Around the turn of the last century, the use of brass in automobiles was so common that an entire era was named after it, with headlights, radiators, and various other fixtures and trim wearing its distinctive, polished yellow glow.
But in ensuing decades, the market virtually dried up, replaced with nickel and later chrome for decorative trim, and different metals for other components.
In an effort to change that, the Exemplar 1 was born. Commissioned in 1967 by the Bridgeport Brass Company in the Connecticut city of the same name in association with the Copper Development Association, the Exemplar 1 was conceived as a rolling showcase of ways brass and copper could add style and function to a modern automobile.
Based on a Buick Riviera chassis and built by Italian coachmaker Coggiola Carrozziere at a cost of $150,000, the Exemplar 1 is swathed in brass and copper inside and out - with a reported eleven different shades of yellow and gold alloys to add contrast. From the bumpers, grille, and custom Borrani wire wheels to the instrument panel, console, and even control knobs and switches, the look of polished brass and copper is everywhere.
While the interior and body panels were created by Coggiola Carrozziere, the Exemplar 1 retained the Riviera’s 360-hp, 430 cubic-inch V8 engine and automatic transmission. And even those got the treatment, with copper engine trim, disc brakes, brake lines, wiring, and dual polished copper radiators.
Once completed, the Exemplar 1 was shipped to the United States, where it was displayed at various events including the New York Auto Show in 1968 and 1969. Its work done, it was retired and slated for destruction. Like so many concept cars, the Exemplar 1 was not built to comply with federal safety and emissions standards, and could not be legally registered for road use.
But Bridgeport Brass Company president Herman Steinkraus granted it a reprieve, reportedly saying the Exemplar 1 was too beautiful to be destroyed. He bought the car and tucked it away in a storage building on his estate, where it stayed until after his death two decades later.
Brothers George and Manny Dragone of Dragone Classic Motorcars in Westport, Connecticut, had known of the Exemplar 1 since 1979, when an employee who had worked for Bridgeport Brass showed them a brochure featuring the car. Rumors of its existence abounded over the years, and the Dragones had always wanted to track it down. When it came time for the Steinkraus family to settle Herman’s estate, they got heir chance.
“We had been looking for it for years,” said George.
The car went into the Dragone’s personal collection in the 1990s, where it has remained ever since. A full restoration took place over time, as other projects and business obligations allowed. Now fully operational and brought back to its former glory, the Exemplar 1 is off to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida, March 11-13.
The Dragone brothers are big fans of the car, but have decided to sell.
“It’s time to let someone else enjoy it.” said George. The asking price? $1.5 million.