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Carl Casper is the very definition of what it is to be a “renaissance man.” He is a car designer and engineer, doing his own builds from scratch, including bodywork, engine builds, the upholstery and paint. He is a racer, a movie car builder, an antique carriage collector and restorer, author, artist, sculptor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. As a car show producer, his record is peerless. For 55 years, from 1963 to 2017, Carl Casper produced, co-produced, or teamed up to produce over 1,000 car shows all over the country with the biggest being at the Kentucky Exposition Center, which one year had an attendance of 118,441. Despite all of that success though, Carl is a humble guy who prefers to be behind the scenes, making experiences for others.

That humility came from having very humble beginnings. He would be quoted as saying that he came from “the bottom of the very bottom.” Born in Flint, Michigan, his family was basically homeless for several years due to his father’s failing health. During that time, he went to live with his Uncle and Aunt on a farm with 11 other children. He worked in the fields with migrant workers when he wasn’t in school, and with no indoor plumbing, air conditioning, or TV, life wasn’t easy, and yet, Carl still thinks of those days as some of the best in his life. He saw adversity as being what ultimately bound them all together and helped him learn the value of hard work, teamwork, honor, love and respect.

Without distractions like a television set, cell phones or social media, Carl found himself focusing on art and education. He was already studying the old master painters by the age of 10, and his artistic talent was getting attention at school.

To help the family, at 12 he became a paperboy for the Detroit Free Press, and then found work at an upholstery and body shop. Everything about the automobile intrigued him. He saw cars not only as a mode of transportation, but also as a blank canvas for inspiration and imagination. He set out to learn all he could about how they were designed and built.

In high school, he became a star Quarterback for the Flint Tech Eagles, whose success on the field was only eclipsed by his success in the classroom. He studied mechanical drawing, physics, science, math, mechanical drawing, pattern making and machine shop at school, and then learned about bodywork and engine building after school.

All the while, he would drive himself to school and to work in his 1951 Chevy custom cruiser that he called “The Exotic Empress.” This daily driver, which he still has today, would become the focus of all of his creative energy, and be the first car he would take to a car show. In 1960, when he was still a teenager, he won the Governor’s Cup Championship Best of show. This special car would go on to become the all-time nation’s top custom car, including Best of Show awards at numerous shows, including the Don Ridler Best of Show. He would also win Top Custom at the NHRA 1961 Nationals and become the first and only three time NHRA National Show Champion.

Encouraged by the reception of Empress, he built a roadster for show and for racing that he called The Undertaker. While the car looked incredible, when Carl tested it, he realized that it wasn’t as competitive nationally as he needed it to be on the racetrack. As a show car however, it was a winner, taking the Sweepstakes at the 1963 NHRA Nationals Show. It would also go on to be the first of what would become many model kits.

That same year, at just 20 years-old, Carl would try his hand as a show producer. Partnering with others he began to build his show circuit, while also finding time to build the custom cars that would draw people to the shows. He would create the Popcorn Wagon, the Pinball Wizard, the Turbo Shark, the Turbo Vette, Casper’s Ghost, the Paddy Wagon, and others. These cars would grow Carl’s reputation as a Custom Car King, as they appeared on the covers of several car magazines, with articles that fueled the imaginations of custom car fans everywhere.

While putting together car shows and building the exciting cars to go in them, Carl still had his heart set on competition. In 1965 he built his first Top Fuel Dragster, the Galloping Ghost, but that too lacked what it needed to be competitive. So, armed with those lessons learned he built the Galloping Ghost II, and the Young American, two Top Fuel dragsters that could take on the best out there. The Young American, with Danny Ongais at the wheel, would defeat Don “Big Daddy” Garlits in both his front and rear engine “Swamp Rat” dragsters, winning three out of the four times they faced each other.

As Carl’s auto shows grew, he would bring in celebrities, other famous custom cars, and cars featured in movies and on TV. All the while he was creating studio licensed touring cars for Hollywood himself including the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am known as K.I.T.T., from Knight Rider, the van for the A-Team, General Lee, Fall Guy pickup, Street Hawk and most famously the “Batman Returns” Batmobile.

As the CEO of Hollywood Productions, Carl and his team were tasked to make three of the Batmobiles for the film. He got involved because the producers wanted something more reliable than the ones made for the first film, as this car would be getting a lot of screen time. Carl and his team were picked for having the reputation to build a Batmobile that could handle the rigors of crimefighting… er… filming.

After 55 years Carl decided to end the Carl Casper Custom Auto Shows, with one last big event on February 25-26, 2017. While retired, (if there is such a thing for a guy like Carl), he still believes that the automobile can be a vehicle that can inspire the next generation. He is hoping that the upcoming exhibit at the National Corvette Museum, called Custom CARisma: The Legendary Creations of Carl Casper, will inspire the next generation to want to dream big. Automobiles really are one of the greatest examples there is today of how science, technology, engineering, art and math, all come together in one place, to create something exciting.

Carl is fond of the saying “If you love what you are doing, then you never have to work a day in your life.” Judging by the body of work Carl has put together, he had a LOT of fun in his life, and he knew how to draw a crowd doing it.

About the upcoming exhibit, Carl had this to say.

“It is a tremendous honor to be able to exhibit a variety of my custom car creations at the National Corvette Museum. Hopefully, this exhibit will encourage, educate, and inspire all attendees, especially today’s youth. May that spark enthusiastically motivate them to create new and innovative positive ideas, discoveries and inventions that will meet and far exceed all of our many future challenges. As Americans we have been blessed with the greatest inheritance imaginable and we must be determined to show our appreciation by carrying the positive torch forward thru our love for our country and desire to improve the lives of all mankind. I encourage every student to carefully choose a vocation that is their ultimate passion and celebrate every moment of life while living the ‘AMERICAN DREAM” just as I have! Throughout my life I have admired, owned and enjoyed many of the C1 – C8 Corvettes. I have always revered all of the remarkable engineers, designers, stylists and entire team of AMERICA’S GREATEST SPORTS CAR. Being a small part of the incredible NATIONAL CORVETTE MUSEUM is an exceptional privilege I will always treasure.”

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