Gene Winfield is reunited with a 1967 Piranha
It has been almost 40 years since Gene Winfield and AMT built a small number of 1967 Piranha sports cars at their shop in Phoenix, Arizona. Recently, Winfield was reunited with a Piranha that he had not seen since rebuilding the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." car shortly after the TV series was cancelled in 1968.
After an unsuccessful attempt to get into the specialty car market, AMT abandoned their Piranha project and turned over all the unsold street cars to Marbon Chemical, the supplier of the thermoformed Piranha bodies. The cars were shipped to Michigan where the Borg Warner division was located. The cars were eventually labeled with "CRV" emblems and distributed to various Marbon Chemical and Borg Warner locations to promote the Cycolac plastic from which they were made. After many years on display, a few of the cars eventually found their way into private hands.
One of the cars ended up in with a car enthusiast in the Detroit area. His plan for the plastic, rear-engine car was to mount it on a tubular frame and install a front-mounted V6 Mercury Capri engine. Much of the fiberglass chassis tub was cut away to make room for the new frame, but the project stalled and sat idle in his shop. The car was eventually sold to a sports car hobbyist from Indiana. During the sale and move to northern Indiana some of the unique parts were unfortunately lost. The basket case car has been safely stored in a building for many years.
In September 2006, while attending the James Dean Run in Fairmount, Indiana, Mr. Winfield accepted an invitation to see the Piranha, which is located just an hour away from the car show. The current owner of the car was very excited that Winfield would be visiting his shop.
After closing down his tent at the car show, Gene took the short trip to the Piranha's location. After a cordial greeting from the current owner, Winfield was anxious to inspect the car. Located on a large shelving unit was the two-piece body, which sandwiches the fiberglass chassis tub. Gene gave the body a thorough examination with his experienced eyes. Next he inspected some of the loose parts, including the hood, trunk lid, and two-piece door units. The front suspension is complete but rusty, however some of the rear suspension pieces are missing. Winfield admitted the car will take alot of work to bring it back.
One unusual thing about this Piranha is that it has a fiberglass lower valance just like the restored "Man from U.N.C.L.E." car. The lower rear quarter panels are also made of fiberglass instead of Cycolac plastic like the rest of the body.
Gene had previously mentioned that after the U.N.C.L.E. series was cancelled, Marbon Chemical wanted possession of the spy car. Apparently, because the car was built during the early stages of the AMT/Marbon agreement, Marbon-owned parts were used to build the chassis. Not wanting to let the car go, Winfield personally purchased the parts needed to replace the Marbon chassis and then stripped the U.N.C.L.E. body and spy gadgets off the original chassis and remounted the car on the new frame.
The Marbon-owned chassis received a new body and was completed as a stock Piranha. However, we suspect that the original lower half of the body was reused and the fiberglass nose remained with the Marbon-owned chassis. The rear quarter panels were apparently replicated in fiberglass so as not to have to cut up another plastic body just to get the rear quarters.
Based on this, we believe this Piranha has the original U.N.C.L.E. car chassis. This opinion was later verified by Russ Shreve, one of the builders of the original CRV vehicles on which the Piranha was based. Russ identified photos of the rear hub carrier from this car as solid aluminum castings that were used by Marbon Chemical on CRV-IV & CRV-V. Only a few sets of the hubs were cast and belonged to Marbon. The rear hubs used on the Piranha were similar, but fabricated from steel pieces.
After a quick tour of his host's shop, it was time for Gene to head back to Fairmount. When asked if he was interested in purchasing this car, Winfield replied he would have to pass at this time, but perhaps could find a buyer. Hopefully the car will soon be purchased and perhaps Gene will be hired to restore the car to it's former beauty. Only time will tell.