for cheap, not even back in the ’90s, so Ron sought a comparable replacement. Displacing 2.4 liters with 150 hp, triple carburetors and the requisite straight-six soundtrack, a 1973 Datsun 240Z engine was an affordable, proper substitute. In fact, Ron scored the whole Datsun for just $350 in 1991, and the Z donated its engine and four-speed transmission for the project.

One of the most difficult looks to nail on a budget is wire wheels, and Ron’s Damilla Special scores exceptional marks here. And that’s because he used secondhand spares to put this set together, sourcing parts from Austin-Healey 3000s and Jaguar XK120s. Finished in body-color paint, the wheels look great, and are wrapped in vintage Michelin Superconfort tires.

But it seems the real genius in the Damilla Special was Ron’s ability to add details that pulled these parts together into a unique, cohesive package. The engine was fit with a plain valve cover and fed with a pair of Weber carburetors, exhaling through a pair of side pipes on the driver’s side. And they play in well with the front fender vents, which exhibit Aston DBR2 styling. The Lexan windshield, egg-crate style grille and streamlined headrest bump are all classic elements of 1950s sports racing cars, along with the Raydoyot mirror, Monza-style filler cap and the pivoting decklid hold-downs.

Ron went the extra mile on everything from badging, to bumperettes, trim and lights as well, sourcing vintage components at swap meets wherever possible. The interior also reflects all the styling cues of 1950s sports racers, with the steering wheel sourced from an Aston DB2 and seats from an Austin Healey. A custom reverse lock-out was added to the gated shifter mechanism and custom Classic Instruments gauges wear Ron’s Damilla namesake.

Ron Lawless likely enjoyed many miles behind the wheel of his unique roadster, and significant press as well in Kit Car Magazine. Named for his wife, whose nickname was Damilla, the 1953 Damilla Special Roadster is a beautiful and finely executed homage to both ingenuity, and a bygone decade of expert car craft. For you Mr. Lawson, wherever you are, our hats are off.

See the Damilla Special roadster here on eBay.

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