America’s Most Successful Replica Car: The Iconic Excalibur Phaeton

The Excalibur was a car styled after the late 20s’ Mercedes-Benz SSK made by Brooks Stevens for Studebaker. Premiering at car shows in 1963, Excalibur sought to design a unique bodywork for the existing standard and to upgrade the engine and specifications to improve on the overall design.

As far as replicars go, Excalibur was one of the most successful in the business and the highly collectible classic cars created by the company have, since 2007, been added to the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) in the “factory built Antique Automobiles” ”category.

Of the many series created by Excalibur, the Phaeton is one of the most collectible. Only thirty-eight of the straight Phaeton named cars were built and numbered in the 1984 anniversary edition. Other iterations included three unique series and limousine-built versions of the cars.

Beloved and collected by many, as well as surprisingly powerful, the iconic Excalibur Phaeton is a remarkable piece of American vehicle history.

Let’s take a closer look at what made the Excalibur Phaeton a successful replica car!

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History Of The Excalibur

Excalibur Automobile Corp was founded in the mid 1960s and was created to blend more modern manufacturing and styling techniques with the classic beauty and grace of older models from the 1920s and 30s. Though the Phaeton original was the most well-known of the models produced, the company also made a Roadster and Royale model.

Originally, the Phaeton was created as the result of a commission by Studebaker to mimic the look of the early Mercedes-Benz SSK roadster. Handmade with luxury touches and posh detailing, the Excalibur then continued to evolve into a larger “boat” of a vehicle priced upwards of $60,000.

The Excalibur Phaeton could boast being designed by Brooks Stevens, who was well known for designing and developing many well-known and nationally recognizable products as well as automobiles, including designs for the 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk and the updated look of the Jeep from their original Willys origins.

Several famous names have been known to own and love their Excalibur’s including actress and comedian Phyllis Diller, who not only ran her own Excalibur dealership for some time, but also proclaimed that her own 1968 Excalibur Series I Phaeton was her “favorite car” ever. Additionally, Robert Einar “Pete” Petersen, an American publisher and founder of the Petersen Automotive Museum, actor Steve McQueen, former President Ronald Reagan, Dean Martin, Tony Curtis, Prince Rainier, George Foreman, Sonny and Cher, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger have all owned Excalibur cars.

Studebaker, who had originally commissioned the vehicle, however, was not a fan of the final design and was worried that they would face backlash from the public for copying Mercedes design elements so blatantly. They immediately determined that they would not put the Excalibur Phaeton in their stand at car shows. Through his own quick wit, though, Stevens found a way to display the car at the show on his own by convincing the show’s organizer to allow him his own spot.

The car was a shocking success at the show and had people lined up to place $6,000 down to place an order for the car. That enthusiasm continued, and the car was put into production when Stevens fronted the money for himself and his two sons to create the Excalibur Automobile Corp.

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The Excalibur Phaeton: Specifications And Unique Features

When Stevens began designing the Excalibur Phaeton, he had a three-man team including his two sons to help him, and they began with a Lark Daytona convertible chassis. From there, they added a supercharged 289 cubic inches V8 engine capable of up to 290 horsepower. After some discussion on design, the engine was ultimately moved back 29 inches to put the front seats for the driver and passenger in line with where the rear seats originally were placed in the Lark.

Flex exhaust pipes were added that came from Mercedes’ supplier, and the body was very clearly inspired by the SSK. The seats came from Studebaker, and the interior display panel instruments and controls came from the Hawk GT. The turn around on creating the car was incredibly quick, and the prototype shipped just six weeks after they began the creation.

The car was altered into several iterations. One of the more popular versions was the S1 Roadster, which boasted fiberglass bodywork, a weight of 2200 lbs, and a Chevy V8 engine that was 327 cubic inches and capable of up to 300 horsepower paired with a four speed gearbox. Fifty of the Roadsters were hand built over a two-year span.

In 1966, a new, more luxurious Roadster and a four-seater, open-top Phaeton were introduced. Each new series seemed to be more over the top and flamboyant than the previous ones. Every five years or so, a new series would be introduced until production finally ended in the late 1980s. In total, 3,166 were built, all by hand.

The classy appearance and unique series of the Excalibur Phaeton make it very collectible, especially the anniversary editions from 1984, which saw only 12 Roadsters (the first of which was used as a pace car at Monte-Carlo) and 38 Phaetons built and numbered. Other iterations with no doors were also very limited runs and are highly sought after.

Overall, the success of the Excalibur Phaeton against expectations when first introduced as well as the continued collectability of the car has made it an icon as the first and most successful replica car in American history.

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