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12 American Cars With European Designs You Probably Didn’t Know

Vukasin HerbezNovember 11, 2018

  1. Scaglietti Corvette

If you think that the name, “Scaglietti,” sounds familiar, it’s because this Italian coachbuilder was responsible for some of the finest Ferraris in the `50s and `60s. They were an integral part of the Ferrari legend, so they named their four-seater coupe the 612 Scaglietti. However, it is less known that Scaglietti produced three Corvettes in 1959 for Gary Laughlin, a Texas millionaire and car enthusiast.

The story behind the Scaglietti Corvette is an interesting one. Jim Hall and Carroll Shelby, both notable racing drivers and constructors from Texas saw the potential in the 1959 Corvette with its engine and power. Although the Corvette had a light fiberglass body, they wanted better aerodynamics, a longer nose and more luxurious appointments.

So, they contacted Scaglietti to design and produce a bespoke body on the ‘59 Vette chassis. Scaglietti delivered three cars in different colors with an exquisite design that looked more like a Ferrari than a Corvette. There were plans for regular production, but after careful consideration and cost projection, they abandoned their plans.

  1. AMC AMX/3

Everybody knows about the heroic Javelin and two-seater AMX muscle cars they introduced in 1968. In those days, AMC was an economy car brand with inexpensive models lacking any special features or thrills. So, when a pair of hot muscle cars hit the streets in the late ‘60s, everybody paid attention. Also, the AMC executives noticed a significant bump in sales.

Encouraged by the success of the Javelin and AMX, AMC management wanted to attack the sports car market. They had the funds to do so, but they didn`t have a starting point. So, AMC hired the famous sports car creator and ex-Ferrari engineer, Giotto Bizzarrini. They asked him to build a modern sports car with a rear engine, transaxle gearbox and sleek body.

Bizzarrini did what they and even more. The AMX/3 prototype was capable of 170 mph and had world-class handling and sexy Italian styling. The power was provided by AMC`s 390 V8 engine with 340 HP. Despite the promising start, AMC realized the finished product would cost somewhere around $12,000.

That was significantly more than the similarly-designed De Tomaso Pantera and almost double the price of the Corvette. Unfortunately, but understandably, they decided to kill the fantastic AMX/3 after building just six preproduction cars in 1970.

  1. 1951 to 1955 Chrysler Ghia Specials

The story of those Chrysler Specials the Italian coachbuilding company Ghia built is unique in automotive history. In the early `50s, the American car industry had just started promoting wild concept cars. They were busy turning those new jet-influenced shapes into production models. Chrysler, on the other hand, presented several elegant concepts, all of which drew much attention from the crowds.

Interestingly, those Chryslers were all fully-operational prototypes they built on standard car chassis and drivetrains. However, Chrysler’s top managers realized the potential for a limited production of prestigious coupes. They wanted to build them in cooperation with Ghia, which had already designed and produced several concept cars. So, in 1951 they offered the first Chrysler Special they called the K-301 for sale. And they continued with several other models until 1955.

From this perspective, the Chrysler Specials from the early ‘50s weren’t production models because Ghia produced and assembled them at the request of wealthy owners. Chrysler basically sold its concept cars with regular technology to people mesmerized by the sensual lines. So, in four years, they built just 18 cars, highly customizing them according to their customer’s wishes.

  1. Shelby Cobra 289

The story of the Shelby Cobra 289 is widely known. In 1962, the retired American race driver, Carroll Shelby, heard that AC Cars from England was shutting down the production of their Ace sports roadster since Bristol engines weren’t available anymore. In just a couple of days, he managed to get several engineless bodies on the transport ship to his Venice Beach shop. And he installed Ford`s 260 V8 engines in the new bodies.

The small but powerful American V8 in a light and nimble body proved to be a match made in heaven. Soon, Shelby installed the 289 V8 with 271 HP, which brought some serious performance to this little roadster. However, Shelby’s main goal was racing, so it was obvious the Cobra was a race track terror. However, it dominated domestic championships, beating Corvettes, Ferraris and Jaguars.

But Shelby wanted to go to Europe to prove his concept. So in 1963/64, with immense help from Ford, Shelby campaigned Cobras all over Europe’s finest racing tracks, repeating the success. The small V8 roadster proved extremely capable and dominated the GT class. Ford`s V8 was a durable, reliable unit and Shelby’s racing know-how was crucial in setting the car right for different tracks.

Also, Shelby sold his factory-prepared “Competition” Cobras to private teams and numerous amateur racers who enjoyed much success. Although the Cobra promoted Ford and American performance, it was a small roadster they designed in Britain and “hot rodded” in America.

  1. Chevrolet Corvette Rondine

Back in 1963, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray stunned the global automotive audience with its fantastic design, sharp edges, split window feature and brutal performance. It was the epitome of an American sports car at its finest. However, in Turin, Italy, the talented designers at Pininfarina thought they could do better. So, in cooperation with Chevrolet, they got the chance to prove themselves.

The result was the Corvette Rondine, a fully operational and usable concept car from 1963 that debuted at the Paris Motor Show. Since Chevy commissioned the car, it graced the General Motors stand. They equipped it with a 327/360 V8 engine, four-speed manual and disc brakes. Despite the pleas for production, this gorgeous car remained one of the most beautiful American cars with an Italian design.

  1. Cunningham C-3 Vignale

Briggs Cunningham was a world known entrepreneur, racer and constructor who introduced American cars to the European sports car scene in the 1950s. His dream was to build a racing car that would dominate both sides of the ocean. And he wanted to win the Le Mans with an all-American machine, drivers and crew. So, from 1952 to 1955, Cunningham entered the Le Mans race with several cars of his own design.

However, in the same period, he produced a road-going sports car in form of the beautiful Cunningham C-3. The C-3 was a two-door coupe or convertible Cunningham produced in his West Palm Beach facility. It used the Cunningham C-2 R racing chassis they converted for street use. Vignale in Italy designed and produced the body. Under the hood was Chrysler`s 331 Hemi engine, which they tuned to produce 300 HP.

The C-3 was a luxury sports car that could easily rival any Ferrari or Maserati. However, it was also expensive with prices close to the Rolls-Royce of the day. That is why Cunningham produced only 25 cars, 20 coupes and five convertibles, all of which still exist today.

  1. Apollo 3500 GT

This car falls under several names, including the Vetta Ventura and Griffith GT. But the project started as the Apollo 3500. It was the brainchild of the Californian engineer, Milt Brown. He wanted to build a proper sports car to rival those European exotics. With the help of the Italian company, Intermeccanica, the Apollo project took shape in the form of a handsome coupe with a 3.5-liter Buick V8.

They later moved the production to Texas and renamed the Vetta Ventura, but the car stayed basically the same. The bodies were shaped in Italy and then sent to America. However, it got an upgraded engine in the form of the 4.9-liter Buick V8. Production started in 1962 and lasted until 1965. However, some reports say they completed the last examples in the early `70s. In the end, they only built 90 cars.

Although the Apollo 3500 was a proper sports car with 240 HP from its V8 engine and a light weight, it was a capable coupe with great perspective. But, the production problems, high price and the unknown company became too big of a problem to overcome.

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