On October 4th and 5th, Auburn Indiana’s Worldwide Auctioneers will lift the gavel on one of the largest and most interesting assemblages of collector vehicles and collectibles, including over 200 cars and 100 pedal cars at the Corpus Christi Old Car Museum auction. Headlining the sale are three definitive examples of the beautiful and fascinating Apollo GT.
Conceived and produced during the early 1960s – a moment in time which included its contemporary, the Ford-powered Shelby Cobra, the Apollo GT combined beautiful styling and easy-to-service chassis and mechanical components from Buick. Clothed in sleek bodywork penned by Ron Plescia and refined by fast-rising Italian design legend Franco Scaglione (of Alfa Romeo B.A.T. fame), the Apollo GT was first offered with 3.5-liter, all-alloy V-8 power and soon, even more–powerful 5.0-liter Buick V-8 engines. Bodies were hand-built in Turin, Italy by Frank Reisner’s Carrozzeria IM, best-known as Intermeccanica. The company responsible for putting it all together was Oakland, California’s International Motor Cars – headed by Milt Brown, Ron Plescia and Ned Davis, later joined by George Finley – one of the Ford “Whiz Kids” – as sales manager.
Progress was rapid – 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 by 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. According to marque expert and author Robb Northrup, just 88 Apollos were built in all, including two prototype cars.
The Apollo 3500 GT to be offered at the Corpus Christi Old Car Museum auction is an amazing find for marque enthusiasts and collectors as the very first Apollo 3500 GT produced. Bearing Chassis Number 1003, 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 given a total restoration. The project commenced in January 2013 with consultation by none other than Apollo co-creator Milt Brown and the work was performed by Steve Shook and the crew 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 Concorso Italiano in Monterey, California.
A glamorous convertible variant of the Apollo GT followed the Coupe, first shown at the 1963 San Francisco Imported Car Show. 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, Ferrari-esque 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 Apollo 3500 GT Convertible to be offered by Worldwide Auctioneers at Corpus Christi is historic as the first Apollo 3500 GT Spider (Convertible) 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. Of only 88 Apollo GTs produced by International Motor Cars, including less than 10 open versions according to marque historians, just five are known to remain in existence today.
The Apollo 5000 GT was the final and fastest evolution of the series during International Motor Cars production. 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 body lines and enhanced the sporting character of its 3500 GT forebears. It also continued the top-quality, coach built 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 at Corpus Christi.
Ownership of an original, IMC-built Apollo GT 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. As the subject of a long succession of high-profile magazine features and book entries, the Apollo GT’s production life may have been all too short, but its desirability and legend continue uninterrupted today.