Homegrown: The V-8 dream machines of a retired Big Three engineer

Chris Stark

Welcome to Homegrown—a new limited series about homebuilt cars and the ingenuity of their visionary creators. Know a car and builder that might fit the bill? Send us an email at tips@hagerty.com with the subject line HOMEGROWN. Read about more Homegrown creations here. —Ed.

Constructing a car at home rarely proceeds beyond the dream stage for most enthusiasts, but Bob Elton of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has two running and driving homebuilts to his credit. Over a span of 15 years, in his spare time, this 75-year-old Hagerty member, automotive engineer, and craftsman designed and constructed the two machines shown here. Each wears fiberglass coachwork atop a steel frame, and each is powered by a General Motors V-8 driving the rear wheels through a Hydramatic transmission.

Elton has been retired for seven years, but he began his career in 1965 as a Hydramatic co-op student—a young engineer on loan to GM as part of school. In the mid-1970s, he ran an independent car-repair and fabrication shop, then earned his degree from the University of Michigan. Over a 50-year career in engineering, he worked for Chrysler, Ford, and GM, plus a few suppliers and consultants.

Bob Elton V8 Roadster high angle rear
Chris Stark

During that career, Elton was able to get time on manufacturer-owned CATIA computer-aided-design (CAD) software, to shape his bodywork. “The first step,” he says, “was designing a vertical cross-section every 10 inches or so, the full length of each body. In addition to accommodating the driver and passenger, my bodywork had to package the mechanical equipment while embodying the interior and exterior aesthetics I sought. After drawing sketches for years, I spent a year or so per project, advancing my concepts to CAD shapes.”

When he was satisfied with those shapes, Elton printed out the outline of each body cross-section, then glued each outline to a piece of thin plywood. After cutting each of those pieces to match, he assembled them atop a surface plate, to form a full-scale body buck. Gaps between the panels were filled with styrofoam. Pound after pound of plaster followed, to perfect surface details—first rough plaster, then patching plaster, then drywall mud. The result was sanded smooth, then painted with lacquer and polished to facilitate inspection of surface highlights. To perfect the car’s aesthetic, Elton deviated from his original CAD drawings in select places.

This was Elton’s Roadster as full-scale model. That model was handed off to a subcontractor, who created both body molds and finished fiberglass panels. The main body, including the hood and four separate fenders, was completed in 2011. The car’s steel frame, Elton says, incorporates sections from the frames of both a Chevrolet Caprice and a Chevy S-10 compact pickup. His final layout “provided a 126-inch wheelbase while supporting Chrysler power rack-and-pinion steering, front disc and rear drum brakes, and an S-10 live rear axle. The new coil-spring rear suspension I designed has anti-squat geometry.”

After the Roadster passed state inspection, earning a VIN and license plates, it was insured by Hagerty and readied for its first test drive, which came in 2012.

Elton then commenced work on his Coupe. While the Roadster incorporated the grille from a 1938 Cadillac LaSalle and pulled inspiration from Cadillac V-16s of that period, the Coupe ventured in a different aesthetic direction. “I drew inspiration from Virgil Exner’s 1952 Chrysler D’Elegance concept car and added hints of Bentley’s 2003 Continental GT,” Elton explains.

Bob Elton V8 coupe digital designs detail
Chris Stark
Bob Elton C8 Coupe build rear
Chris Stark

A more direct approach was used to construct the Coupe’s chassis. The 1986 Chevy El Camino possessed the 117.1-inch wheelbase, track dimensions, and coil springs that Elton sought, so he employed a frame from that car with few modifications beyond some rear-suspension refinements.

“Instead of farming out the fiberglass work,” he says, “I crafted all ten exterior-panel molds myself. The windshield and side glass came from a 2000 Ford Mustang, while the rear glass was sourced from a 2017 Chevy Corvette. My Summit Racing fuel cell holds 16 gallons. Final painting will be the responsibility of a nearby shop specializing in Corvette work.”

Prior to completion, Elton’s Coupe was test-driven near his residence sans bodywork. In March 2022, it passed inspection and was issued its VIN and plates.

