Joar Kristiansen's LeSabre
- 1 "Gyro Gearlosse"
- 2 Trygve Westbye
- 3 1939 Ford Delivery Donor Car
- 4 Inspiration for the Build
- 5 Aluminum Body
- 6 Willys Front Bumper
- 7 Brass Torpedo
- 8 Truck Engine
- 9 Pushbutton Operated Gas Filler Cap and Handbrake
- 10 Build Completed in 1957
- 11 Popular With the Girls
- 12 Is it Really?
- 13 Lynvingen
- 14 The End?
- 15 Magazine Features and Appearances
- 16 References
Joar was born and raised in Askim, a little town in Østfold county. He was known around town as a real “Gyro Gearlosse”. Joar loved mechanical work and finding new ways to solve technical issues. His father worked at Askim Gummivarefabrikk, repairing sewing machines. In 1946, the same year as GM decided to retire their Y-Job and build the LeSabre, Joar became an apprentice at the factory, working alongside his dad. He went on to become a mechanic, spending the next 48 years there. After returning from military service in 1952, Joar was aching for a car. Reading about all kinds of American made automobiles in magazines and newspapers, there was one specific car Joar couldn’t get out of his mind; Harley Earl’s LeSabre! A small black and white photo of the car that ended up on the garage wall as a template for his first car in 1953.
There were several cars in Askim in the 1950s that had been built into sports cars. Trygve Westbye built a couple of them, and he might have been the first one building one as well. In additional to Harley Earl, Trygve was a huge inspiration for Joar when he built the LeSabre, and he became a technical consultant for Joar during the build. In 1993 a story about Trygve and the LeSabre was printed in V8-Forum 3 1993, the club newsletter for the Early Ford V8 Club of Norway. The story was written by Joar, who reveals, that after visiting Trygve several times while he was building his cars, there where never any doubt about the choice of the engine; "It had to be a Ford V8!"
1939 Ford Delivery Donor Car
Before Joar passed away in 2012 he told Rolf Larsen that he went to Bertil Bye's junkyard in Arvika, Sweden where he purchased a 1939 Ford delivery. The engine was gone, and the old car had tipped over, but Joar decided to buy the chassis for his build. Due to tax-regulations, he had to disassemble the entire chassis before he took it across the border; "I still remember the day when a huge Volvo truck drove up in front of my garage and dumped all the chassis parts to two sides," Joar described in the Early Ford Newsletter story. The chassis was weathered and rusted, so it had to be sandblasted and restored before Joar could start the actual build. "Everything else I had to draw and construct myself, you know there were no standard measurements for this car." Joar worked out of his parent's garage, using old engine oil to heat it during the winter. The oil he got for free from a repair shop in town. "The problem with the oil was the exhaust it made, and I couldn't fire it up if the wind took it in the direction of our neighbor's laundry."
Inspiration for the Build
Alfred P. Sloan’s primary purpose while working for General Motors, was to lengthen and lower the American automobile. The body on Joar’s LeSabre had to be low as well, and Joar didn't want it to exceed 95 centimeters, plus the height of the windshield. The 1939 Ford frame was kicked up about the height of the frame, to lower the car; "I didn't want to design the car myself, so I found a model from an American magazine. The decision fell on an experimental car that GM built in 1952, named the "Le Sabre." I was especially attracted by the front of the car, and it looked fairly simple to build. The rear end I must have overlooked because that gave me a lot of problems during the build." After the frame had been kicked up, the steering column had to be extended and lowered, in order for the steering wheel to sit in the right position.
While Harley Earl’s LeSabre featured a body made of Magnesium and Aluminum, Joar's Norwegian LeSabre ran an aluminum body. 1.25 mm aluminum panels were used to cover a body structure that Joar had made from t-iron, angle iron, felts, and wood. "I had to teach myself a lot of things: welding, turning and patternmaking. All body contours were hand cut and hand knocked using wooden patterns that I had to draw and turn." "A lot of aluminum panels found their way to the dump before I finally completed the body." “Stordahl Karosserifabrikk” guided Joar through the build, especially the difficult areas of the rear end. "The doors were very thick, and I encountered a lot of problems getting them hinged and mounted to the body." Steel profiles and aluminum sheets were cut by a local company, and Joar had to push them back home on his bicycle.
Willys Front Bumper
The front bumper was another headache for Joar during the build; "Even though it resembles a Cadillac, I ended up buying a front bumper from a Willys. The Willys bumper was cut in the center before I made a pie cut and bent it up like on the "original.""
The Ed Glowacke designed oval grille surround was replicated in brass; "I brazed it all together before it was sent off to the chrome-shop. The fake grille that covered the headlights was cast in aluminum after a wooden model that was custom made. The grille was polished for a chrome finish."
When it comes to the engine in the car, a couple of stories have been printed in the past. According to Joar's story in V8-Forum 3 1993 a huge 95 horsepower engine from a 1930s truck was found in a barn in Skiptvet. With help from Trygve, the barnfind engine was overhauled and installed in the project. The radiator had to be positioned lower in the modified frame, and the fan was moved from the alternator down to the crankshaft. In his book I grenseland, Rolf Larsen has quoted Joar saying that he found a Ford V-8 engine at Sahlin in Töcksfors.
