1998 Excalibur "Limited Edition" Phaeton
Chassis no. 1XAEC4425WM980044
Copy is often cited as the greatest form of flattery, and of the cars built in the pre-war era it is therefore not at all surprising that replicas of the famed Auburn and Duesenberg automobiles were constructed from the 1960s onwards. The European equivalent of these dashing, rakish cars was of course the Mercedes 'S', 'SS' or 'SSK', one of the finest all rounders of time a car that provided the oldest of all car manufacturers with its third legendary automobile, after the Velo and Simplex cars that had preceded it, aside from the multitude of successful race cars that they had built. The Excalibur was the 'tribute' by a well known designer to that icon.
The Excalibur story began back in 1964 when renowned industrial designer Brooks Stevens, at that time working as a consultant to Studebaker, was asked to design a show car for that year's New York Auto Show. An avid automobile enthusiast and collector, Stevens was a fan of the pre-war Mercedes-Benz SSK and sold the idea of a 'contemporary classic' take on the German sports car to Studebaker, at that time Mercedes importers. For the 'Mercebaker', Stevens used a modified Studebaker Daytona chassis, which was clothed in retro-styled glassfibre coachwork that he had first sketched on a place-mat one lunchtime. Built in just eight weeks, the prototype Excalibur SS was ready three days before the New York Auto Show where it caused something of a sensation, albeit too late to save the ailing Studebaker Corporation. A long list of potential buyers resulted, one of whom - a Chevrolet dealer - asked if the car could be built with a Chevrolet engine. Stevens was only too happy to oblige. An advertisement in the Wall Street Journal generated sufficient deposits to enable production to start, and in 1966 the company moved into premises in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The Excalibur would find a whole new market for this style of replica, in an era when car collecting was a hobby pursued and understood truly by very few, the iconic styling of a pointed radiator grille, external exhaust pipes, wire wheels and a sporty two seater look propelled by a modern V8 and with automatic transmission, pretty much provided the tonic to a number of hobbyists craving for nostalgia, and that was just what Stevens had hoped to create.
There were even a few surprises in the growing roster of buyers, Steve McQueen, better known for his ownership of a coveted XK SS, also had one of these cars and he was not alone.... Excaliburs have been owned by many famous celebrities including Bill Cosby, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Dick Van Dyke, Tony Curtis, Sonny & Cher, Dean Martin and Jackie Gleason. One of the most enthusiastic owners is Phyllis Diller, she has purchased four of them, with King Juan Carlos of Spain one of the more recent customers.
Acquisitions by such high profile individuals almost certainly ensured that the Excalibur would have a long life span, five successive series would follow right through to the late 1980s, before appetite for these cars waned. It wasn't long before the brand was alive again though, when in 1994 group of German enthusiasts revived the brand.
Incorporating modern technology into the car's inherent good looks and badged as a 'Limited Edition' Phaeton, just 27 cars were built in 1994. They provided the same nostalgic experience that the car's first customers had enjoyed over the last 30 years, enhanced aesthetically by a slightly lower overall profile, with 17 inch wheels and power from a potent Corvette motor.
This particular Limited Edition was not sold new until 1998, making it the very last Excalibur to sell as a new car. Selling for a whopping $100,000 its first owner was in nearby Miami, Florida. It remained with him for eight years, before passing in state to its previous owner in Sarasota. On acquisition this enthusiast decided to truly 'soup up' the car. At a further cost of more that $30,000 the tuned port injection Corvette engine was totally reworked adding a killer Vortec Supercharger, new headers and exhausts were fitted, the transmission rebuilt and new Wilwood Disc brakes added among other performance enhancing features.
Reported by its current owner to perform better than any Excalibur on the road, these improvements have certainly been a success. Arguably the ultimate and possibly the definitive Excalibur, this car is ready to be enthusiastically enjoyed this summer.