In the early 1960s, an aspiring young American engineer named Milt Brown dreamed of creating an American sports car to go head-to-head with Aston Martin, Maserati, or Ferrari. While there’s hardly been a shortage of enthusiasts sharing the same dream, Milt Brown was among a select few to turn his into reality. Putting his engineering skills to good use, he designed a coil-sprung chassis from scratch and called upon his friend Ron Plescia, a graduate of Pasadena’s elite Art Center College of Design, to draw up the body styling. To power his new creation, Brown turned to Buick to get his hands on their new all-aluminum 215 cubic-inch V8. This advanced new engine was compact, lightweight, and powerful – the ideal unit for an American sports car with an exotic cachet. Milt also hoped the connection with Buick would give him access to their vast dealer network, but that deal never worked out, as General Motors would not allow another sports car to potentially take sales from the Corvette.
Brown then partnered with the Canadian-born entrepreneur Frank Reisner of Carrozzeria Intermeccanica in Turin, Italy. At Reisner’s suggestion, the famous Italian designer Franco Scaglione was brought in to refine the design, lending the project serious credibility. Scaglione added rear quarter windows, reworked the tail, and shortened the nose to create a beautiful and balanced fastback coupe. Intermeccanica handled the construction of the chassis and body, then shipped the trimmed and painted cars to Oakland, California, where International Motors fitted the running gear, rear axle, and suspension.
Upon debut, Road & Track lavished praise on the new Apollo GT for its balanced handling, refined comfort, and exciting performance. Despite the favorable press, the project faltered due to the costly assembly process, lack of dealer network, and shaky funding. The more powerful, 4.9-liter Skylark-powered 5000 GT helped matters, but the financial problems were too much to overcome, and Brown soon lost control of the project. An additional 11 cars were assembled in Texas and sold as the Vetta Ventura, but in the end, just 88 examples of the 3500 GT, 5000 GT, Apollo Convertible, and Vetta Ventura were produced in total.
This 1964 Apollo is a fine example that has been lovingly maintained and prepared for rallies and fast-road events. It is one of just 11 known convertibles, and it was built by Milt Brown from the remnants of his severely damaged original 5000 GT convertible, using a new-old-stock, never registered 3500 Coupe rolling shell as a basis. The Scaglione-designed convertible shares very few panels in common with the coupe, making such a conversion a significant undertaking. In the care of its most recent owner, this Apollo has been dialed in for fast road use and has thusly seen many miles of enjoyment on tours and rallies.
As offered here, the Apollo presents in very good order, finished in classic red over natural tan leather upholstery. The body is in excellent condition, with good definition to the gracefully formed coachwork. Convertibles were distinguished by their vented front wings, enhancing the already beautiful design. Chrome is used sparingly on the Apollo, primarily on the bumpers and headlamp trims, all of which are in excellent order. Proper details include period-correct Carello headlamps, polished Borrani 5 x 400 wire wheels (stamped RW 3796 all around), shod with the correct 165 x 400 Pirelli Cinturato tires, a Monza-style fuel filler, and discreet Carrozzeria IM badges on the flanks. Overall, the paintwork is attractive, though some blends and minor imperfections are noted on close inspection. It has plenty of presence and will undoubtedly turn heads out in its natural element, carving up twisty back roads.
A characteristic of all Apollos is the remarkably comfortable cockpit, and this Convertible is no exception. Tan leather is used on the seats and door cards, with subtly contrasting brown piping providing a pleasing accent. The seats are well-bolstered and supportive – perfect for long-distance touring. The leather is in excellent order, showing light use on the seating surfaces consistent with this car’s usable character. Oatmeal-colored carpets are in very good condition, as is the canvas soft-top. The cockpit is finished with excellent, fully restored Jaeger gauges, a lovely thin-rimmed steering wheel, and proper switchgear.
At the heart of this Apollo is Buick’s 4.9-liter “Nailhead” V8, shared with the Skylark. While less exotic than the all-aluminum 215, this cast-iron unit offers considerably more grunt. The most recent owner reports numerous period tuning parts are fitted, including ‘slipper skirt’ Olds pistons, which effectively stroke the engine to 348 cubic inches. A three-angle valve job and aluminum intake manifold improve airflow, ensuring the Buick packs a mighty punch. Paired with a 4-speed manual gearbox and a ~2,100-lb curb weight, it is a thrilling drive and can easily hang with more exotic machinery on the road. Further upgrades include dual electric cooling fans and a Wilwood brake master cylinder. Hiding behind the Borranis are cross-drilled brake discs at all four corners, ensuring ample stopping power. The undercarriage is tidy overall, indicative of its consistent road use. The Apollo has proven to be a fast and effective tool on numerous rallies throughout the Southeast, New England, West Virginia, and a 1500-mile event in Canada. After the restoration, marque historian Robb Northrup selected this car to feature on the cover of his book, Apollo GT: The American Ferrari.
While Milt Brown’s dream of building an American-bred exotic sports car was ultimately short-lived, his automobiles are celebrated for their style and substance – as well as the can-do attitude represented by cars like this marvelous 5000 GT Convertible.
Offers welcome and trades considered