Bud Bourassa, I’m about to learn, is a man prone to understatement.
“The Devin is like driving a skateboard,” he tells me. “It’s very quick and really responsive.” As for the Apollo GT, “You have to be pretty attentive. It’s a fun car to drive, but it takes concentration.”
In retrospect, I should have taken him more seriously.
Bourassa is a car collector from Scottsdale, Arizona, and he’s agreed to let me drive two of the rarest American cars in his collection. His Devin C is one of about 25 made, and it was Bill Devin’s own prototype. The Apollo GT is one of 39 examples built by the short-lived International Motor Cars company and one of only two automatics. Both cars stand as reminders of how difficult it is to get traction in the automotive business: Conceived in the same era, they launched hard and wound up flaming out.
Devin started his business building race cars, but he was best known for his fiberglass bodies. Made in 27 sizes to fit every chassis from Crosley to Corvette—all of which sold for the low price of just $295—these Ferrari Monza-inspired shells were a fixture of the 1950s and ’60s era sports-car culture.
Still, turn-key sports cars were Devin’s dream, and in 1958 he introduced his Chevrolet-powered Devin Super Sport. It was ridiculously fast, but at $5,950 it cost more than a Cadillac. By 1961, the price was $10,000. Devin needed a low-cost model, so he designed the Devin D (for Deutschland), a rear-engine car using either Volkswagen or Porsche power. There was just one problem: Devin’s race cars were embarrassing Porsche at Riverside International Raceway in California, and as a result Stuttgart had little interest in selling him engines. The VW Bug’s mill was easier to come by, but 36 horsepower didn’t quite cut it.
Devin found his solution in the 1960 Corvair. He kept the D’s VW-sourced front end and installed the Corvair’s engine, transaxle, and rear suspension. Devin asked motorsports legend Stirling Moss to evaluate the car. Moss advised him to add one more beam to stiffen the frame. Once that was sorted, the Devin C was born.
The C was made with weekend racers in mind, but the Apollo GT was more of an American answer to European GTs. It was dreamed up by a young California engineer named Milt Brown, styled by Art Center graduate Ron Plescia then later restyled by Franco Scaglione in Italy. Brown saw great potential in Buick’s all-new 1961 Special—not only the light and powerful all-aluminum 215 cubic-inch V-8 but the suspension as well, particularly the rear axle’s four-link coil-spring setup. All were adopted and improved for the Apollo. Carrozzeria Automobili Intermeccanica of Turin, Italy, hand-built and assembled the bodies, frames, and interiors and shipped them to the newly formed International Motor Cars in Oakland, California, for installation of the mechanicals.
The GT was light (at 2,440 pounds, it was 700 pounds lighter than a fiberglass-bodied Corvette), and it was quick for its time—0 to 60 mph in a claimed 7.5 seconds, though contemporary magazines timed it about a second slower. It went on sale in 1963 for $6,597, midway between a Jaguar XKE and a Mercedes-Benz 230SL.
Reviews were good. “Handles as well or better than a 2+2 Ferrari, an Aston DB4, and a Sting Ray Corvette,” racer and respected journalist Denise McCluggage wrote in Science and Mechanics magazine. In 1964, IMC added a convertible and a new version with an iron-block 300 cubic-inch Buick engine that became known as the 5000 GT, with the 215-powered cars adopting the 3500 GT moniker.
Settling in behind the Apollo’s big, wood-rimmed wheel, it’s easy to see the European parallels: Its leather-lined interior is snug and very obviously handmade, and the Jaeger gauges are labeled in Italian. The windshield pillars are stick-thin, and the hood seems to extend for miles. But one twist of the key, and visions of Modena are quickly forgotten. The engine rumbles to life with a delicious Detroit soundtrack.
