The Corpus Christi Old Car Museum Auction

Lot 153
1963 Apollo 3500 GT Spider

Selling on Saturday

1963 Apollo 3500 GT Spider
Coachwork by Carrozzeria Intermeccanica of Turin

CHASSIS NO: 2001204B

• Historic as the first Apollo Spider produced
• One of just five remaining and the only aluminum block example built
• Designed by Franco Scaglione
• Impeccable bodylines, striking European styling and all-alloy V-8 power
• Restored by IMC engineer and co-founder, Milt Brown
• Exhibited at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance® (1995)
• Shown at Concorso Italiano for Apollo’s 50th Anniversary (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 all-alloy V-8 engine, single 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”

International Motor Cars – headed by Milt Brown, Ron Plescia and Ned Davis, later joined by the indefatigable George Finley as sales manager, progressed from the Apollo prototype to an extensively revised production-ready version in a matter of months, with the first production-ready body received from Intermeccanica during January 1963. Anticipation for the new Apollo 3500 GT was strong, fueled by a wide array of positive press and road-test reports – not only from the regional and national motoring press, but also from magazines with wider appeal, including articles in Science and Mechanics and Town and Country magazine penned by influential journalist and accomplished racing driver, Denise McCluggage. Writing of the Apollo GT for Science and Mechanics, Ms. McCluggage stated, “It’s a new car – barely two years on wheels – but it’s a good car. And going to get even better.”

Model development moved at a fast clip, with plans laid for the larger-displacement Apollo 5000 GT and the next production model to be offered from International Motor Cars, the Apollo 3500 GT Spider. Designed and prototyped in a matter of weeks, the new Apollo model immediately captured enthusiasts with its exceptionally balanced proportions and an open-air, Italianate presence that has only improved with the passage of more than five decades. Consistent with company practice, the open version of the Apollo 3500 GT was a product of impeccable quality and sophistication throughout. In addition to its stunning looks and excellent all-around performance and driving dynamics, it offered a completely disappearing top when lowered and a chrome-plated top mechanism with easy, one-hand operation. According to marque historians, only 11 Apollo GT Spiders were produced by International Motor Cars in period.

The impressively presented and restored example offered here is the first Apollo 3500 GT Spider produced, serial number 2001. During the fall of 1963, it debuted at the San Francisco Imported Car Show, where it created a sensation with its Continental styling, robust all-alloy Buick V-8 power and startling value for the money. It was sold new to Dr. Hayden Gorden, a nuclear physicist in the Livermore Radiation Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. Latterly, it was restored by none other than Milt Brown, International Motor Cars co-founder and engineer. In 1995, this Apollo 3500 GT was invited for exhibition at the world-renowned Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it placed a highly creditable Second in Class. In 2006 and 2013, it was shown at Apollo reunion gatherings at Monterey, California as part of Concorso Italiano, in honor of the Apollo’s rich Italo-American ancestry.

Only 88 Apollo GTs were produced by International Motor Cars, including the less than 10 open versions according to marque historians, and just five are known to remain today. Further, this 3500GT is the only to be equipped from new with the all-alloy block clearly placing it in a class by itself. Ownership of an original, IMC-built Apollo not only puts one into a small club, it also endows the owner with a fascinating and eminently enjoyable piece of postwar American industrial history, marking the moment in time when skilled and passionate enthusiasts designed, produced and marketed a sports/GT car that stands firmly among the finest today – on either side of the Atlantic. Its striking design cues have often been compared it to the much-revered Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S N.A.R.T. Spider. Accordingly, the offering of Apollo 3500 GT Spider number 2001 provides an even more uncommon and compelling opportunity.

Please note that this vehicle is titled as a 1964.

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