1965 Excalibur SSK
8-cyl. 327cid/300hp 4bbl
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
The Excalibur was the first of what designer Brooks Stevens called “contemporary classics”. These days we think of them as kit cars, but the original was designed by an expert, and the first and second generation Excaliburs have legitimate value.
Brooks Stevens designed everything from lawnmowers to boats, bicycles and trains but got involved with cars with the Willys Jeepster, and later with Studebaker, for whom he designed the entire 1964 lineup as well as several interesting concepts. He had built a successful SCCA racer called the Excalibur J in the 1950s, but was always fascinated by the 1928 Mercedes-Benz SSK.
Using a 1964 Studebaker chassis he created an SSK clone – the Mercebaker. The first car had a 290 bhp, 289 cubic inch Studebaker V-8 and was a hit at the 1964 New York Auto Show, despite practically being smuggled in, as Studebaker could see no purpose in showing a car they had no intention of building.
Stevens and his two sons decided to build the Excalibur themselves. The first few cars had aluminum bodies, but then fiberglass was adopted and production Series 1 cars used a Corvette drivetrain. With a fiberglass roadster body, the Excalibur weighed 2,400 lbs, and with a 300 bhp Chevrolet V-8 engine it could do 0-60 in 5.4 seconds on its way to a 130 mph top speed.
The first few cars had cycle fenders but then long, sweeping fenders were adopted, and by 1966 the original folding windshield had been replaced by an upright one with cowl mounted wipers instead of the original Lucas MG TD-style wipers with the motor attached to the windshield frame.
By 1969, 359 had been built, including three four-seat phaetons, but the supply of Studebaker chassis was exhausted and all were 20 years old, anyway. David Stevens designed a new chassis from scratch for the 1970 Series II. He addressed complaints about the buckboard ride by using Corvette independent rear suspension and a 350 cubic inch Chevy V-8. The new chassis was two inches longer and fitted with doors.
For 1972 the Chevrolet 454 cubic-inch V-8 was available, with 365 bhp. Prices had risen steadily from the original $7,250 in 1965 to $12,000 in 1973 for the roadster and $12,900 for the four-seat phaeton, but the cars had a following in Hollywood and the company was in the black. Series II Excaliburs were available with 4-speed transmission or Turbo-hydramatic and a hardtop and air conditioning were optional.
The final Series II models were built in 1974, though the Stevens family owned the company until the 1986 Series IV. Later cars became glitzy boulevardiers, aimed at Palm Springs retirees. Prices reached a staggering $70,000 for the 1986 roadster and a limousine was offered in 1989.
Today more than 3,600 Excaliburs have been sold and the company still exists in Milwaukie, Wisconsin. The early Series I and Series II cars have developed a significant following, as they are quick and reliable. Most have survived.