Gareth William "Bill" Neumann, Sr., was born August 30th, 1930 in Manhattan, New York to Aaron and Lillian Nagel-Neumann. His father owned a business importing textiles from Europe while his mother ran the household and looked after Bill and his older brother and sister. Bill's father was scheduled to board the Titanic in Cherbourg, France on its ill-fated voyage to New York. He passed on the opportunity for a hastily scheduled meeting with the head of Macy's department store. Bill Neumann embodied his father's work ethic and maybe a little bit of his knack for being in the right place at the right time.
He grew up in Scarsdale, which at the time was known for having the best schools in the nation. He had the normal family upbringing, at the time at least, of eating meals at the dinner table, listening to radio programs, and playing outside. From an early age, Bill was interested in machines and transportation. He built model airplanes, first rubber band powered, and moving up to gasoline engines. He had neighbors, a German emigrant couple with a full machine shop in their basement, and was building planes from scratch before most kids had even heard the word piston.
Bill worked. He worked from an early age right at the beginning of World War II. He collected scrap metal and carved accurate wooden airplane models used to train pilots and gunners to identify friendly or aggressor aircraft. In high school, Bill took every opportunity to learn skills. He excelled in not only workshop classes, but also learned tying and accounting. He believed in being not only being accountable for everything yourself but capable of doing them.
By 15 years old, Bill was taking flying lessons and paying for them by working at the airport. He also bought his first car, a 1928 Ford Model A. He did all the work on it himself. He was the first in his class to have a car. Within days of a second classmate getting a car, they were racing. It was 1947 and the term "drag racing" hadn't been invented yet, but Bill was hooked. He graduated from high school in 1949.
Bill's next car was 1939 Ford Convertible. He built it following the California trends he discovered in the then brand new Hot Rod Magazine. He removed the chrome and swapped in a Mercury engine with three carburetors and high-compression heads; Bill was a hot-rodder. Partly due to the car, he met his wife Florence.
In 1952, Bill bought a 1932 Ford Roadster for his next project. Florence not only appreciated Bill's dedication to building the new hot rod, she even bought the new tires. Bill and Florence were married on December 5th in his father's house.
By 1954, the Ford was finished and was featured in a local paper. It was winning awards at car shows and eventually caught the eye of editors at Rods Illustrated, Speed Mechanics and Rodding & Restyling. At the time, he was working for a Ford dealership, but was also moonlighting as the Technical Editor of Rodding & Restyling, which was based in New York.
In 1958, he had his car featured in Hot Rod Magazine, the first time an East Coast car had been recognized by a West Coast publication. In 1960, Bill met Bob Greene and Dick Day, editors of Hot Rod and Car Craft magazines from Petersen Publishing. They offered Bill an Associate Editor position at Car Craft, in California. In 1961, the Neumann family relocated to California. Within nine months, because of his enthusiasm and hard work, Bill was given the editorship of Rod & Custom magazine.
He spent five years at Rod & Custom before starting Bill Neumann & Associates, what we now call a marketing agency, helping automotive aftermarket companies with advertising and public relations. He worked seven days a week developing print advertisements, catalogs, and press releases for clients. In 1971, Bill pitched the idea of building a tuned version of Ford's brand new Pinto. Not only did he modify the car, he dyno tested it and wrote features for publication in Popular Hot Rodding. This turned into his first mail order parts business, Automotive Performance Systems.
In 1975 Volkswagen launched the replacement for the Beetle, the innovative MK1 Golf, or Rabbit as it was called in the US. That year, Automotive Performance Systems was incorporated and APS, Inc. and started modifying the new Rabbit and even BMWs. Bill was continually frustrated with the low quality of available parts and by 1980 was developing his own, the first being the now famous strut tie bar. This one component was the launch pad for the business now known as Neuspeed.
Neuspeed quickly grew to be THE name in Volkswagen tuning in the United States, competing with the big name tuners from Germany. In 1981, Neuspeed built the legendary Thunder Bunny, so dubbed by Motor Trend who verified the 7.3-second 0-60 mph time. Those were muscle car numbers at the time. Road & Track tested the Thunder Bunny and found that the mighty Ferrari Boxer and Lamborghini Countach were only slightly faster through the slalom.
Neuspeed continually expanded, finding bigger and bigger facilities from Glendale to Anaheim and now in Camarillo, north of the Los Angeles area. From the beginning, Neuspeed-modified vehicles have been featured in european car, known as VW & Porsche back in the early days. Neuspeed, now run by sons Gary and Aaron Neumann, still follows Bill's dedication to quality, advancement, and customer service.
Bill passed away on September 6th, 2016. The words "innovator" and "icon" have become overused, but Bill Neumann truly earned those titles. He touched many lives and changed an entire industry and inspired others to expand it. Those of us at here at ec who were fortunate enough to know and work with Bill will miss him, and send our heartfelt condolences to the Neumann family.