Bob Shaw is one lucky fellow. After rearing a family, running a thriving steering-wheel business, and conquering some setbacks to his health, Shaw focused his energy on that universal aspiration – constructing the car of his dreams.
The Excalibur RS (Robert Shaw) he loaned to us for a few memorable hours is the fourth jewel in this enthusiast’s crown. After rebuilding two Bugatti roadsters (Types 38 and 59), Shaw commissioned a scratch-built homage to the 1958 Ferrari Testa Rossa. The Excalibur is a tribute of a different caliber. Shaw was a close ally of the noted industrial designer Brooks Stevens and campaigned two of Stevens’s creations in vintage racing. The Excalibur RS is an appropriately modernized version of the Hawk sports roadster that Stevens designed in 1959 and developed to the scale-model stage (currently in Shaw’s possession).
Stevens was a prolific designer who gave society the steam iron, pastel hues for kitchen appliances, the wide-mouth peanut-butter jar, and the expression “planned obsolescence.” He also designed the Willys Jeepster, the Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk, and one of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobiles.
Two contemporary designers – Ford retiree Herb Grasse and Dave Draper of Time Machines Unlimited – collaborated with Shaw to trim the Hawk’s towering tail fins and to incorporate modern touches from Bugatti (exhaust treatment), the Ford GT40 (front end), and the Lamborghini Murciélago (scissor-hinged doors). Chuck Rahn, a crack fabricator, constructed the chassis, which has a steel-tube spaceframe, a control-arm front suspension, power rack-and-pinion steering, and a Halibrand rear axle. The classic Borrani wire wheels wear low-profile BFGoodrich radial tires. The finishing touch is an official Excalibur vehicle identification plate.
From start to completion three years ago, Shaw invested ten years and way too much money into this project. Constructing the chassis consumed a year; designing and building the formed-aluminum body took more than three. The interior consists of fiberglass moldings trimmed in leather and engine-turned aluminum panels. The doors, hood, and deck lid all open and close at the touch of a button.
The Excalibur RS’s 5.7-liter General Motors V-8 crate engine is equipped with Edelbrock throttle-body fuel injection, tubular headers, and custom valve covers manufactured by Shaw’s craftsmen. Honoring Stevens’s traditional red, white, and blue livery, Shaw selected Mercedes-Benz mystic blue metallic paint, which he spotted in a London dealer’s showroom, and paired it with pearl-white and brilliant-red accent colors.
Shaw and I have similar statures, so the fixed seat, steering wheel, and floor-hinged pedals fit perfectly. The instruments are readily visible through the removable VIP steering wheel’s spokes, and the polycarbonate windshield is just tall enough to deflect the wind above my eyes.
The Excalibur’s low build, snug cockpit, and throaty V-8 are reminiscent of Corvettes before they were sapped by keyless-entry and head-up distractions. A gear-driven camshaft and the quick-change differential contribute an endearing whine to the powertrain’s refrain. The steering is a little light and filtered feeling, but this homebuilt vehicle drives better than some factory prototypes.
Suspension calibrations are supple, and there isn’t a whit of twist or shake in the well-trussed spaceframe. The Wilwood disc brakes feel like they’d easily withstand racetrack lapping sessions. Twirling the wheel and nailing the gas makes the tail step wide as nicely as you’d please; I declare Shaw’s ride drift ready.
Lighting up the rear tires (just for photography, of course) is a cinch, even with a Turbo-Hydramatic 700R4 automatic transmission and tall axle ratio softening the engine’s punch. In its present state of tune, upshifts occur at only 4500 rpm, so the Excalibur RS has yet to reveal its full performance potential.
At 78, Shaw calls himself “a surviving young man.” I’d call him a master at investing his children’s inheritance.