Excalibur Car History
Article by Mark Trotta
Styled after the 1927-1928 Mercedes Benz SSK, the Excalibur automobile was America's first replicar. In it's first and most successful carnation, a hand-laid fiberglass body was fitted over a Studebaker chassis and drivetrain. After the original company failed in 1986, the Excalibur was revived several times.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Brooks Stevens was an industrial designer, as well as a graphic designer and stylist. His prolific career spanned several industries as diverse as automobiles and motorcycles to home furnishings and appliances.
As an automobile designer, Stevens worked at Studebaker during the company's last years. In 1962, he redesigned the Gran Turismo Hawk.
While at Studebaker, Stevens conceived the idea of building a modern car in the image of a vintage car. A fiberglass replica of a 1927 Mercedes-Benz body was created, then mated to a modified Lark Daytona convertible chassis. Named the Studebaker SS, power was from a supercharged 289 V-8, the same engine available in the Studebaker Avanti.
1964 Studebaker SS
Displayed at the New York Auto Show in 1964, the two-seat roadster generated enough interest to begin taking pre-orders for 56 cars. Unfortunately, Studebaker's financial situation worsened, and the South Bend, Indiana factory was forced to close its doors.
SS Automobiles Inc
Later in 1964, Stevens and his sons David and William took over the Excalibur's production and formed their own corporation, SS Automobiles Inc. They began building and selling the car as the Excalibur.
Excalibur Series 1 (1965-1969)
The revised two-seat roadster rode on the same 109" wheelbase as the original concept car. Fiberglass bodies would be a feature on all Excalibur models.
The Studebaker Lark chassis continued for a while, but the Studebaker engine was replaced with a small-block Chevy V8. Producing 300 horsepower, the 327 Chevy motor was the same as in current Corvettes, making the Excalibur a strong performer. With a 2,100 pound curb weight and standard 3.31 rear axle ratio, acceleration from 0-60 mph was less than six seconds. Projected top speed was over 130 mph.
The year 1966 saw two new Excalibur models; a standard roadster and four-seat Phaeton. Transmission choices on all models were a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic.
Excalibur Series 11 (1970-1974)
The big change from Series 1 Excalibur was a new frame with a 111" wheelbase. Several new options were offered, and the Chevy 327 motor was replaced with the Chevy 350 motor.
Brakes were upgraded from front-disc to all-wheel disc. These were the same brakes as fitted on mid-seventies Corvettes.
Excalibur Series 111 (1975-1979)
The engine was upgraded to Chevy's tourqey 454ci big-block, with a return to the small-block 350 in 1978. The frame was redesigned with a bolt-on front sub-frame assembly, and wheelbase grew by one inch (112").
Excalibur Series 1V (1980-1986)
Series 1V Excalibur's were longer and heavier, with wheelbase stretched to 125". These were the first major makeovers since the original design. Roll-up windows were offered, as well as a rumble seat on the roadster model. Also available was a removable hardtop and leather interior.
In 1981, Excaliburs were powered by General Motor's 305 cubic-inch V8 engine, with 155 horsepower and a three-speed automatic transmission. The fiberglass body was still hand-laid, and was twice the thickness of Corvettes of the time. Overall weight was about 4,400 pounds.
With the sticker price of $47,900, customer demand was dwindling. Fighting against manufacturing costs, new emissions laws, and an economic recession, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1986.
After the original Excalibur company failed, Henry Warner, president of the Acquisition Company of Wisconsin, purchased production rights from the Stevens family. In 1987, he reorganized the company as Excalibur Marketing Corporation (EMC).
Excalibur Series V
(1987-1990) By early 1987, Excalibur roadsters and phaetons were once again being built, now referred to as Series V models. The main difference from the Series 1V models was an upgrade from the Chevy 305ci engine back to the 350ci engines.
Standard roadster and phaeton wheelbase was kept at 124". A four-door touring sedan was offered, riding on a stretched 144" wheelbase and carrying a list price of $65,650. Due to financial issues, Excalibur production under EMC ceased in 1990.
Succession Of Company Ownership
A third owner, Michael Timmer, bought the rights to the Excalibur car in 1991. Unfortunately, Timmer ran out of money before he could build any, and in less than a year the company folded.
The rights to Excalibur were then bought by German father-and-son team of Udo and Jens Geitlinger.
In 2003, Alice Preston, who had previously worked with Brooks Stevens, purchased the assets of Excalibur Automobile Corporation. The company continues to sell parts and perform restorations on existing Excalibur models. In all, over 3,000 Excalibur cars were built in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Excalibur was the first and most successful American replicar company. It was also the best selling and best engineered replicar. At one time in history, the Excalibur was America's fourth largest automobile manufacturer.
Replica Kit Cars
The replica kit car market likely started when Excalibur-style bodies became available that mated with more accessible chassis and drivetrains. During the the 1970s and 1980s, several companies built fiberglass-bodied kit cars based on the Excalibur car. The bodies were usually sold as kits, and designed to fit onto one of several different platforms, including the Ford Pinto and Chevy Chevette.
Read: Kit Car History