CCotW: Bosley MkI & II (1952, 1966)

11 May 2018 | by Karl Smith

It was a bright day in 1951 when 19-year-old Richard Bosley picked up a special package in Columbus, Ohio. Waiting for him was a new Jaguar XK120 – one of the first British sports cars to be imported into the American Midwest. His mother had come along to oversee the transaction, and the two had a fine time riding home to their home city of Mentor, with the wind blowing in their hair and sun shining in their faces.

Oldsmobile 88.jpg

An Oldsmobile from the early 1950s –unassuming but packing a Rocket V8 punch

There was some good-natured banter about the Jaguar’s power and nimble handling, and a good bit of comparing and contrasting with Mom’s Oldsmobile waiting back home. Soon, it was decided that a drag race between the two might be a good idea. Richard was certain that Mom was about to get a lesson in real automotive power.

Big Mistake.

At the race, the location of which has been lost to history, Mom floored the Oldsmobile and the big Rocket 88 beat the XK right from the start. Young Richard was shocked to see his Mother cross the finish line well ahead of his sweet new sports car.

The humiliation.

The eternal shame.

A teenage boy, beaten by his Mom in a race.

Driving an Oldsmobile.

Drastic steps had to be taken.

They were.

This is their story.

MarkI-01.jpg

The Bosley Mark I

After the smackdown by dear old Mom, Richard resolved to build a car that would be unbeatable by all but the very fastest professional race cars. He sold the Jaguar to raise some cash and began designing his own bespoke sports car. Richard’s background was in horticulture, so he had to teach himself everything about cars. His education would come from his Jaguar and his stack of Road and Track magazines,

Mark I sketch.jpg

Early sketches of the proposed Mark I. From IMAGINE book – see below

Three years and over $9,000 later – the price of two top-of-the-line Cadillacs at the time – the Bosley Mark I sports car was introduced at a museum in Cleveland . Its curvaceous design was reminiscent of Briggs-Cunningham and Ferrari cars of the time, with some Jaguar and AC design influence as well.

MarkI-04.jpg

The proportions aren’t perfect, but the Bosley makes quite an impression

The individual parts made the car a bit of a rolling Frankenstein. The engine was a Dodge Hemi V8 with a Cunningham manifold. The chassis was ladder type, handmade from four-inch, 16 gauge steel tube (!) with Ford front suspension. The rear axle was from a 1948 Mercury. The clutch was from a White 3000 series truck.

The principal instruments (speedometer and tachometer) were modified Ford police car units. Over all this was a fibreglass body, handmade over a mould.

MarkI-06.jpg

The entire front of the Mark I opened to reveal a powerful Chrysler Hemi V8

The entire front over the body was hinged and would rise to allow easy access to the engine. The interior was a spartan, two-seater cockpit with few creature comforts.

And at the rear, there was no trunk – an enormous 55 gallon (180 litre) petrol tank was located just behind the cockpit. There was just enough room above it to squeeze in the spare tyre.

Marki-07.jpg

The spare tyre sits on a 55 gallon (180 litre) petrol tank. Yes, that is a filler cap on the roof

It was quite a statement, and quite an attention-grabber. Bosley’s car became an instant calling card for his horticulture business, and for the local sports car club, which he represented at Watkins Glen and the early years of Sebring.

It is not known how much the Mark I was actually raced. It was built for an endurance race like Sebring, but was mostly used for travelling across the country – even if it had no luggage space. Bosley claimed to have driven over 100,000 miles in just two years.

MarkI-09.jpg

The interior was all function, with Ford police car instrumentation

Bosley had been planning to launch a limited production run of the Mark I, but events had overtaken him. The sports car with an easy-to-fabricate chassis, good engine and lightweight fibreglass body had already been launched back in 1953. It was the Chevrolet Corvette.

Int-01.jpg

The Bosley Interstate

The Corvette had a difficult few years in its infancy – production and quality problems, and poor sales. But sports car aficionados in the US could see that it was the future of the sports car in America. Richard Bosley saw that too. In his many visits to races and sports car gatherings he could see that the power of GM could define the sports car in the coming years, and that riding on the coat tails of the Corvette’s success would not be a bad thing.

