Outside of Milt Brown with his 1962-1965 Apollo GT, very few individuals have ever succeeded in designing and producing their own car. Many have tried and most have failed. The stories of such indomitable personalities as Preston Tucker, Malcolm Bricklin, and John DeLorean are just a part of a recurring cycle.
Briggs Cunningham, Sidney Allard, Bill Devin, and Milt Brown are all among the tableau of designers and sportsmen-cum-automakers who had the inspiration and the will to dare the odds. Brown is one of the few whose automotive creation survived the proverbial test of time, to become a collectible car, and in 1979, a recognized Milestone car.
The Apollo was powered by a Buick V-8 and also used its suspension and other GM components. See more classic car pictures.
Back in the early 1960s, Brown, an enthusiastic Northern Californian, armed with an eye for design and an inborn mechanical ability, set about building an American equivalent to Ferrari, Aston-Martin, and Maserati -- a true Gran Turismo.
His timing was right, just on the heels of the Cunningham, Devin SS, and Nash-Healey. And he was quick to recognize the failings of these cars: heavy V-8 and inline six-cylinder engines and bulky passenger-car suspensions.
An engineer first, Brown set about designing a platform that would alleviate some of the performance and handling problems that had stalled his predecessors' cars. He took advantage of Buick's all-new 215-cubic-inch V-8, an engine that would deliver the power necessary for a sports car yet be compact and light enough (just 318 pounds) to allow the exceptional handling characteristics he sought.
Brown knew that a lighter-weight engine would produce a more agile car. He also had the technology at his disposal to build a chassis rigid enough to furnish the ride and handling characteristics he wanted. And best of all, he didn't have to design a single suspension component. It was all there for the taking.
With the introduction of the Buick Special in the fall of 1960, Brown found all the componentry he needed for the Apollo's driveline and suspension. He engineered his own ladder-type frame with a 97-inch wheelbase, built from sturdy four-inch square tubing with .125-inch walls.
A standard Buick Special front cross member was welded to that frame, making it possible to then install the entire front suspension -- including the steering -- as furnished by Buick.
The Buick Special rear axle assembly was also used and located by four rubber-bushed links. The two lower links ran forward from the axle housing to the frame side rails, while the upper pair splayed outward from the differential to the frame rails. It was an extremely efficient design, with the upper arms -- because of their triangulation -- taking both longitudinal and lateral axle loads.
Coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers (heavy duty Monroes) were used all around, and a one-inch-diameter anti-roll bar (50 percent stiffer than the Buick Special's) was installed in the front.
Brown modified some of the Buick components to better accommodate the Apollo's specific needs, including a longer pitman arm to speed up the slow Buick steering, softer front springs to take into account the car's lighter overall weight, increased caster angle, and lightened wheel spindles and steering arms.
The balance of the Apollo's running gear was made up of other General Motors' components: Corvette steering "U" joint and tachometer drive and the Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed transmission. The rear brake drums were also Chevy parts, as were the Apollo's front spring pads, which came from the Corvair.
The Buick Special was tapped again to supply the radiator. By sourcing all of the necessary driveline and suspension parts through GM, Brown had a sports car platform that was both feasible and practical to produce. What he needed next was a body to place atop it.
To learn how Brown got started on the Apollo project, check out the next page.
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