A graduate of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and the Nebraska College of Law, Spear moved to Juneau, Alaska as an Assistant Attorney General in 1968 beginning a successful legal career which included being the Field Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, Deputy Commissioner of Labor and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of a major venture capital bank endowed with 5% of the State of Alaska’s oil royalties. In 1984 he left the practice of law entirely, striking out into the private sector and founded Wm Spear Design in which he combined his life-long avocation of drawing and painting with entrepreneurialism, designing and marketing high quality enamels to museum shops, catalogs, stores and chains around the world, being among the first of what were later referred to as innovative “information age” businesses of that era. That business continues to thrive and has includes general wholesale and retail sales of a line of products as well as commission work to a wide variety of well known organizations and enterprises including the National Air and Space Society and the National Geographic Society.
Spear’s interest in design led him to automobiles, especially Austin and Bantam cars which he admired because of the sophisticated styling which set them apart from other small cars. His first Bantam restoration project, a 1939 Roadster was invited to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Joining the Austin Bantam Society, Spear undertook the editorship of the Club newsletter Rooster Tails for period of over six years and eventually President of the Club. He remains a Vice President of the club.
At Rooster Tails in writing historical pieces, and as the creator of the first web site dedicated to Bantams, Spear first became aware of the Bantam involvement in the jeep development. At that time the jeep history was more or less an oral one with many variations and inconsistencies and moreover, considered by the general membership as slightly outside the main interest they had in the civilian cars. As America’s first serious attempt to create an economy car the Austins and Bantams represented a major automotive innovation in themselves.
As a former practicing attorney Spear was intrigued with the many blank spots and contradictions he ran across, not just in the Bantam community, but in the wider and much more dedicated world wide body of jeep enthusiasts. Thus in addition to seeking out the cars (he has owned three BRC’s and discovered several others) he began to collect and evaluate evidence about their history. Writing several articles examining details of these, the dimensions of the full story began to emerge and eventually became a fifteen year research and writing project which resulted in several drafts of books and participation in a screenplay (War Pony, 2002) which was optioned in Hollywood but never fully pursued.
It was not until 2013 that the story finally began to “lie down” and anomalies in the research began to settle and produce a consistent set of facts that could serve as a basic, prima facie case as to what actually happened. The result was WARBABY. The discovery and digestion of two major sources of new information made the book possible:
- A complete, analyzable record of the Federal Trade Commission case (FTC v. Willys-Overland) of perhaps 30,000 pages of testimony and exhibits about the jeep creation, and
- A major part of the personal papers and research of the late George Domer who had carried on a long correspondence and interviews with the Bantam people involved in the jeep matter, all in anticipation of writing up the jeep story which, sadly for us all, never materialized.
Fortunately for jeep enthusiasts, WARBABY marks the beginning rather than the end of discovery about the events surrounding the creation of the jeep. It increases the joy of historical discovery rather than trying to arrogantly ‘settle the matter for good’. In the past, valuable information all around the world has been atomized and scattered, often even jealously guarded or hoarded, or forgotten about or its significance unknown. Now with a coherent time frame with the events and people we know about plugged in, there is a place where holders of such information are able to see how the pieces of the puzzle they may have fit into the whole.