Bourassa wasn’t kidding when he said the Apollo requires attention. With the R-1-2-N-P shift pattern of its Dual Path Turbine Drive automatic, selecting a forward gear is a challenge. But even with the automatic transmission—remember, it was the Dynaflow from which this transmission is derived that gave us the term “slushbox”—the bantamweight Apollo is eager to take off. But it’s not so eager to stop. The brakes are drums all around with no power assist, and the pedal rides so high I feel like I have to touch my knee to my chin just to get my foot on it.
The steering wheel is offset far to the right, and despite the fact the Apollo is fitted with unassisted steering and an extended pitman arm to effectively speed up the ratio, it still responds like a Kennedy-era Buick. It has an independent spirit and an insatiable urge to venture off in new directions on its own initiative. Driving it makes me wonder how anyone survived the 1960s.
The Devin C is a completely different experience, more race car than road car. Devin offered the C with engines rated from 80 to 150 hp, with the highest-spec model using the turbo unit from the Chevy Corvair Corsa. Bourassa’s Devin has a naturally aspirated engine with a multi-carb setup, and a dyno test revealed 180 horsepower—plenty for a car that weighs about 1,400 pounds.
First gear in the close-ratio four speed is funky, if you can even find it. This is still a ’50s-era American transmission. Once you’re in second, you really start to boogie. I expected the Corvair mill to echo the sophisticated thrum of a Porsche flat-six, but the largely unrestricted exhaust on Bourassa’s car belts out a bratty blat like a demon Volkswagen. The Devin steers a bit like a Volkswagen, too. There’s more on-center play than I expected, but once it begins to respond to the wheel it never stops. This car lives to change direction.
Like the Apollo, this Devin has drum brakes, and it takes a deliberate foot on the pedal to haul it in. Clearly the car was meant to go, not stop. Out of respect for its rarity—and a passing concern for Scottsdale’s traffic laws—I remain mostly at second-gear speeds. The Apollo got my blood pressure up, but the Devin is pure adrenaline. I never wanted to stop driving it, a plan the brakes clearly agreed with.
So what happened to Devin and Apollo? In the end, both companies simply ran out of cash.
“I think [Devin] was undercapitalized, like most startup businesses,” Bourassa says. A successful businessman himself, he knows a thing or two about running a company. “There just wasn’t money there to research and build the cars. He sold a lot of fiberglass bodies for $295, and you can’t make a lot of money doing that.” Devin sold just 25 Model Cs between 1959 and 1965, when he finally threw in the towel.
A similar fate befell International Motor Cars, despite high demand.
“They had orders they couldn’t fill,” Bourassa explains. “They were buying the motor, the suspension, and all the running parts over the counter from Buick. They owed Intermeccanica a lot of money for the production they had already shipped.” With some 39 cars completed, Intermeccanica demanded payment, and IMC went bankrupt.
Vanguard Industries of Dallas, Texas, which made aftermarket air-conditioners, bought 19 bodies and continued production as the Vetta Ventura, though it reportedly finished only 11 cars before going belly up in 1965. The Apollo went back into production in late ’64 under its own name, with Intermeccanica shipping 24 bodies to the freshly minted Apollo Industries of Pasadena, California. But that company completed only 14 cars before it, too, became insolvent. A shop foreman bought and assembled six bodies. Four went unclaimed at the dock and were sold at a customs auction and assembled. In total, 90 Apollo GTs and Vetta Venturas were built.
Today, it seems only a handful of hardcore collectors and historians know about the Apollo or the Devin.
“We take them to a show, and we just get bombarded,” Bourassa says. “‘What is it? What is it?’ You can spend your whole day answering questions.” He’s only too happy to answer. Bourassa is keeping the faded American dreams of Bill Devin and Milt Brown alive. “I like cars that are limited-production and unique,” he says.
Take that as his ultimate understatement.
Apollo: Bashed panels and Bondo
Bud Bourassa fell in love with the first Apollo he ever saw, a red 5000 GT on the “Still for Sale” lot at a Barrett-Jackson auction. He restored the car and later sold it but soon decided he wanted another.
