Body shop owner Robert Reese was after us for a long time to take pictures of the Bernardi Bearcat that he was working on in his Green Lake, Wis., shop. Last Saturday we got to take photos of it and then we went to Ripon to meet the man who built this car, Art Herschberger.
Art is 80 years old and has a mind like a history book. We found out the Bearcat was designed by Paul Nicholi, another Wisconsin body man we had met over the years. We also learned that Art has been doing propane conversions of tractors and cars since 1954. He owns four 1990s Lincoln Continentals that run on propane, which he buys for as little as three cents a gallon at times.
Art once customized Corvairs and converted a number of them to V-8s or propane power. He also bought out race driver John Fitch’s Corvair Sprint GT operation in Connecticut. “Went there with a truck by myself and hauled it all home,” he told us. “Fitch knew GM was dropping the Corvair, but he didn’t bother to tell me that.”
Talking to Art was a kick and a trip back in automotive history. I had fun shooting the breeze with him for three hours, while Robert had fun driving the “MG TD on steroids” that Art called The Bearcat.
Art doesn’t know how many Bearcats he made. “I had made some money on another business deal and I invested it into the Blakely/Bernardi business, but I told my wife when the money was gone it was over and we lost it all,” he said. “This one was made as a kit and it’s OK, but it’s not as good as the ones we built at the factory and sold as turnkey cars.”