From about 1960 through 1990, there was a golden age of startup companies building “neoclassic” styled kit cars in America. These “contemporary classics” offered vintage styling with modern power and handling. The first and most famous of these companies was Excalibur, which was started in 1964 by a former Studebaker designer and his two sons.
Brooks Stevens of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was asked by his boss at Studebaker to build a vehicle for the New York Auto Show that would turn heads. Stevens took a supercharged Avanti and reworked it to look like a 1920s Mercedes SSK. The top brass at Studebaker made a last-minute decision not to show the car, but Brooks Stevens contacted Jerry Allen, the organizer of the auto show who “found a corner” for Stevens to display the car.
As it turns out, the Excalibur was a huge hit with Stevens turning down cash offers on the spot for the car and coming home with a dozen pre-orders. With that, he set up shop with his sons David and William and Excalibur was born.
Although I feel my automotive proficiency is fairly well-rounded, there are a couple gaps in my knowledge. I understand that nobody is perfect, so I try not to beat myself up over the fact that I can’t make myself get into anything European or Japanese made before the mid-eighties, I’m not up to date on current supercars (hypercars? what are they calling them now?), and street rods all just look like the same ZZ Top album cover to me.
I also have a bad habit of calling everything that that looks really old but not American either an Excalibur or a “Cruella de Vil Car”, depending on whether I am talking to a car guy or not. So when I saw this old lady barreling down the 17, with a death grip on the steering wheel and, I’m imagining, a cartoonish twinkle of determination in her eyes, taking a folding card table somewhere, wearing a rain poncho underneath her jacket, on a very hot, very dry day in Phoenix, I just assumed that I had just seen an Excalibur. A Cruella de Vil car.