This Ultra Rare Fiberglass Bicycle Is Worth Nearly $40,000, Here’s Its Bonkers Story

Bowden Spacelander 10 photos
Photo: Benny Kirk/autoevolution
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Is it possible for something as mundane and lowly as a bicycle ever to be worth as much as a brand new Lexus? If so, what qualities would it possess that would make it even remotely worth such a figure? Would it be stunningly beautiful or made with novel and exciting materials? Perhaps it had a very important designer?
Well, the answer to all of these questions is yes. Ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on the Bowden Spacelander, an awe-inspiringly beautiful bicycle made in minimal numbers and worth an absolute fortune as a result.

If you can believe it or not, the story behind the man who designed this funky-looking bike is nearly as interesting as the bike itself. An Englishman by the name of Benjamin Bowden. Bowden was already something of an engineering savant by the time he'd submitted a design for 1946's Britain Can Make It exposition. He'd spent his days post-World War I as the lead body designer of the Humber car factory in Coventry.

During World War II, his claim to fame was designing the armored car which both Prime Minister Winston Churchill and King George VI, before working with the Healey company on the Elliot coupe just after the war, the first British production car to crack 100 miles per hour (160 kph).

But what Bowden wanted to show off at that year's expo most of all was his supreme knack for design. A trait all too recognizable in the outrageous-looking bicycle prototype he devised for that event. Apart from being visibly striking, Bowden's first bicycle prototype was internally very different from most other bikes. It featured a driveshaft to transfer pedal power to the rear wheel and a hub dynamo instead of a sprocket chain.

Bowden Spaceliner
Photo: Benny Kirk/ autoevolution
Dubbed the Classic, Bowden had dreams of manufacturing his creation all across the globe, with plans to begin production in South Africa by the end of the 1940s. Sadly, no manufacturer was willing to take up the costs of retooling their factories to mass-produce Bowden's design.

Soon after, South African import law reforms dashed Bowden's plans for a factory in the region. Soon after, Bowden left the UK and immigrated to the US by way of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, settling in the town of Muskegon, Michigan. It was while living in Michigan in 1959 that Bowden was introduced to a man called Joe Kaskie, an employee of the George Morrell Corporation, a custom injection molding manufacturer in the area.

Kaskie very much appreciated the bold styling of Bowden's design but suggested an idea that would make the name iconic in enthusiast circles. Instead of using standard aluminum in its construction, Bowden's new bike was to be made of molded fiberglass. Unlike the Classic prototype, this bicycle was to use standard sprocket chains instead of a hub dynamo. Making for a much more conventional bicycle, at least internally. Happily, the instantly recognizable styling wasn't changed at all.

The result was an altogether new bicycle Bowden lovingly christened the Spacelander series in honor of the newly kicking off space race. The Spacelander made its US debut in 1960 in a choice of five colors. Stop Sign Red, Outer Space Blue, Cliffs of Dover White, Meadow Green, and Charcoal Black.

Bowden Spaceliner
Photo: Benny Kirk/ autoevolution
Even using fiberglass instead of metal, the Spacelander had a launch retail price of $89.50 in 1960 money. That works out to a little bit under $870 in 2022 money, easily one of the most expensive production bicycles in America at the time, perhaps even the world over as well.

Couple this with the fragile nature of fiberglass in high-speed wipeouts, and you have a recipe for an objectively beautiful creation that could only muster a few hundred sales in its lifetime. Mostly to wealthy American elites in coastal cities like LA and New York, the only US cities with developed enough bicycle paths at the time to truly flesh these bikes out.

Experts surmise that as little as 500 or so examples of the Bowden Spacelander made it off the factory floor between the beginning and end of production, of which only 30 are still known to exist. As it happened, another fiberglass icon was also getting its start at roughly the same time, that, of course, being the Chevy Corvette. And so, 60-plus years later, the last surviving genuine examples of these now-iconic bikes easily sell for five figures.

Craig Morrow, the owner, and curator of the Bicycle Heaven Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, currently houses a small fleet of genuine Spacelanders in his collection. Of those, one particularly rare model painted in
Charcoal Black sits on top of a display case in the museum, the tag hanging from the left side handlebar emphatically stating its current sale price, a scarcely believable $38,000.

Bowden Spaceliner
Photo: Benny Kirk/ autoevolution
Check back soon for more coverage from our trip to Pittsburgh Bicycle Heaven here on autoevolution.
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