A Tribute To Our Fellow Member and Friend, Rich Warber
I feel the express need to post a tribute to Rich Warber. On 8-16-99 Rich died after a 9 month battle with cancer. Many of you may not remember Rich right away, but if I tell you that he is the guy who built the first streetable Chop-Top Fiero, I am sure you'll remember.
I first met Rich at the 1997 Fierorama; his Black, Chop-Top, Chromed V-8 Fiero was on the way to claiming yet another 1st Place trophy. I was so impressed by that car that soon after the show, I asked Rich to come and work for me. The way it came about was I had asked Rich if he would build me a Chop-Top car and he said he didn't want to do it from his home. So I asked him to come and work for me & he agreed. We combined/refined Rich's idea and some of my resources, into building my Blue Chop-Top and we became able to offer it to other Fiero owners in a kit form. All this developed from Rich’s original idea.
Rich was a car nut even before the Fiero was ever built. I remember one day sitting at his dining room table and looking at his scrapbook of his extensive drag racing career in the '50's & '60's. You wouldn't believe all of the old newspaper clippings he had & every one of them had something about "Rich Warber won this, Rich Warber won that". It was pretty neat to know that he had drag raced and toured the country competing against Don Gartlis, Prudhome, Ivo and many other BIG names. Back in those days Rich was trading wins with those guys every weekend!
I'd say, in his day, Rich Warber was the '50's equivalent of "John Force" or someone similar. In the '50's & '60's there was not a lot of money in Drag Racing, but the "hero's" were just as big.
I last visited him a couple of weeks prior to his passing. We sat at the dining room table and talked. As weak as he was, I know that he would have given anything just to prep his car for one more car show. During that visit all Rich wanted to talk about was cars and what he wanted to do to his Fiero next; the guy never gave up.
Rich, we're going to miss you.
Memories taken from the newspaper pages circa 1959
“A really beautiful piece of machinery in the form of an “A” competition sedan showed at Oswego Sunday. Rich Warber’s Crosley station wagon with 301 cu. in. of hauling Chevy took home the gold. This one must be seen to be appreciated. A no dent, no rust immaculate body with stock front end and windshield contrasts sharply to some of the creations seen in this class. A hefty slingshot frame and roll bar are built into the rear half of the little station wagon and they look rugged enough to push back a tank. A full belly pan and the aforementioned Chevy bent 8 complete this screamer.”
“Rich Warber of Geneva took the coupe and sedan trophy with a 12.92 elapsed time and 103.44 miles per hour top speed with his 1949 Crosley body, 1957 Chevy engine.”
“Rich Warber of Geneva, one of the most colorful drivers in the area, will also be entered in the Oswego racing events. Warber’s hot rod is so powerful that it has nearly flipped at the starting line during the fast getaway. Once the machine’s front end was lifted up six feet in the air by the power of the initial thrust of the engine.”
Oswego, ILL., August 2, 1959: “Starting things off with a bang was Genevan Rich Warber who did a 150 ft. wheelstand with his injected 301 Chev powered Crosley. Thanks to a hefty push bar, the Little Wagon didn’t go over on its top!”
Most teams, firms, or organizations have star performers. Car clubs are no different and in the world of Fieros, Rich Warber was a superstar! The reason he was so is not because of his drag racing history; nor was is because of his innovations in re-engineering and styling that he brought to bare. It was chiefly because of his willingness to share his knowledge and talent with those who sought his help and experience.
Personally, I will always remember a conversation that Rich and I had a little over a year ago. My wife, Sharon, and I along with other NIFE members were participating in a car show at Fairway Pontiac. Sharon and I were chatting with Rich’s wife, Jeanette. During that conversation, Jeanette mentioned that Rich would be celebrating his 60th birthday during that next week. I decided to go over to Rich and pass along my congratulations. “I understand you are going to be 40 next week”, I said. Rich smiled at me and replied, “I wish”. The conversation that followed, as always, was comfortable and charged with Rich’s enthusiasm for cars.
As I approach my 40th birthday, I hope to be as young a man at 60 years old as Rich was.
We will miss you, Rich.
I recall meeting Rich and hearing about his plans to do a real show stopper, a "chop top" Fiero. As with all of his ideas, he had thought it through thoroughly, had some sketches, and pretty well figured out how it was going to be done. I also remember looking at all of his scrap books of his racing years, the many newspaper clippings that proclaimed "Warber Wins". Rich was a true perfectionist in all of his work. He could handcraft and finish fiberglass with the best of body men, engineer mechanical components with relative simplicity (that I wish I could do) and end up with a finished car that not only commanded attention wherever he went, but usually came home a "winner"! He did a majority of the installation work on my first V8 Fiero, and helped me to re-route wiring to give the engine compartment a real "show" look. Rich was a craftsman without equal and a real Fiero friend. We will all miss him.
