Arthur Chester designed and built the Chester Special in his garage in the early 1930s. The racer was completed in 1932, but was not fully tested by the time of the 1932 National Air Races.
The Special, later called the Jeep, was first flown on August 14, 1932. Flight tests proved the aircraft was unsatisfactory for competition and major changes were made before entry in the 1933 races. The 1932 version had a semi-open cockpit with a rather flat windscreen. The airframe was stripped for extensive modifications, including shortening the wings by two feet and chopping the length by 23 inches. The bay behind the cockpit was eliminated and 18 pounds of lead were required to correct the balance. A hatch was installed over the cockpit and the cowling was changed.
The fuselage was constructed of welded steel tubing with plywood fairing aft of the cockpit and covered in fabric. The wings were made of birch spars and plywood ribs with spruce cap strips. The leading edges were plywood covered and the rest of the wing was covered with fabric. The Chester Special was powered by a 185-hp Menasco C-4S engine.
Art first competed with his Special in the 1933 National Air Races, where he took first place in one race and fourth in four others, with his best speed reaching 155 mph. At the 1936 National Air Races the Chester Special appeared under the new name Jeep, taken from a character in the famous Popeye comic strip. Chester raced his Special until 1937, reaching an overall best speed of 235 mph and always taking home at least a little prize money.
Hollywood noticed Art’s airplane as well, as the Jeep made appearances in at least two motion pictures. The first was a 1937 film called Love Takes Flight, starring Bruce Cabot as an airline pilot turned movie star and Beatrice Roberts as a stewardess who takes up air racing. The second was 1939’s Tailspin, which starred Alice Faye as a hatcheck girl who sneaks away from her job to enter a transcontinental air race.
The Jeep was later sold to Tom Stauch, who intended to fly it at the 1939 National Air Races, but failed to file the paperwork on time. The Special didn’t reappear until 1947 when it participated in the Goodyear Races after a complete rebuild. The engine was switched to an 85-hp engine and the airplane was so revamped that it could hardly be called a Chester racer, only the registration number and tail section remained unchanged.
Art Kilps acquired the Jeep, and then donated it to EAA in 1977. Before the racer was put on display, EAA member Henry Proescher took on the project of restoring the Chester Special to its 1936-37 racing configuration. The restoration took over six years to complete, after which the unique, historically accurate racer was put on display in the EAA AirVenture Museum. Lon Dienst, EAA 104891, took photos and measurements of the original Jeep in our museum, as part of a 10-year project to build a full-scale replica, which he flew to AirVenture 2010.