Petersen Archive: A Perfect Fit for the Drag Strip - The Glass Slipper

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In the fairytale “Cinderella,” upon being vested with her fragile footwear, Cinderella asked her fairy godmother if her shoes were made of diamonds. To this, the fairy replied, “they are better than that—they are of glass.” The same can be said for cars. 

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Designed for the drag strip, not the prince’s ball, this “Glass Slipper” was nonetheless magical. The car’s body was clear when it first came out of the mold, it weighed two-thirds less than a stock car, and it encased the driver in an oblong bubble. 

It was not “the fairies,” but Ed and Roy Cortopassi who conjured up the “Glass Slipper” in Sacramento, California. The dragster’s aluminum chassis was standard enough. The Cortopassis compiled it from a Buick and a 1937 Ford.

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Its fiberglass shell, however, was revolutionary.  Fiberglass construction became popular during World War II, when the US Government used it for aircraft bodies. Due to a shortage of metal during the war, civilians employed fiberglass to build boats, pipes, and storage tanks. Fiberglass car kits appeared in 1951. The first fiberglass production car, the Woodill Wildfire, began production in 1952. 

Yet, when the glass slipper popped out of the mold around 1955, fiberglass, was “still a foreign element to most Hot Rodders” as Dick Katanayagi noted in the January 1956 article “Glass Slipper” in Hot Rod Magazine. In fact, the Glass Slipper was the first dragster to have a fiberglass body.

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It was also the first dragster to have an enclosed canopy. This claustrophobic compartment gave The car an aerodynamic shape. The Cortopassis modeled the canopy after an airplane cockpit. Thus, like many other hot rods, the Glass Slipper owed much of its design to innovations in aircraft design introduced during World War II. 

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Multiple engine configurations produced the slipper’s magical speed. The dragster started with a 276.6 cubic inch Mercury V8 flathead engine. It secured its top speed of 181.17 mph at Bonneville with a flathead Ford engine. With a larger 301 cubic inch Chevrolet engine, the dragster set the Fastest Speed by a Chevy Powered Entry at the 1956 NHRA Nationals in Kansas, City at 131.77 mph.

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The Slipper, however, was not just a legend of speed. It also had style. Here, it appeared at the 1955 Motor Review in Los Angeles, California. The glass bullet was clad in princely armor of deep purple and lilac. It featured a labyrinth of striping by Dick Katanayagi. Accordingly, the dragster earned the title of America’s Most Beautiful Competition Car at the 1957 Oakland Roadster Show. 

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The Glass Slipper combined innovative design with speed and style. It inspired the modern Top Fuel canopy dragster design. Don Garlits used the Slipper as inspiration for his 1986 canopy dragster.  The Glass Slipper was the perfect fit for both the drag strip and the showroom. 

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This is what makes it one of my favorite dragsters. The “Glass Slipper” is parked at the NHRA Motorsports Museum. In 2018, I went to go visit it.

By Kristin Feay

Photography by Bob D’Olivo, Caitlin Feay