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Brooks Stevens was the Ultimate Hot Rodder

Brooks Stevens was the Ultimate Hot Rodder
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Famed industrial designer Brooks Stevens was a collector of antique and special-interest cars, but he was also the ultimate hot rodder. His early Excalibur cars were inspired by the Mercedes-Benz SSK roadster. They were sort of hot rod versions of the German classic with performance-modified Studebaker V-8 engines.

Like many hot rodders, Stevens had a deep appreciation of what makes a car good-looking and cool. In the early 1930s, when he was a teenager, Stevens went to a wedding where an L-29 Cord was given to the bride and groom. Stevens was very impressed by the car and wanted one. His father was a successful engineer and helped his son buy an L-29 Cord Cabriolet in 1931. At the time, the car was two years old.

Stevens is well known for his design work on such milestone vehicles as the Willys Jeepster and the Studebaker Hawk GT. Stevens also designed the iconic Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. He organized a car collection and automobile museum in Mequon, Wis., that sat next to his design offices for many years.

Stevens’ Excalibur luxury sports car was built for 24 years and for awhile he was the fifth largest automaker in the United States. He built 3,268 Excaliburs and production was carried out in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. The early Excaliburs had a lot of “hot rod” in them. The later models were more along the lines of a neo-classic luxury car with a Corvette chassis and running gear.

Many Excaliburs were hot rodded to one degree or another. Guy Carpenter of Specialty Car Enthusiasts, purchased the 135th Excalibur built. This 1969 Excalibur S.S. roadster was previously owned by a man who was a friend of Willie G. Davidson of Harley-Davidson fame. He was able to get the Excalibur repainted in a special silver Harley-Davidson color.

Carpenter thoroughly researched his car and the history of Brooks Stevens’ automotive contributions. In the process, he met Alice Preston of Milwaukee’s Camelot Classic Cars. Preston worked for Brooks Stevens from 1963 until the late 1980s. She later ran the Brooks Stevens Automobile Museum and held that job until the collection was dispersed after Stevens’ 1995 death.

Preston has a vast collection of Brooks Stevens artifacts including design renderings, historical photos and stories about famous people who purchased Excaliburs. Jackie Gleason owned one of the cars. Comedian Phyllis Diller bought four of them. Preston owns an Excalibur sword that was used in the automaker’s promotions. She also has the first-of-its-kind “Monaco Edition” Series IV Excalibur.

Wisconsin bandleader Howie Sturtz II was another bif Excalibur fan. He owned four Excaliburs over the years and resold the cars to different people. One went to a Marshfield, Wis., man named Don Nickolai. Another was sold the building supply tycoon John Menard of racing fame. A third was purchased by “Doc” Watson of Hurst-Olds fame.

The Excalibur Car Club is dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of the Excalibur, which it describes as “the last true American manufactured classic car.” The club’s listing points out that it covers the “Excaliburs originally designed by Brooke Stevens--an American Industrial Designer. The automobile combines modern technology with classic design (and should not be) confused with a kit car or replica.” The club has a Facebook page that can be used to contact the organization.