The Corpus Christi Old Car Museum Auction

Lot 154
1963 Apollo 3500 GT Coupe

Selling on Saturday

1963 Apollo 3500 GT Coupe
Coachwork by Carrozzeria Intermeccanica of Turin


• The very first Apollo coupe produced
• Beautifully restored and presented
• All-aluminum 3.5-liter V-8 power
• 1 of only 88 Apollos produced in all
• Exhibited at Concorso Italiano in 2013

The Apollo GT – America’s Ferrari

While the Apollo GT was one of the best marriages of Italian style with American performance, many enthusiasts are unaware of this Ferrari GT contender built by hand in Italy and assembled in Oakland, California during 1963-1965.

In 1960, a trio of Northern California twenty-somethings noticed imported sports cars had a major deficiency: while admired by enthusiasts for exotic styling and high performance, foreign sports cars had also developed a nasty reputation for unreliability. It was a brave man or woman who would drive a Ferrari in five o'clock traffic – and never on a cross-country journey. "Everyone said 'wouldn't it be great if we could have an Italian body and chassis with a reliable American engine and running gear,’" recalls Milt Brown. So Brown, Ron Plescia and Ned Davis pooled their resources to create a fast, powerful gran turismo in the tradition and style of Ferrari and Maserati, but with the room, reliability and serviceability of a Buick: The Apollo GT.

The challenge was finding a coachbuilder who could produce bodies economically in a limited series. A chance meeting at the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix introduced Brown to Frank Reisner of Carrozzeria Intermeccanica of Torino, Italy. Reisner was an absolute genius who found ways to economize production without skimping on quality; he could supply complete bodies by hand at a fraction of the cost of a Pininfarina or Bertone. Striking a partnership with Reisner, Brown returned from Europe to set up International Motor Cars with his associates and begin designing the Apollo.

Brown had designed race cars for Emeryson while living in England, so he had no trouble laying out a simple-but-strong ladder frame onto which he grafted the suspension of the highly successful Buick Special. The front control arms featured bronze bushings with grease fittings. The rear, a very sophisticated four-link trailing arm suspension -- with coil springs -- on a live axle. This was at a time when Ferrari and Maserati relied on "cart" leaf springs and live axles.

He installed Buick's lightweight aluminum V-8, tuned to produce up to 225 horsepower and backed by the excellent Borg Warner T-10 four-speed gearbox with Corvette ratios. Early literature claimed acceleration times of 0-60 in 7.5 seconds and a standing-start quarter mile in 15.6.

For the body, Art Center graduate Ron Plescia penned a flowing design concept of Italian influence. "We wanted a car with Italian styling but with Jaguar E-Type proportions," remembers Plescia. Intermeccanica then had famed stylist Franco Scaglione (designer of the Bertone B.A.T. show cars) create the final design for production. When Winston Goodfellow wrote one of his articles on the Apollo 3500GT Spider, he suggested that it was one of Franco Scaglione’s greatest designs. With a commitment for two cars per month, Reisner geared up to craft, paint and trim Apollo bodies using the same artisans that supplied panels and bodies formed by hand to Zagato and other small carrozzerie in Torino.

With production trickling in, International Motor Cars launched the new GT in Hollywood in March 1963 and priced the car at nearly $7,000 -- between Jaguar and Ferrari, a unique niche. Initial reaction from the press was positive: "Workmanship is of the highest quality," declared Hot Rod magazine. “If a Buick Special ever got a fierce ambition to become a Ferrari – and tried hard enough – it would be likely to end up just about like this,” crowed Car and Driver.

Tasked with the responsibility of sales for the company was one, George Finley – yes indeed, the very same George Finley that is an owner of all three Apollos being sold here this weekend and founder of the Corpus Christi Old Car Museum. Mr. Finley did such a good job getting folks to buy these great GT cars that it would soon create a problem. "We had a winner because we could never satisfy the demand," remembers Brown. But lack of capital and cash flow prevented the company from conducting a consistent program as well as running a steady production line and the doors closed in the summer of 1964.