The cockpit was upholstered in bright red vinyl, and it featured dash gauges from a 1939 Packard. Technical features included a gas filler cap, that was pushbutton operated from the driver seat, and an air pressure controlled handbrake, also operated from the dash. A red lamp in the dash indicated that the handbrake was on. In order to loosen the brake, you had to push the button until the lamp shut. When Joar took the roadster to the vehicle licensing department to get it approved for use on the street, one of the guys working at the department took the car for a spin. He was away for a long time, and according to rumors, he was spotted on the side of the road with the car having problems. He had supposedly pushed one of the many buttons on the dash, activating the handbrake. Not knowing how to loosen it, he had to push all of the buttons until he hit the right one. A cover, hiding the backup light in the rear of the car, was also the subject of many funny stories in Askim.
Build Completed in 1957
The build was completed in 1957. "I spent over four years on the build, using as much as maybe 2,400 hours completing it. It wasn't cheap either, I spent probably as much as 12,000 Kroners only in tools and parts alone," Joar told Rolf. He got it through the vehicle inspection department, and it received Norwegian license plates that year. The first version was painted a light metallic blue. Featuring a bright red upholstery, Joar’s dream car became a crowd-pleaser everywhere he took it. In 1957 an interview with Joar was posted in the company magazine for Askim Gummivarefabrikk. During the interview, Joar told the journalist that he was so fed up with all the attention from the car, that he almost regret building it. The Nowegian newspaper VG wrote about the car September 5, 1957, claiming that it was quite a sight; "The beautiful, streamlined body ends up in two big fishtails in the rear that gives the car a dollar grin appearance. We don't believe there are many people that would dare to take on a major task like this," the newspaper claimed. A month later vehicle inspection officer Gunnar Thorsen told the newspaper Sarpen that the car was so beautiful and well built that it was a delight for the eye; "When Norwegian vehicle inspection officers recently had a convention in Oslo I asked him to meet up, and to say that the car attracted the attention of the 70 officers is a mild exaggeration!"
In 2019 Bengt Øivind Eriksen shared some stories about Joar and the LeSabre on Facebook. He and Joar knew each other through their common interest in sailplanes, and Bengt Øivind remembered driving around with Joar in the car when they stopped for gas, "this was back in the days when an attendant came out to fill the gas for you. The attendant brought the nozzle. He then started an intensive hunt for the filler hole, a hunt he had to abandon after a while. Joar, of course, showed a good understanding and pushed a button on the dash. Behind the cockpit, a lid "automatically" pops up and gives access to the filler hole," Bengt remembers the kid watching the feature with amazement.
Popular With the Girls
Another time, Joar and Bengt were cruising around Tønsberg with the car. "It was a wonderful and warm Saturday in Tønsberg," Bengt Øivind recalled in 2019. "The sidewalks were filled with people and we weren't exactly speeding." A couple of young ladies were walking in front of the car when Joar hit the horn. "The horn was probably just as old as the car," and Bengt Øivind could still hear the terrible noise it made. "I still remember the girls grin when they turned their heads towards the car. I guess they were expecting to see a pre-war model car. When they saw what we were driving their faces turned to stone, and they just stood there like statues, in a state of shock."
Is it Really?
As a little kid, Lars Karlson of Strömstad, Sweden was very fascinated with Harley Earl's futuristic GM LeSabre. "I read every bit of info about the car I could come across," he told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2018. "and that wasn't too much, but I had seen the car in a big book that my uncle had. I believe it was a book published by Teknikens Värd. I thought it was the most incredible car in the world, at least when it came to its design." Lars had relatives living in Oslo, and in 1965, when he was 12 years old, he spotted the rear end of a familiar car between some houses as they were driving back home to Sweden. "A rear end of a car that I never thought I would be able to see in real life." Lars remembered that the roof, and most of the front, was covered by a tarp, but he recognized the fins and taillights immediately. "I yelled out. Commanding my dad to stop the car. He did, and I was able to study the creation. If it wasn't for the tarp, I probably would have been able to understand that it was a clone, but right there and then I really wanted it to be the real thing, and I just couldn't believe that it stood there right in front of me." Lars recalled that the car was parked by a gas station somewhere between Sarspsborg and Svinesund, "about halfway between Sarpsborg and Svinesund." 53 years later Lars came across a story about the car that Sondre did for the Kustomrama Korner in Gasoline Magazine. "The story really proved that I wasn't dreaming or hallucinating that day in 1965," he told Sondre.
In 2007 Joar told a journalist from Toyota-ekspressen that he used the car for some years, before he got tired of it: “The handling wasn’t all that, having the heavy engine, rear-wheel drive, and leaf springs front and back, so I sold it off for 2000 kroner.” The car changed hands several times after that, and according to Jan-Odd Jakobsen, it was a regular at Youngstorget in Oslo around 1965-1967. In Oslo, Joar’s sport custom was known as “Lynvingen.”
While Harley Earl’s LeSabre ended up in safe storage at the GM Heritage Center, it looks like Joar’s lookalike, unfortunately, ended its days at the dump. One story claims that it ended its life at a dump in Oslo. Rolf Vangen of Holmestrand, Norway on the other hand believes that he saw the remains of the car at a dump near a farm in Hillestad in 1980. In 2018 Rolf told Sondre that he recognized the car from first seeing it in the 1950s, and that he got very sad when he saw the remains of the beautiful car rolled over on the dump. Harald Ouff, who owned the car at the time, told Rolf that he could just take the remains of the car if he wanted it. Rolf is also open to the possibility that it could have been another LeSabre inspired build; "The one Harald Ouff owned had a huge lid on the hood that gave access to the engine. It didn't have doors, but cut downs in the body for easier access to the cockpit. The roof featured gullwing doors. That's how I remember the car back in the mid-1950s. It visited a neighbor of us a couple of times." Rolf was told that the car was built by a flight mechanic at Rygge Airport.
Magazine Features and Appearances
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