Sebring_Corvettes.jpg

1956 Corvette racers at Sebring. Bosley would trade the Mark I for the number 6 Corvette on the right. It would be the basis for the Mark II Interstate

Bosley began sketching a sleek body shell that could be made of fibreglass and would fit over a standard Corvette chassis and engine. Interiors could be standard Corvette or a custom design.

His opportunity to realize his vision came when he found out that a Chevrolet dealer had managed to acquire one of the 1956 Sebring  Corvette racers.

He would tell a magazine a few years later: “The beautiful Mark I coupe was sold 
to Dick Doane of Doane Chevrolet in Dundee, Illinois. Part of the ‘deal’ was
 a full-house Sebring (factory) Corvette, delivered to ‘Carrozzeria Bosley’ in Mentor.” Fired by the raving success of his first model, Dick was hard at work on a new idea: “Why not design a ‘dream shell’ which can be fitted to a stock Corvette chassis and sold to a limited number of fine car fanciers?”’

Most thought that Bosley would just make a body and try to fit it over the racer’s engine and chassis. But it was the chassis he wanted, nothing else. He would make his own body and interior, and install a standard engine.

Int-13.jpg

The Pontiac TriPower was placed in the Interstate, rather than its original racing engine

The engine that Bosley preferred to the Corvette racing motor was the Pontiac Tri-power 389 V8 – an engine that Pontiac had engineered with three two-barrel carburetors to increase power (yes, John Z. DeLorean was involved in its design). Meanwhile, the Corvette engine was traded to a local mechanic for some much-needed labour in assembling Bosley’s new car.

Why trade away a superior engine? Because Bosley was trying to create a sports car that had performance parts which could be readily obtained from GM’s vast empire of dealerships and parts suppliers.

Bosley first experimented with a coupe that was a sort of modified Mark I with a longer nose and tail fins. But while at Sebring, he had seen the Corvette SS racing mule with a new body design. Though crudely rendered and roughly assembled, Bosley got the message – the Corvette of the future would be quite different to the existing design.

Int-02.jpg

In brilliant red, the Interstate is now on display at the Petersen in Los Angeles. The Mark I is also there

Bosley went back to the drawing board, but with the same goal – a custom package for a standard Corvette chassis, with improved performance and a luxury interior for cruising the emerging Interstate Highway system. Indeed, Bosley was so focused on the Interstate system that he named his new coupe after its intended destination.

After a long gestation, the Bosley Interstate was finally introduced in 1966, some nine years after the trade for the Sebring Corvette. Once again Bosley made the rounds at car shows, Sebring, Watkins Glen and other races. Everywhere he went the Interstate was mobbed by acquaintances and curious onlookers.

Int-10.jpg

The Interstate interior was more comfortable than the Mark I and had luggage space for long journeys

Just as with the Mark I there was some interest in producing the Interstate in some quantity through a small manufacturer or contracting the design out to one of the big manufacturers. In the end, however, the Interstate remained a one-off. Plans for selling just the bodyshell as an alternative to the standard Corvette body were not pursued either.

Int-14.jpg

The Interstate at Pebble Beach in 2017. The stance of the car is aggressive but very refined

There are a number of reasons for this, but probably the main reason is that Bosley still remained committed to the family horticulture business, and had become known as an innovator in the industry, widely sought after for his expertise in plant hybridising, container planting and other innovative cultivation techniques.

The Bosleys would keep the Interstate for a few years, traveling the new American highway system to car shows and racing events. Eventually the car was sold to a series of collectors, and ultimately, would be fully restored.

 And now, through the efforts of the Petersen museum in Los Angeles, the Interstate has joined its older sibling, the Mark I. They are exhibited together for the first time, sitting nose-to-nose in the gallery along with other classic American concept cars.

Int-08.jpg

If this has sparked your interest in Richard Bosley and his cars, including the Bosley Stealth concept car and a whole collection of photos we can’t reproduce here (though there are more in our gallery on the right), visit the American Coachbuilder site and download a free e-copy of the book IMAGINE.