Before Excalibur built extravagant, often garish, neo-classics that attracted celebrities like Liberace, Dean Martin, Tony Curtis, and Sonny and Cher, it produced the sporty and purposeful Series I Excalibur SS. Inspired by the legendary Mercedes-Benz SSK sports car and styled by prominent industrial designer and collector Brook Stevens, it looked more aggressive than the Mercedes it mimicked and was quicker than the heavier Corvette that donated the punchy small block.
The Excalibur J was Brooks Stevens’s first foray into car building. It used modified Henry J underpinnings with a sleek, sporty roadster body, and the three examples produced enjoyed respectable racing careers in the early 60s. The Excalibur SS concept originated when Stevens and Studebaker chairman Sherwood Egbert discussed a “Mercebaker” combining Studebaker underpinnings with a retro Mercedes-Benz SSK-inspired body as a way to attract visitors to the Studebaker stand and promote the American firm’s distribution partnership with Mercedes. Despite financial difficulties, Studebaker supplied Stevens with a chassis and supercharged R2 289 engine. Brooks’s sons David and Steve assisted with the construction of the prototype. The car was completed in just six weeks, but Studebaker was in no financial condition to take on a new project and declined to show the car at the last possible minute.
Stevens had never intended to enter the car business, but there was much buzz after the single prototype was shown in New York (after some desperate wrangling to get the car into the show) that his sons David and Steve soon found themselves building this very appealing and very basic sports car for customers. Dad provided critical help through his extensive auto industry contacts, but his two sons did the heavy lifting. The car captured the attention of several industry players, including Briggs Cunningham and Hubert Brundage (of Brumos Porsche fame).
Between 1964 and 1969, the Stevens family and their crew built 359 examples of the Series I SS. For production cars, a 350hp, 327cid Chevrolet small block engine was mounted far back in a Studebaker Hawk chassis – a full 29 inches further than standard. With its skimpy fiberglass body, the Excalibur was incredibly quick, reaching 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. With that sort of performance, it could show an E-Type, Sunbeam Tiger, and even a Shelby Cobra 289 a clean set of heels, at least in a straight line. An article in Automobile Quarterly, Volume 38, Number 3, captured the essence of the SS in the six words of its title: “Excalibur: Subtle Like a Broad Sword.”
This 1967 Excalibur SS is an outstanding example that was previously a cherished, low mileage original car before being taken down to a bare chassis and painstakingly restored during previous ownership. It is truly one of the finest examples of its kind, restored to a standard rarely seen on early Excaliburs. Finished in striking and beautifully executed black paint over red upholstery, it is dressed with sparkling chrome wire wheels, side pipes, luggage rack, and a canvas soft top. This car is powered by a potent, date-coded 327-cid L-79 Corvette engine mated to a period-correct Muncie four-speed manual transmission, which are believed to be original. It is one of just 38 units produced in 1967 and is undoubtedly one of the very best extant.
The nut-and-bolt restoration included completely refinishing the Studebaker-sourced chassis and suspension components in gloss black, while the suspension was rebuilt to include new shocks and custom-made red spring gaiters. The brakes were also rebuilt and fitted with fresh pads and shoes. Additionally, a new ignition system was fitted, the fuel system renewed, and the original radiator re-cored and plumbed with all new lines. The engine is well-detailed, and topped with a set of authentic Excalibur SS valve covers.
Repainted in gleaming, sinister black, the Excalibur was carefully reassembled, and a fresh red leather interior and black Stayfast top were installed. Paint quality is superb with high-quality detailing, fit, and finish. The cockpit features an engine-turned alloy instrument panel housing an array of period-correct gauges, switches, and an original Motorola Radio that you may or may not stand a chance of hearing once the 350-hp 327 is on-song. Finishing it all off is a set of chrome Dayton wire wheels shod with BF Goodrich Silvertown red line radial tires.
Excalibur SS roadsters are undoubtedly rare, and those treated with this level of care and attention to detail are virtually unheard-of. Since its restoration, this early “no door” Excalibur SS has been stored in a climate-controlled Texas garage and occasionally displayed. Once you’ve seen and driven this thrilling SS Series 1, you’ll find that it has far more in common with lairy elemental sports cars like an Allard J2 or Kurtis 500S than with its later—and more lavish—Excalibur siblings.
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