Bob Shaw assumed responsibility for completing Brook Stevens' second generation Excalibur RS (Hawk) roadster, and made it his own.
Brooks Stevens, Milwaukee, Wisconsin's native son, was a successful industrial designer. Clients engaged his services to design clothes dryers, luggage, lawn mowers, trains, boats, and cars - two with whom his name is especially associated are Studebaker and Willys. Brooks was a charismatic character with a keen ability to make a statement for his clients through his often flamboyant designs. The success with excess included many of his automotive concepts.
In 1951 Brooks, then 40 years old, became involved in road racing in America, even helping with the formation the first mid-western auto racing club. With his enthusiasm as a racer, coupled with his capacity and desire to build cars, it was inevitable that Brooks Stevens would design an American built race car.
Stevens approached Kaiser-Fraser late in 1952, proposing to them a design for a first ever American built racing sportcar. That car called the Excalibur J was based on the small lightweight chassis of the recently introduced Henry J of which there was ample supply as the car had experienced less than stellar public acceptance. Stevens' staff designer Charles Cowdin Jr assisted with the design of a tubular shaped aluminum body with front cycle fenders.
Three cars were built with inline-6 engine variations - one with an F-head, another with an L-head - from Willys and the Henry J. Initial race success was hampered by reliability issues until ultimately one car was fitted with a Jaguar XK 140 engine. The cars ran in about 25 races, including Sebring, winning nine times. The L cars greatest triumph was a first in class, third over-all, at the US Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, New York in September 1953 with Hal Ulrich driving.
The Excalibur J cars raced until 1958 and then pretty much disappeared from public view. Until, that is, the 1980's when Bob Shaw convinced Brooks Stevens to allow him to campaign a J car in the vintage racing. And this spawned Shaw's interest in resurrecting the Excalibur name.
The second generation Excalibur was a 1961 design. By then both of Brook's sons were part of the Mequon, Wisconsin business and collection, with the second son, William "Steve" Stevens, adept at day to day administration and operation, and the eldest, David, focused on design and engineering aspects. (the youngest son Keith, who owns the design firm today was still in school in this timeframe.) Designed to be exclusively racing machines, the Excalibur Hawk coupe was built in a shop David had set up. The car, based on components from the Studebaker Hawk, used the supercharged Studebaker 289 cu in V-8. The body style was very aggressive, even displaying design traits similar to some that would soon be seen on Corvette's 1963 Sting Ray. The Excalibur Hawk raced but never achieved success of its predecessor, the J car. Like Kaiser-Frazer, Studebaker was facing a business challenges, so decided to pass on the Excalubur Hawk.
Another Excalibur Hawk body style, open roadster, was designed but never built. These were scale models of both body styles and an illustration of the open roadster was shown on the February 1961 of Today's Motor Sports. But until the early 1990's that roadster remained only in memory.
Bob Shaw has been an automotive enthusiast for most of his 75 years. He has owned some truly great cars including Bugattis, a Type 38 and a 51 Grand Prix, and a yellow GT 40 Ford that was used to make pizza runs with his son.
In 1963 Bob Shaw negotiated, on behalf of the Schlumpf brothers, the purchase of John Shakespear's Bugattis, one of the worlds greatest auto collections. (today the collection is part of the National Automobile Museum in Mulhouse, France.) Shaw has also owned great English cars like Morgan, MG, Jaguar, Rolls Royce and Bentley. Add to that Ferraris, and French examples like Renault Alpine. The man knows his cars.
As a direct result of his seat time in Excalibur J, Shaw was completely hooked on vintage racing. He decided that the ultimate tribute to his friend Brooks Stevens would be to build the Excalibur roadster and be able to race it in vintage events. So he contracted friend and expert fabricator Chuck Rahn, in Scottsdale, Arizona, to build the chassis. (We've met Rahn and Shaw in an earlier working together on another project. Refer to our Vol. 1 3 issue)
The Excalibur roadster would be constructed using Brooks Stevens' original scale model and drawings. As the project progressed however, Bob's urge to include design traits from his own years of experience crept into the project. Herb Grasse, one-time designer for Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, and others, who lives not far from Chuck was consulted to design a more contemporary expression for the Excalibur roadster.
