Some Like It Hot! 1965 Excalibur SS Series 1 Built For Actor Tony Curtis

Estimate £50,000 - £60,000 For Sale With H&H Classics On June 22nd

30/05/2022    

The sixth Excalibur Series I SS to be made, it was built in 1965 for and purchased by Hollywood legend Tony Curtis with photographs included.  

Subsequently, it was exhibited at The Gilmore Classic Car Museum, USA until 2006. It has just 6,500 miles recorded and is powered by a Chevrolet 327cui 5358cc V8 engine, reputed to do 0-60 MPH in 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 150 MPH. ‘Hot’?  Well, its lightweight aluminium and glass fibre body married to that V8 meant it was somewhat of a ‘performance car’ in this, its early Series I guise. 

The Excalibur SS was an example of what has been referred to as a ‘Neo Classic’, examples of which include the Stutz Blackhawk, Zimmer Golden Spirit and Mitsuoka Le Seyde. They recaptured the values of the 1930s, but with performance, reliability and luxury. Created as an expensive toy at a time, 50 years ago, when people also complained that all cars were looking the same. The perfect complement to a fantasy lifestyle many can only dream about. Car hedonism as you will. A time when there were little or no rules for building a car.

It all started in 1964 when Brooks Stevens drew a concept car on a restaurant placemat. As a consultant to Studebaker and a renowned industrial designer, Brooks was asked to design a 'show car' for the 1964 New York Auto Show. His idea was essentially a love letter to the design of the 1927 Mercedes-Benz but built with Studebaker components. In those days, Studebaker imported Mercedes, so Brooks tied the Mercedes design to a Studebaker Daytona chassis and called it the 'Mercebaker. '

The prototype was built in just eight weeks, ready three nights before the New York Show at the New York Coliseum. They used the name Excalibur - a name linked to Brooks Stevens from his racing days. Brooks had earlier designed, built and victoriously raced a team of Excalibur sports cars in the 1950s. Determined to bring his car to market, Stevens set up his own company, SS Automobiles, with his sons William and David. Since 1964, over 3,500 vehicles have been shipped to dealers and distributors around the world. Excaliburs have been owned by many famous people, including Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Dick Van Dyke, Sonny and Cher, Dean Martin and of course, Tony Curtis.

Production of the Excalibur started in 1965, initially using a Studebaker Lark chassis and with power (all 300bhp of it) supplied by a 327ci small-block Chevrolet V8, as seen in the contemporary Corvette. With a kerb weight of just a tonne or so, the Excalibur was an impressive performer with its 0-60mph time of around six seconds and a top speed of more than 130mph. Only after the first 11 cars were built were smaller doors added for both driver and passenger. Unlike later Series cars the Series I had working side exhausts. Constructed of a steel chassis with an aluminium body and independent suspension it was reported to have been capable of 0-60 in 5.7secs and 150mph. Doorless, early examples of the Excalibur Series I are among the rarest and coveted of the company’s models.

With a 125-inch wheelbase, but also a 305ci GM V8 rated at just 155bhp and saddled with a three-speed automatic transmission and a two-tonne kerb weight, the Excalibur was no longer a performance car by the time the Series IV was produced. This was the beginning of the end for the Excalibur, which by now was nudging $50,000 without options – an astonishing $165,000, or £119,000 in today’s money. Buyers just weren’t interested and in 1986 Stevens filed for bankruptcy. A few other company owners took over and production led to a Series VI, however, by 2003 the rights for everything Excalibur had passed to Alice Preston, who continues to run the Excalibur Automotive Corporation as part of Wisconsin-based Camelot Classic Cars, a small operation that exists to keep as many as possible of the 3500 Excaliburs built on the road.

The sixth production SS Roadster built, Chassis No. 1006, was bought new by acting legend Tony Curtis c.late 1964/early 1965. Around this time, Curtis’ career was at its height, and he’d just made the Warner Bros. movie ‘The Great Race’ (1965).  It was during a publicity photo shoot for the aforementioned movie that he was also photographed with the Excalibur and the car he drives in the film, on the backlot of the studio. 

After a brief time in the possession of Mr Tony Curtis, and with approximately 6000 miles put on the clock, the car was purchased directly by philanthropist Mr Donald S. Gilmore, an acquaintance of Walt Disney, on 16th February 1965 for display at his Gilmore Classic Car Museum, Michigan, until 2007. The car was put up for auction by the museum in 2006 with a mileage then of some 6,252 miles. In 2007 the car was for sale with the Motorcar Gallery of Fort Lauderdale, Florida where it caught the eye of the vendor who personally imported the car into the UK, registered as "KSK 693" on the 1st March 2008.

Included with the car is the transfer/tax declaration document from Tony Curtis to Mr Gilmore noting Tony Curtis' then home address at 1178 Loma Linda Drive, Beverly Hills 90210 and even a photo of him with the car on the Warner Bros. Studio backlot during a publicity shoot for The Great Race (1965).

The low mileage is highly credible since from a month or so old it was in the Gilmore collection and on display in the museum until 2006. In the current ownership, the Excalibur has been well-maintained for the road, including; a brake master cylinder, water pump, new plugs, oil filter, oil change, and electronic ignition at 6212 (2008); brake overhaul (2009); recommissioning work (2014). Its history file includes the provenance records and a collection of old MOTs. Classic & Sportscar Magazine featured this very car in April 2015, a copy of which is on file along with the aforementioned documents.

Next Blog