1967 Excalibur Series I SSK Roadster
Chassis no. 1086
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 lightweight 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 retro, 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 with a choice of automatic or manual 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.
This SSK Series I Roadster was delivered new to Paul Strickland, Jr, a Major at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. Ordered with a 327cid Chevrolet Corvette V8 pumping out 350hp and mated to a 4-speed manual transmission, the 2,200 pound car could practically pull rank on a 289 Cobra since it had a similar power-to-weight ratio. Factory optioned with a set of cycle fenders and air horns, it would be hard to miss tooespecially when it blew by you in its trip from a dead stop to 60mph in just a shade over 5 seconds.
The car later passed to its next owner, Leonard Dyer of Del Rio, Texas. Both Maj. Strickland and Mr Dyer, as well as the subsequent owners up to now, were people of great restraint as this Excalibur shows less than 50,000 miles on dial. Carefully maintained since the Major owned it, this rare and desirable Series I SSK is a unique and stylish way to blow the doors off pretty much everything on the road.
- Please note that this vehicle is titled as 1966.