Recognized today as an 'American Milestone Car' and also a valuable collectible car, the Apollo has proven that 'success in the automotive world is not always measured by financial statements alone'. Bringing together an American engine and running gear, the Apollo GT featured Italian/American styling and a body that was built in Italy by a transplanted Canadian engineer/entrepreneur. The GT was the brain-child of a Oakland, California engineer named Milt Brown in the early 1960s.
The Apollo GT was debuted in 1962 and was produced until 1965. Though the Apollo Company was a dismal failure, the GT was a sensational success and the automotive press couldn't stop talking about it. The Apollo Company had a very brief and uneventful sales history but the Apollo GT coupe was applauded by Hot Rod, Road & Track and Car and Driver as a 'consummate sports car', mainly for its styling and craftsmanship. Especially near the front end of the Apollo, its styling was greatly influenced by Ferrari, along with the interior and upholstery was hand-sewn leather.
Road & Track applauded the Apollo in November of 1963 and praised its comfortable space even for taller passengers. Hot Rod also praised the workmanship of the Apollo in 1964, believing it to be of the highest quality. The interior was considered to be comparable to cars costing twice that of the Apollo. Science and Mechanics magazine gave the Apollo high praise and said it was 'comparable to the Ferrari 2+2, Aston Martin DB-4 and the Corvette Sting Ray. The Apollo was considered to be the 'right car at the right time', lacking only two 'all-essential ingredients', money and marketing.
Despite financial failure of American sports cars like the Nash-Healey and the Cunningham, Milt Brown was confident that he could produce a world class, home-grown GT. After a chance meeting during his honeymoon with a Canadian named Frank Reisner at the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix, Brown's vision moved even closer to fruition. Brown learned that Reisner built car bodies in Italy. Reisner was born in Hungary in 1932, but grew up in Canada and graduated in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan. A paint company job put him in contact with the automobile industry and he soon discovered a desire to build his own car.
In 1958 during a vacation trip to Europe with his wife, Reisner recognized that Italy had a deep infrastructure of skilled artisans and stylists as well as a ready supply of skilled fabricators and bodymen and this would be the perfect place to achieve his dream. Reisner and his wife Paula remained in Italy and formed a specialty car company called Carrozzeria Intermeccanica which was based in Turin. Originally the company developed hop-up kits for small vehicle, but eventually it was constructing whole vehicles using readily available chassis' and engines. Brown and Reisner struck a deal and Brown set to work on a design for his new car. His wife suggested that the car should be named Apollo for the Green god of the and a new Company, International Motor Cars was set up in Oakland, California, to build and develop the new sports model.
At the same time that Milt Brown's vision was evolving, Buick unveiled its 1961 Special 'senior compact' model. The components in the Special intrigued Brown, especially the aluminum 3.5-liter GM V8 engine with 190 hp which only weighed around 300lbs without flywheel or clutch. Brown wanted his invention to be as lightweight as possible. Based on parts from the Buick Special, Brown designed a simple steel ladder frame. Brown also used the Buick's steering and its front and rear coil spring suspension, including its solid rear axle.
The transmission for Brown's visionary car was either a three or four-speed manual transmission or a two-speed automatic. All of the components were tied together by a Brown-designed, square-tube, ladder-type frame on a 2,489 mm wheelbase. The brakes in the Apollo were Bendix power discs up front with Chevy drums in back. Boranni wire wheels were an exotic option, while Dunlop wire wheels with knock-off hubs were standard.
The body of the Apollo was styled by Ron Plescia, a childhood friend of Brown's and graduate of the prestigious Art Center Scholl of Design in Los Angeles. Plescia took on the Apollo project in his spare time, and ended up with an attractive coupe with similar proportions to the new Jaguar XKE. The body drawings and chassis were then sent to Reisner, who built an aluminum-bodied prototype and quickly shipped it back for further study. The funding for this project was provided by Newton Davis, another one of Browns friends. The design by Plescia was influenced greatly by the recently introduced Jaguar E-Type and several Ferrari models.
The Apollo coupe was a sleek, long-hood, short-deck fastback with a very innovative lack of rear quarter windows. Brown contracted with Intermeccanica to construct bodies for the Apollo. Reisner chose to use steel bodies rather than aluminum which would be lighter. Reisner had Italian stylist Franco Scaglione review the design before Intermeccanica began forming the bodies over wooden frames, called bucks. Scaglione had a few minor improvements, which included adding rear quarter windows and enlarging the rear window. The finished and painted bodies were mounted on the chassis by Intermeccanica as well as having the interior trimmed before they were shipped to California. In California Davis's International Motor Cars Cars, Inc fitted the powertrain, suspension and other components. In 1962 the first car was completed.
Things seemed to be going very well for Davis until this point. Since it had such a high Buick content, Davis had hoped to sell the Apollo through Buick dealers, but GM objected and the young company was left with no distribution network. Thankfully this was eventually overcome, but since Brown had priced the cars below cost, he soon faced bankruptcy. Vanguard Motors Corp. a Texas company aided Davis by marketing the cars under the name Vetta Ventura. Unfortunately this failed after a few short months and only 19 Vetta Venturas. The operation returned to California.
Apollo International, the new company produced a total of 14 more Apollos, nearly all of them convertibles, before throwing in the towel and giving up in 1965. When production ended, a total of 88 Apollos, which included 11 convertibles, was the total tally for the Apollo Company. A shame really, as Apollo seemed to be a very good car, with the Intermeccanica bodies well built, but, like so many others, it failed due to inadequate pricing.
The Apollo GT was tested by Road and Track magazine and found to be 'quiet, comfortable and well finished', an 'appealing automobile' put together well. The GT could achieve 0 to 60 mph in just 8.4 seconds and had a top speed of 140mph. The Apollo GT is considered by some as one of the finest and most striking GT cars of the 1960s. The Apollo was upholstered in leather and was equipped with Borrani wire wheels. The Apollo 2+2 prototype followed soon after was judged 'best of show' at the New York Auto Show.By Jessica Donaldson