The sports car history books are chock full of ambitious young folks dreaming big, pooling cash, and setting up shop to take on the world. Then they often run out of money, throw up their hands, and close their doors after just a few years and a few dozen examples are finished. Making cars is a business, after all, and as it turns out, building sports cars and turning a profit isn’t easy.
Sometimes the cars themselves were fantastic and had serious potential. A perfect example of one of these obscure but awesome automotive ventures is the Apollo GT, a marriage of Italian style and American engineering wed in Oakland, California, in 1963. From 1963–65, Apollo built just 88 production GTs, available in one of two body styles and with one of two engines. Those volumes mean they are rarer than many of the Ferraris, Jaguars, and Aston Martins they were meant to compete against.
Apollo came about thanks to three friends in Northern California – Milt Brown, Ron Plescia, and Ned Davis. They wanted to emulate the best of the large sports cars coming out of Italy and Britain at the time but with reliable American underpinnings. While at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1961, Brown met Frank Reisner, of Carrozzeria Intermeccanica, who agreed to provide finished bodies for Brown’s fledgling sports car venture.
Plescia sketched a European-influenced coupe body, while designer Franco Scaglione of Bertone fame refined the shape further. Intermeccanica then worked on the production bodies themselves. Meanwhile, Brown designed a steel ladder frame with Buick front subframe and front suspension, along with four-link trailing arm rear suspension. Power came from Buick’s new aluminum 3.5-liter (215-cubic-inch) V-8, which was remarkably light at around 300 pounds. Shifting came from a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual. An automatic was also available, as were Borrani wire wheels.
The bodies from Intermeccanica in Turin arrived at International Motor Cars in Oakland, where the rest of the production process took place. Priced at under $7000, it was a good value compared to many of the Italian cars of the day but still more expensive than a Jaguar E-Type.
Initial response to the Apollo was positive. The Apollo looked like a Ferrari and went like one, too. Even better, the average Buick mechanic could fix it. Good press from contemporary automotive magazines, plus support in both Science and Mechanics and Town and Country, was encouraging enough for Apollo to come out with a convertible model. Demand for more power led to the 5000 GT, which was essentially the same car but with Buick’s new iron-block, aluminum-head 5.0-liter V-8.
Apollo also planned a four-passenger car and even a mid-engine sports car, but by 1965 the writing was on the wall. The demand was there and the car was good, but lack of capital and cash flow meant the business was unsustainable, and the cost of shipping bodies from Italy to California was predictably huge. Apollo sold its assets, and the last handful of vehicles were rebadged as Vetta Venturas, while Intermeccanica went on to build its own small-batch American-powered sports cars like the Italia and Indra.