Once in a while you come across a person that leaves such an great impression on you, that it is hard to believe you have not heard about him before. Walter Otto Wyss is such a person.
On my frequent searches for old custom car, and hot rod photo material, I came across some really nice 1940’s, early 1950’s color slides, taken mostly in California. The photos, mostly of street scenes, buildings, city overviews, and pretty ladies, caught my eye at this online offering. Without knowing anything about these color slides, I started to saved the previews on my computer, just because they were so nice.
One morning I found a set of three photos, showing a wonderfully shaped 30’s streamlined car. A couple of days later the same seller offered a scrapbook about this very same car. An amazing scrapbook with many photos, plans, printed material, etcetera. I informed my good friend Geoff Hacker about the scrapbook, knowing he would love material like this. The next day, I looked at the photos of this scrapbook a little better, and found the name Walter Wyss on one of the photos. I did a Google search, and after a while I found out that Walter Wyss was originally from Switzerland, and moved to the US in 1939. Best of all I found out that a family member of Walter, Tobias Wyss, had made a documentary movie about Walter called “Flying Home”.
While watching the trailer from the movie it dawned on me. Walter Wyss not only created this teardrop shaped car, but he also was the photographer behind all those wonderful color photos I had seen.
Then some really interesting photos were found. Color slides of Marcia Campbell with her Model A Roadster pick up, Johny Zaro’s 1941 Ford and, several other very interesting Hot Rods photographed at early 1950’s Californian car shows (with special thanks to Jamie Barter). As well as color slides of the 1939 World Fair.
The material I had found from Walter Wyss was already very interesting, and beautiful. But these early color photos of Hot Rods, and Custom Cars made me extremely happy. I needed to know more about this guy. Why was this collection of wonderful material, sold instead of being sold in a museum, or published in a book. After a while I was able to get in touch with somebody in Switzerland who had worked on the movie Flying Home about Walter. He forwarded me the email address of Tobias Wyss, the movie maker, who was a nephew of Walter Wyss. I contacted him and since then we have been communicating.
Tobias told me there are over 25,000 color slides, a huge amount of black and white photos, and negatives. Furthermore there are scrapbooks, letters, postcards, and other interesting material. All material is collected and supervised by the Wyss family in Switzerland. The items that were sold online were the doubles that Walter must have stored in the US after he move to Japan in 1959.
In 1963 Walter moves back to the US and found his new home in Hawaii where he would live, and work until he dies in 2001.
Walter took these amazing color photos at the 1939 New York World Fair.
After doing some more research, I found out that Walter Otto Wyss had worked in the Automotive industry for Ford Motor Company as well as GM. From 1946 till 1949 he was developing an hybrid car (running on electricity and gas) at the Beechcraft factory, an airplane company in Wichita, Kansas. The car, the “Plainsman” was completely developed, and even one prototype was constructed. But after that the program was canceled and Walters dream never made it into production.
The Beechcraft Plainsman Hybrid car Walter, and his team developed. The inset photo shows the full scale prototype. The cars production plans were cancelled after the first prototype was finished.
Walter visited several Hot Rod shows in the early 1950’s. Here he took some color slides as well. In this photo we can see Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford with Johnny, Jack Stewart, and George Barris getting the car ready for the show.
FLYING HOME the documentary about walter
Tobias send us the DVD of the movie Flying Home he made about his uncle. A wonderful movie about an enigmatic man.
Read our full Movie Review.
There is so much to tell about Walter Otto Wyss, that we will do several articles on the man, his cars, the photos and the rest of the story. Stay tuned…
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