Chitty's Wild Ride

Chitty's Wild Ride

Santa Barbara, CA

By C.J. Ward

She doesn’t fly and as far as I know Baron Bomburst never tried to get his hands on her, unless the Baron wears a long white professor’s lab coat, goggles and goes by the name Dana Newquist.


Newquist is the current owner of a 1926 Locomobile with a very colorful and patchwork past.

The car has lived many lives, but its current iteration was based on a dream by former owner Bill Swanson and his love for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from Ian Fleming’s book. Fleming’s story became a hit movie in 1968 starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes. 


Swanson spotted the Locomobile, or what was left of it, in a rusty pile behind Santa Barbara Junior High School in 1974. He purchased the car for $150.00. But, before we get to Swanson’s almost 30 year restoration project to build Chitty, we should explain more about the car’s background.


The Locomobile Company of America was founded in 1899 in Watertown, Massachusetts. It originally started making small steam cars but switched to producing gasoline powered luxury automobiles and even tried racing competitively. The last Locomobile was built in 1929, the company went into receivership during the first year of the Great Depression.


This particular car, a roadster, was originally sold at the Ralph Hamlin Dealership in Los Angeles. The original owners were a wealthy couple from the L.A. area. Just before the Great Depression they moved to Santa Barbara where the car attracted a lot of attention. In 1932, the owners anticipated challenges getting parts for it and donated the car to the recently completed Santa Barbara Junior High School and its Auto Shop class. 

The students removed the body and placed the chassis in the shop where it was used to display and demonstrate mechanical functions. The students also used the car to learn about clutch and gear shifting, brakes and overall engine repair.

Famous Santa Barbara racer, Lee Hammock, recounts how he learned to drive using this Locomobile.


By 1949, the engine had been disassembled, assembled and taken apart over and over again as a teaching tool. In 1952, technology had changed and the Auto Shop instructor decided the car was no longer useful for his instruction. He traded the car to Robert Dowdin for several ‘modern’ 50's era engines. Dowdin stored the car outside the shop unprotected until Bill Swanson came along and acquired the car in 1974. That’s when the real fun begins.


Swanson decided to build his dream car, a version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. When he started, the car was a pile of rusted parts, some usable, some not. He had to use parts from a 1906 Locomobile and the components he couldn’t save or were missing had to be made from scratch. Swanson started the restoration in 1974 and it was finally finished in 2003. His records are meticulous. He had a ledger that includes every penny he spent to rebuild the car which is powered by Harry Miller Jr. 8 engine.

Harry Miller engines powered 43% of all Indianapolis 500 race cars in the early days. By 1926, 75% of all race cars were powered by Harry Miller engines.


Before Swanson died, he told his family that he wanted his good friend Dana Newquist to have it. Newquist has owned and driven the car since about 2013. He brings it to car shows and civic events. He lets this author drive it in the annual Montecito Fourth of July parade. It’s the one time a year I get to dress up in a costume to fit the era of the car and double clutch. The kids love the horn too.  


I’ve tried pushing or turning every button on the car hoping it will slowly lift off the ground and take flight just like in the movie, but so far no luck. A flying car? That’s Newquist’s next project! 

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