APOLLO: Looking back at
the creation of a Milestone
Story & Photography by Dennis
Unquestionably, one of the most beautiful
sports coupes ever designed, the Apollo is now a Milestone Car.
Very few Individuals have succeeded in
producing their own sports cars. Many have tried and failed. The history of those
individuals keeps repeating itself as is the case today with John DeLorean, and before him
Malcolm Bricklin. The list goes on, names like Briggs Cunningham, Sidney Allard - and Milt
Brown fill the roster of designers and d reamers. Brown's name stands out among many of
his contemporaries, as being one of the few, whose design survived the test of time to
become a Milestone car.
back in the early Sixties was to build an American equivalent to Ferrari, Aston-Martin and
Maserati - a true Gran Turismo.
Brown's timing was right, just on the heels
of Nash Healey, Cunningham and the Devin SS. He was quick to realize the failings of these
cars, and to take advantage of Buick's ail new aluminum 215 cu. in. V8, an engine that
would deliver the power necessary for a sports car, yet be small enough and light enough
(only 318 pounds to allow exceptional handling characteristics. Milt Brown know that a
smaller engine would allow him to produce a more advanced car. He also had the technology
to design a rigid chassis necessary to develop a true handling car.
With the introduction of the Buick
Special in 1960, Brown had at his disposal the basis for a now sports car. the Apollo, He
engineered his own ladder-type frame with a 97 inch wheelbase, welded from sturdy 4-inch
square steel tubing. To that he mounted Buick's four link rear suspension. The front was
made up of modified components including a longer pitman arm to speed up the slow Buick
steering, softer front springs to compensate for the lighter overall weight, heavy duty
shocks, increased caster angle, heavier anti away bar and lightened wheal spindles and
steering arms. The balance of the Apollo's running gear was made up of other General
Motors components from Corvette, the steering U-joint and tachometer drive, and the Borg
Warner T-10 4-speed transmission. From Chevrolet came the rear drum brakes, from Corvair
the front spring pads. From Buick , he took the radiator from the Special. He also adapted
the larger 300 cu. in. 250 hp V8 In later models, which actually proved to be an even
better engine for the Apollo. Atop all this GM hardware and Brown's frame, Apollo added
one of the best designed coachbuilt bodies to ever bear the initials GT. The body for the
coupe was initially designed by Brown and Ron Plescia. In Italy, Franco Scaglione
made some modifications to the original design, and the Apollo bodies (a total of 88 in
all; 76 coupes, 11 convertibles, and one prototype 2+2 coupe) were produced by Frank
Reisner at Carrozzeria Intermeccanica in Turin. The Apollo was one of Intermeccanica's
first projects, and helped launch Reisner's career as a custom coachbuilder and designer.
He later went on to produce the Griffith, Omega and Indra.
The Apollo bodies were truly handmade,
hammered out in steel. They were, shipped to Apollo's assembly plant In Oakland,
California, where they were mated to their GM underpinnings.
The Apollo was what could only be termed a
successful failure. The automotive press gave the car excellent reviews. Road A Track, Car
and Driver and Hot Rod all found the Apollo a consummate sports car, particularly in terms
of styling and craftsmanship. Science and Mechanics lofted the Apollo to highest praise
when they said it was comparable to the Ferrari 2+2, Corvette Sting Ray and Aston-Martin
DB-4. Such was the success of the Apollo 3500 GT and 5000 GT. Its failure came from the
business side - the company was severely under-capitalized. Apollo's working capital was
just too small. In spite of orders for the cars, there just wasn't enough cash flow to
make it work, and the company came apart in mid 1964. At that point in time, 39 cars had
been built and more bodies were already completed at Intermeccanica In Italy. Efforts from
both Reisner at Al and Brown, managed to produce the balance of the 88 cars built. Reisner
sold some to private investors and Brown managed to get more financial backing however, it
still was not enough, and financial woes finally brought he Apollo down by the end of '64
the company was gone, but far from forgotten. Some of the last Apollo bodies were never
mated up to their GM drivelines, instead they ended up in storage, to be co plated years
later, as late as 1980. Brown, himself, has one coupe and the 11th and last of the
Scaglione designed convertibles.
Although Apollo as a company was
dismal failure, the car as a design was an undisputed success. As a Milestone car, the 88 Apollos are a lasting reminder that individual achievements
cannot be measured only by financial statements.
Scaglione designed a convertible
version of the Apollo and Intermeccanica built a total of 11, The rarest of the Apollos,
the drop head model is even more beautiful than the coupe.
In October of 1963 things looked good
for Apollo. The factory in Oakland was in full owing mating the Intermeccanica bodies to
Milt Brown's ladder-type frame and GM driveline components.
Although Apollo was on the brink of
financial collapse in 1964, Automobili Intermeccanica designed a 2 + 2 coupe (the styling
buck Is shown here) of which only one was over built.