CHASSIS NO: 001054
• The final evolution of the Apollo GT
• Handsomely restored, finished and presented
• Robust V-8 power/four-speed manual transmission
• Hand-built European coachwork and American mechanicals
• Suspension re-engineered to original specs under Milt Brown
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.
4,950 cc Buick iron-block, aluminum-head V-8 engine, single four-barrel carburetor, 250 HP at 4,800 RPM, 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 disc brakes; wheelbase: 97”
Encouraged by a succession of positive press generated by the Apollo 3500 GT coupe and convertible, plus the marketing capital earned by its displays at high-profile motor shows, a small but steady flow of finished cars rolled out of the International Motor Cars facility in Oakland during 1963. Further developments for 1963-64 included the larger-displacement Apollo 5000 GT coupe and convertible variations on the basic Apollo GT design, plus design work for a planned new four-passenger 2+2 and even a mid-engine model. Essentially a larger-displacement version of the 3500 GT, the 5000 GT was designed to satisfy rising demand for even greater power output and performance than that offered by the original Apollo. Coinciding with the introduction of Buick’s newly available 5.0-liter V-8 engine for its compact Special line with iron-block, aluminum-head architecture, the 5000 GT maintained the svelte Ron Plescia/Franco Scaglione-penned bodylines and enhanced the sporting character of its 3500 GT forebears. It also continued the top-quality, coachbuilt tradition of its body builder, Frank Reisner’s Carrozzeria Intermeccanica of Turin, Italy.
With the larger engine, the Apollo 5000 GT delivered 250 horsepower and up to about 300 ponies with some basic tuning. Needless to say, power-to-weight delivered by the 5000 GT with the 5.0-liter engine was outstanding, providing uncanny flexibility around town with excellent acceleration and relaxed high-speed cruising potential. Other welcome updates applied to the 5000 GT included four-wheel Dunlop disc brakes, suspension revisions, an updated dash and larger doors. The 5000 GT was introduced during the winter of 1964-65 and proved a winner with all who drove it. Delivering outstanding performance comparable to contemporary Ferrari, Jaguar and Corvette Stingray models, the Apollo 5000 GT carried on in the finest Grand Touring tradition – as originally intended by the Apollo’s creators. Sadly, the end came swiftly for International Motor Cars, the product of continued undercapitalization, a drive to increased production while not diluting quality and the sudden loss of investors. In order to continue the connection with Intermeccanica, Reisner was allowed to sell Apollo bodies to the Vanguard Industries of Dallas, Texas, where those cars were finished and marketed as the “Vetta Ventura.” By the end of 1964, the company’s assets were sold to a new entity, Apollo International, headed by attorney Robert Stevens with new financing and production facilities moved to Pasadena, California. At this juncture, Apollos and Vetta Venturas were built and sold at the same time, with only an estimated 11 cars completed by Vanguard before the project was discontinued.
Bearing Chassis Number 1054, this Apollo 5000 GT was originally one of the Vetta Venturas completed by Vanguard Industries in Texas. The car was restored by Mike Anderson in Scottsdale, Arizona. Apollo co-founder Milt Brown subsequently re-engineered the chassis and suspension, using the original components and correct specifications, in keeping with those used for the original Apollos completed by International Motor Cars during the early-to-mid 1960s. Working directly with Steve Shook of Shook Enterprises in Corpus Christi, Brown’s updates to the 5000 GT chassis returned the restored example offered here to its proper and long-renowned handling characteristics. Handsomely finished in red over tan leather upholstery with a matching leather-covered dash containing a proper array of useful Jaeger instruments, , this Apollo 5000 GT exudes a wonderful 1960s GT presence in concert with its Borrani wire-spoke wheels. In addition to its healthy 5.0-liter Buick V-8 engine with four-barrel carburetion and dual exhaust system, this Apollo also features a desirable four-speed manual transmission and the year-round comfort afforded by air-conditioning with under-dash registers and a modern-type R134a compressor. As offered, this 5000 GT stands as an irreplaceable “book-end” to the 1963 Apollo 3500 GT Coupe and 3500 GT Convertible also on offer here in Corpus Christi.