Rich Warber became a member of the Northern Illinois Fiero Enthusiasts in 1995. He first started showing his black 1986 Fiero GT with a fully chromed V-8 engine that he installed himself using the Gary Zumalt installation kit, in the Fiero Custom Class at the Indian Uprising All Pontiac Car Show in August of 1996.
NIFE members were truly amazed at the beautiful detail work that was exhibited in this gleaming black, 450 horsepower, V-8 Fiero. This Fiero was capable of doing a 0-60 time in 4.6 seconds, “Sometimes even faster, it depends on when I pull the clutch out,” Rich once said to me. Needless to say, Rich took First Place at this show. Little did our club realize that this was just the beginning of a long, consecutive string of awards earned by this Fiero and it’s creator, Rich Warber…
The following month, Rich again showed his Fiero, this time at the Detzler All Pontiac Car Show. Rich took Second Place at this show in the Fiero Modified Class. Not wanting to settle for being second best, Rich started to let his creativity flow as the 1996 car show season ended, signaling the start of Fall and Winter ahead.
As the snow started to fall, Rich continued to design, cut, fiberglass and rebuild his Fiero into a beautifully hand-crafted, “Chop-Top” Fastback GT. Rich’s Chop-Top Fiero was the talk of the 1997 Midwest Fiero Regional/Dells Run event where it was first manifested. Rich’s Fiero was such a crowd pleaser, his car took First Place and Best In Class in the Fiero Custom Class at this event. This was the most radical expression of the stock Fiero design ever seen in the Midwest!
The awards continued to roll in as the 1997 car show season was underway: a tie for Second Place in the Modified Class (all modified cars in the show grouped together) at the Gary Lang First Annual GM On Review Car Show; a First Place in the Fiero Modified Class at the 7th Annual Indian Uprising All Pontiac Car Show; Class Winner and People’s Choice Award at the 1997 NIFE Fierorama; and finally, First Place in the Fiero Modified Class at the 20th Annual Fairway (formerly Detzler) Pontiac All Pontiac Car Show. It was quite a year for Rich and his wife, Jeanette – quite a stunning Fiero, too!
When you are on a roll, you keep rolling. The 1998 Midwest Fiero Regional/Dells Run event brought another Best In Class for the Warber’s Fiero – for a second year in a row! After that, the First Annual Trip To The Village All GM Car Show and the Second Annual Gary Lang All American Car Show both brought First Place awards in the Fiero Modified Class.
In July of 1998, the National Fiero Festival of the Fiero Owners Club Of America was held in Collinsville, IL, near St. Louis, MO. The first time Rich’s Chop-Top Fiero was shown at a national based Fiero event, guess what?…First Place and People’s Choice Awards were earned! Rich once told me that this was his most coveted award because his car was voted on by Fiero Owners from around the US who truly appreciated the Fiero.
And the string continued after the National Show with a First Place in the Fiero Modified Class at the 8th Annual Indian Uprising All Pontiac Car Show and finally a Second Place at the Fairway Pontiac All Pontiac Car Show to round out the 1998 car show season. At this show, Rich introduced a new, hand made, self designed hood to accent his near stock looking, yet radically modified Fiero.
As we would later realize, 1998 would be the last show season for Rich. Rich endured as his creativity flowed from his mind to his hands. Rich’s next creation would be a notchback version of his Chop-Top fastback GT. As Fall turned into Winter, the fiberglass was laid, the first coats of paint were applied. However, after Christmas that year, Rich’s health began to decline as cancer was found near his liver. Despite his bodily weakness and loss of energy, Rich wanted to endure and he continued his fight despite his weakness due to the cancer as he continued his work on his next, dark purple, Fiero creation.
As the 1999 Midwest Fiero Regional/Dells Run approached, Rich continued his struggle to get his energy back to complete his Fiero in time for the show. Despite his willing efforts, his body would not allow him to finish his creative work in time. As an honor of his efforts, an Honorable Mention award was given to Rich at the Regional Event because he wanted so bad to make ‘just one more show’. This struggle continued and it was evident that Rich’s strong will was loosing out to the cancer. On August 16th, 1999 right passed into a better life in Heaven.
Through friendships he made in the Fiero community because of his love for the Fiero, Rich’s memory will live on as several NIFE members finished his Swan Song – a beautiful, dark purple, 450 horsepower V-8, Fiero Chop-Top with an ‘interchangeable’ notchback/fastback body style.
People can come and go, but friends live on in our memories forever…
Your kindness and sympathy are more deeply appreciated than any words of thanks can ever express. Thank you for the flowers and cards. We appreciate your kind words and prayers. Thank you for being there. You have a special place in my heart.
We as a family want to say a special heartfelt THANK YOU to V-8 Archie, Paul Vargyas and Gary Smith for all the time and hard work they put into getting Rich’s car back together and looking so great! We shall always remember their generosity. Thank you all so very much for everything, you have simply been wonderful to us.
Jeanette, Lloyd, Katie and Steve (The Warber Family)