I'm writing this story because I got in trouble. Well, not trouble per se, but a reader sent me a note after I'd put down Excalibur…again.
Nothing will change the fact that, to me, they look like a Cruella de Vil's idea of a sports car, or if I'm being coarse, a Morgan thoughtfully reimagined by a man blind in one eye.
…and then built by Jeremy Clarkson.
Same goes for the Studebaker Avanti, a car that I should like but it's as if all of its lines were placed a few inches from where they should have been.
That the older-looking Excalibur sort of rose from the ashes of the future-focused Studebaker operation is strange, to say the least—sort of like Will Smith following his summer blockbuster Men In Black with Wild Wild West.
Anyway, Studebaker had an agreement with Mercedes-Benz to sell and repair the iconic automaker's vehicles in the U.S., and so the Studebaker president, Sherwood Egbert, knew that by calling in a few favours he'd be able to have a classically-styled show car built along the same lines as the historic Mercedes-Benz SSK.
Luckily for him, he had a willing co-conspirator in Brooks Stevens, a fan of classic cars himself. The brief was simple: a classic-looking sports car that was wholly modern underneath.
I may not like the car's looks, but I can certainly appreciate its performance—performance strong enough to drop my jaw as I'd read more on the car.
The show car was based on a Studebaker Lark Daytona chassis, with a big V8 mounted up front, but placed rearward by more than two feet in order to improve handling.
It was a supercharged 289 cu. in. unit with gobs of power—289 horses and 305 lb-ft of torque. Transmission? 4-speed.
A classic-looking body made in aluminum featured an upright windshield, cycle fenders, and external exhaust pipes to complete the convincingly old school looks.
Weight was less than 816 kg (1800 lbs.), so the car was quick.
Problem? When the car showed up to the New York Auto Show to join the Studebaker stand, the company had ceased operations—the booth along with it. After a few more favours were exchanged, it was shown under the "Brooks Stevens Associates" banner and strong interest convinced the designer to start production.
The first series was built using Studebaker Lark chassis—easy enough to come by in the scramble as the automaker went under—but for an engine they fitted a Chevrolet small block. Weight was still in check, and as a result the first few years of production unleashed cars that looked like the Queen Mary…but with a 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) time under 6 seconds and a top speed of about 260 km/h (160+ mph).
With images of this grandfather clock hitting 160 running around in your mind, it's time to end. Excalibur's sophomore album didn't quite have the same appeal…