Bob brought me in to build the body, so he and I visited Chuck in Scottsdale to view Herb's model and the chassis that Chuck had constructed. Afterward I invited Mike Kleeves of AMS in Kimball, Michigan to give his input regarding using aluminum to construct the body. It wasn't long before the project moved to my shop, Time Machines Unlimited in Charlevoix, Michigan, to execute a body design to fit the chassis. Mike would form the aluminum body panels after which we would assemble, test, trim and paint the Excalibur RS (Robert Shaw) at Time Machine.
Form Follows Function.
Whether the car should replicate the original or evolved to a fresh design was solved with the consensus that Time Machines would create the car as if Brooks Stevens were here today saying. "Let's finally build it." My automotive design training helped me guide the design modifications so they would meet the requirements of a street car that is based on a race car chassis, while evolving a design that was contemporary yet true to Stevens' original. Bob Shaw's input was critical too. No small task.
Lowering the fins and making a single a single wrap-around wind-shield shape, versus the twin jet-fighter windscreens, helped update the design. Blunting the nose removed unnecessary front overhang while refreshing the car. Headlights were added for obvious reasons and contemporary lighting technology was used to keep a clean low profile. Power-operated doors added the "wow" factor while also easing driver and passenger entry and egress. An automatic transmission and power steering also added to the ease of driving.
Many of the design elements are obvious. There's the GT 40 influence in the seat design and radiator outlets. Bugatti influences abound in the engine turned panels, lightening holes throughout the frame, and attachment brackets. Some of the controls are purely English, and the wheels are beautifully adapted Borrani wires a la Ferrari Daytona. Like many of the Specials built in the 50's and 60's, the hotrod influence is exemplified by the use of the polished Halibrand quick-change rear end. And this is framed by the one-off, chromed, exhaust outlets that are beautifully detailed just like the components of a Grand Prix Bugatti.
Excaliburs were always white with blue and red accents, homage to the road racing tradition where the colors were indicative of the vehicle's country of origin.
For the Excalibur RS the primary color was swapped from white to blue and accented with red. Hues of Mystic Blue and Pearl White add undeniable punch to the severely scalloped body shapes, a hallmark design trait of Brooks Stevens dating back to 1955. The strong swept two-toned side body accent, first found on Stevens' 1954 Paris Auto Show car Die Valkyrie, and more dramatically on the Gaylord Grand Prix of 1955, is echoed is echoed in the flanks of this generation Excalibur. Here in the final execution, the sweep is a bright red accent stripe along the rocker panel. It wraps up and over the rear fenders and across the back of the car - very Brooks Stevens and very Excalibur.
The Excalibur RS is the personal expression of a man who knows and loves cars. Bob Shaw has measured his life, not only by the friends he has met in the collector hobby but also by the people he has known and influenced while in the automotive business. Brooks Stevens was inspirational for Shaw as the two understood and enjoyed living life with style. As much as any one car can, the Excalibur RS captures this one man's passion for cars and the friends he has made while pursuing his love of the automobile.
Bob Shaw keeps saying that this is the last one. Yet don't be surprised if in the days to come he say's, "What do you think about building.........?"
(source: Article by Dave Draper from the Mar/Apr 2007 "Auto Aficionado", with permission from Bob Shaw.)
Much of the material on this website is copyrighted. Original articles appearing herein are subject to copyright. Please don't copy stuff from the site without asking; it may belong to someone! Any trademarks appearing on this site are the sole property of the registered owners. No endorsement by trademark owners is to be construed. The products, brand names, characters, related slogans and indicia are or may by claimed as trademarks of their respective owners. Every effort has been made whenever possible to credit the sources. The use of such material falls under the Fair Use provisions of intellectual property laws.