Company assets were sold to SoCal attorney Robert Stevens, who continued Apollo production in Pasadena, California. His attempt ended in 1965 and the Apollo entered the history books.

A total of two prototypes and just 86 production cars were produced, making the Apollo an instant collectible. It is an outstanding road car with style that rivals the very best European sports cars built. The Apollo is a testament to vision and engineering and is arguably America’s most attractive sports car.

Please note that the much-anticipated book “The Apollo GT – America’s Ferrari,” written by legend Robb Northrup, will be available at the auction.

215.5 cid Buick Skylark all-alloy V-8 engine, single Holley four-barrel carburetor, 200 HP, four-speed Borg-Warner manual transmission, independent front suspension with A-arms and coil springs, live rear axle with four-link suspension, hydraulic four-wheel drum brakes; wheelbase: 97”

The inspired brainchild of native Oakland, Californians Milt Brown and Ron Plescia, the Apollo 3500 GT marked a bold effort during the 1960s to design and produce a sensational new sports car with impeccable quality and styling worthy of the finest Italian design houses with reliable and easily-serviced American mechanical components. In essence, Brown sought to create an exciting new GT car to compete with the likes of Aston Martin, Jaguar and even Ferrari. While Brown and Plescia’s goal might have been written off as an ill-conceived pipe dream, the young duo in fact possessed the precise skills and acumen to make their lofty goal not only possible, but a reality they would fulfill and take to the international stage during the first half of the 1960s.

Several key developments quickly ensued, giving Brown the confidence to realize his vision, beginning in Fall 1960 with GM’s launch of its all-new and innovative Buick Special, with its all-aluminum V-8 engine and sophisticated mechanical components, ideal for a lightweight, high-performance sports car. While seeking a body builder in Europe, Brown worked as a chassis engineer at Emeryson Cars in England through the fall and winter of 1960. While attending the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix, Brown met Hungarian-born Frank Reisner, who would supply the bodies for his planned new road car. Following his return to California, Brown recruited Ned Davis as business manager for the new business, named International Motor Cars. By November 28, 1961, both Brown’s chassis and a Ľ-scale clay model were sent to Reisner in Turin and the prototype for the new road car, dubbed “Apollo” after the mythical Greek deity, arrived in San Francisco on August 6, 1962.

Featuring breathtaking coachwork designed by Ron Plescia and built by Reisner’s Carrozzeria Intermeccanica in unit with Brown’s chassis, the Apollo 3500 GT was powered by Buick’s lightweight all-aluminum 3.5-liter V-8 engine, developing 200 horsepower. Power-to-weight, performance, and handling were excellent, with the Apollo weighing only an approximate 2,500 pounds. Refinements to the Apollo’s body were executed in Italy by Franco Scaglione, of Bertone fame. Once readied for production, Apollo bodies were constructed at Intermeccanica in Turin and then shipped to Oakland for mating with the chassis and installation of everything else required to complete the cars. Production commenced in Fall 1962 after more than 100 improvements were made and body tooling started in Italy. A litany of magazine features and road tests ensued. All that was needed were the buyers.

Bearing Chassis Number 1003, this 1963 Apollo 3500 GT Coupe is historic to marque collectors and enthusiasts as the first production Apollo built. It was sold new in the spring of 1963 by Milt Brown to John R. Niven of Atherton, California. Most recently, it was sold by Apollo historian and marque authority Robb Northrup to Steve Shook and George Finley and required total restoration. The project commenced in January 2013 with consultation by none other than Apollo co-creator Milt Brown and was performed by Steve Shook at Shook Enterprises with body and paintwork performed by Phil Wanzer of the Corpus Christi Old Car Museum – both of Corpus Christi, Texas. Following completion, Apollo 3500 GT 1003 was exhibited at the August 2013 edition of celebrated Concorso Italiano in Monterey, California. Historic as the first production example of the Apollo 3500 GT, 1003 is striking in presentation, continuing to benefit from its restoration, and will always be sought-after by marque collectors and enthusiasts of great GT cars across the globe.

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