Elton is hesitant to guess how many thousands of hours and “investment” dollars went into his homebuilt siblings. He does reveal, however, that farming out some of the Roadster’s work drove the car’s total cost over $100,000.

Another requirement worth mentioning is the patience of Elton’s wife, Mary, who tolerated his many late nights on the job. A reminder, then, to all the dreamers: Before you undertake anything of this scope, remember, you’re not just planning for dollars and construction hours. Add in ample moral support.

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    Beautiful cars by a truly talented man with a very supporting wife. As a complete opposite; you can fill pages with stories of unfinished, well intentioned, kit cars and their “almost” builders, and then the “for sale – cheap” column.

    Anybody who follows through with their dreams should be praised for the creation they made. It doesn’t matter what the outcome is as to whether you like it or not. As it’s only those who are nothing more then dreamers are the one who leaves the sharpest criticism of all having nothing to show for their accomplishments in life still all. Great job.

    Hugh, your comments remind me of one of my favorite quotes from Teddy Roosevelt certainly fitting for Mr, Elton here:


    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    –By Theodore Roosevelt, excerpt from his speech in Paris entitled “Citizenship in a Republic,” April 23, 1910

    !00, thousand $, is not a bad deal for a labor of love, it’s a creative, exploration of a dream of building YOUR dream car.

    I’m no millionair nor 1/15th of that but I would love to own a ’37 Alfa Romero Superlegerra or have a neighbor with one for me to gander. Well…my hat’s off to Bob Elton who took a dream, which financially out of reach for a lot of us, MADE/CREATED the dream by and through his very own efforts. And his dream car is totally(?) maintainable at pressent day costs.

    Thanks for respecting the proper spell: Alfa Romeo, and Touring Superleggera, which was the coachwork designer and builder.

    Way to go Bob. Congrats. I know a guy just like Bob. As I am sure many of you do as well. His love for that car and the constant work gives him purpose. I can see him out in the garage each day and after dinner just going out at tinkering and cleaning this car.

    I chose the color after 10 years of driving around in primer. I sw a pontiac in the junkyard, in the sun, and it just glowed. So I took off the gas cap door, took it to the paint shop, and said, “paint it like thi”.
    Glad you like it.

    Wow, is my comment and congratulations Bob on a beautiful car and your excellent workmanship. From Queensland Australia. (If you want to send the car over I’ll gladly show it off for you!!).

    Excellent result of a humungues amount of blood, sweat, tears, time, and great tapping of the till. This would in my thinking, compare to concept cars that the major carmakers do every once in a while, and then have them crushed – our loss!!! This would be a survivor in that atmosphere!!! Colors are beautiful and striking – the copper melds extremely well with the brown, and the fit and finish looks to be exquisite. Thanks for your patience and hard work in finishing these cars and bringing them to completion. Also kudos to your loving wife – its gotta be love to be putting up with us menfolk in our endeavors. Cheers,

    Wow Bob, I just knew you because of your time with Ford and the Lincoln Mark VIII. This is truly mind blowing, you never cease to amaze me, sir!

    Back in the mid-70s, my uncle hand built a car. 65 F100 chassis, Buick fenders, everything else hand built. I’ll post a picture if I can figure out how with the new comment system (miss the old one).

    I met Bob through SAE committee work and had the opportunity to see these vehicles in-progress a few years ago. How fantastic to see the roadster now ready for the road. Can’t wait to see the coupe next! Makes me wonder if there’s room in the Concours structure for a circle of one-off home-built vehicles that are not the undertaking of the major car companies? Bob’s cars are absolutely gold-ribbon in my book.

    Awed by your talent and dedication to your dream. I have built a few cars in my day, but nothing from scratch. Maybe I missed it but what are the engines and what’s next?😊

    Is it just me, or do I see hints of an SSJ Duesenberg when viewed from the side (and not looking at the extreme tail). Absolutely beautiful design; coulda come from the pen of Gordon Buehrig–and that’s meant as
    a huge complimen!

    Is it just me, or do I see hints of an SSJ Duesenberg when viewed from the side (and not looking at the extreme tail). Absolutely beautiful design; coulda come from the pen of Gordon Buehrig–and that’s meant as
    a huge compliment!

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