“One day I get a call: ‘There’s an Apollo on Craigslist!’ I called the guy and said, ‘I want the car. I’ll overnight a check, and then I’ll come look at it.’ His parents each had an Apollo. His mother was 87 and quit driving. It looked beautiful, and it drove fairly well, and I knew they were few and far between, so I bought it.”
But it turned out the car’s beauty was barely skin deep.
“I had a guy soda-blast the paint off, and it was Bondo everywhere! His mother had crashed every corner. They used a slide hammer, then Bondoed it in.”
Bourassa sent the Apollo to the body shop for new panels and almost lost the car.
“It was there for six or eight months,” Bourassa remembers. “Finally they called and said, ‘It’s done.’ It was 114 degrees, and I said, ‘I don’t really want to go get the thing, it’s so hot.’ But I hooked up the trailer, drove into Phoenix, and loaded it up, and that night the place burned down. Everything in it was destroyed.”
The fire left Kurt Sowder, who did the metalwork, out of a job, so Bourassa hired him. And as it turned out, there was still plenty to do on the Apollo.
“The front clip was badly smashed and puttied,” Bourassa explains, “so we got a new one made in Italy. The guy cut it in half to save on freight! I just about crapped. I called him on the phone: ‘Why? Why?’ He said, ‘Well, it’s a lot cheaper to ship in smaller boxes.’ We had to put it back together without making it look wavy. It was really a job.”
It was only later that Bourassa learned just how rare his Apollo was. Not only was it one of just two automatic-transmission examples, but it was also the second car off the production line despite having serial number 0005.
“They didn’t want the customers to think it was the second car built, so they gave themselves a little cushion,” Bourassa explains. An outside fuel-filler flap, downward-angled switches, and chrome trim around the secondary gauges mark this as one of the first two cars built.
Despite its rarity, Bourassa drives it regularly.
“People say, ‘Are you driving it?’ Well, yeah. You can’t just let it sit and deteriorate.”
Keeping Devin’s Dream Alive
While Bourassa went looking for the Apollo, his Devin C found him.
“This was Bill Devin’s car,” Bourassa explains.
“I have pictures of it racing at Riverside. All of the famous racers we know, from Stirling Moss to Dan Gurney, they raced against it. Bill Devin painted it gold so it wouldn’t be confused with Max Balchowsky’s yellow car, Ol’ Yeller.
“Bill Devin was approached by Andy Granatelli, who was in the process of developing the McCullough supercharger. He wanted to mount it on the Devin. The supercharger wouldn’t fit in the engine compartment, so they cut a hole in the back fender. He ran something like 120 mph.” The car clocked an 11.94-second quarter mile at 117 mph and also ran 167 mph at Bonneville, though it was never timed officially. The experiment done, the supercharger was removed. “There’s a picture of it on the track with the hole patched in,” Bourassa adds.
“Bill decided to restore it, and before he finished he passed away. The family sold it to another gentleman in Arizona, and lo and behold he passed away, so the family was looking for someone to finish the project. I was recommended by a few mutual friends, and I bought the car. The body had been painted, but there wasn’t much else done. It was a lot of parts and pieces and an old Corvair motor.”
Because of the car’s unique history, Bourassa had some flexibility with how it was finished.
“It’s not like doing a restoration on a Jaguar E-type, where every nut and screw has to be a certain manufacturer. You can take liberties. We finished the car the way we thought Bill would want it to be.
“The windscreen and the side windows are something we wanted to do. Bill sold the cars with an old-fashioned upright windshield with chrome around it. Ugly as hell. I wanted a
screen that went all the way around and on to the doors, so that’s what we did. Kurt molded it out of Plexiglas. We also did the headlight covers. We heated them up in the barbecue! Two-hundred-twenty degrees, and they just shrunk over the form.”
Asked about the Devin’s lasting appeal, Bourassa says, “It’s unique, and it’s something I can finish up and create.”