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American Dream Cars of the 60s – 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

By Jennifer Strong:

Featured this year in a special class, the absolute crowd favorites of the day were the American Dream Cars of the 1960s. Different than Concept Cars, these one-off creations built by some of the greatest design and engineering minds of the mid-twentieth century showcased what could be accomplished without the restrictions of corporate managers, accounts and safety regulations. This class celebrated the individual dreamer who dared to make their wildest car ideas a reality. Here are a few of my favorites.

1960 DiDia 150 Bobby Darin Coupe

I’ve seen countless photos of the DiDia 150 in today’s lead image, and I never understood this car’s popularity, but viewing it in person, I got it. Yes, it’s enormous and awkward, but it is such a beautifully executed exercise in the ridiculous you can’t help but love it. The dream of Andrew DiDia and purchased by Bobby Darin, its many details including the “sky view” roof sections, exaggerated fins and “Swedish Pearl Essence” paint with crushed diamonds has to be seen to truly appreciate.

1964 Mantaray Dean Jeffries Coupe

A classic custom from the prime years of the Oakland Roadster Show, it doesn’t get much better than the 1964 Tournament of Fame winning Mantaray. This car with it’s perfectly shaped bubble top, unbelievable curves formed from 86 pieces of aluminum welded together and a Ford V-8 fitted with Weber carburetors and Cobra valve covers was like seeing your favorite Matchbox car come to life.

1967 Gyro-X Alex Tremulis Prototype

While heading the Ford Advanced Styling Studio, famed auto designer Alex Tremulis conceived and built the 1961 Ford Gyron Concept Car. The car was an Auto Show sensation but Ford was not willing to invest in the gyroscopic stabilizing technology to make the car fully functional.

Not to be deterred, Tremulis teamed with Thomas Summers of Summers Gyroscope Company to build the Gyro-X. Powered by an Austin Mini engine and stabilized by a hydraulically powered gyroscope the car has been restored by the Lane Motor Museum after it spent decades in a semi-modified condition. Hearing the joyful applause as the Gyro-X glided across the lawn to the awards stage was an all time great Concours moment.

1965 Pontiac Vivant Herb Adams Roadster

Inspired by the Alfa Romeo B.A.T. Concept Cars, Pontiac engineer Herb Adams created this one of a kind beauty after hours as his personal project. With its upturned aquatic fins it looks ready for a swim but it maintains the soul of a roadster, and of all the Dream Cars it looks like the most fun to drive. Its styling remains timeless and was the well deserved class-winner.

1964 Reactor Gene Winfield Custom Coupe

A famous TV car with appearances on Bewitched, Star Trek and driven by Catwoman, the Rector is more than just a Hollywood prop. It has an aluminum body mounted to a Citroën DS chassis; it is fitted with a turbocharged Chevrolet Corvair engine, and the hood, roof, and doors are opened by remote control. The Reactor is impossibly cool, but cooler yet was Mr. Gene Winfield himself taking time to talk to fans and pose for photos.

1962 Studebaker Sceptre Sibona-Basano

Industrial Designer Brooks Stevens hired coachbuilders Sibona-Basano to build his Sceptre concept in an attempt to save Studebaker from bankruptcy. He believed his completely new design could generate the sales needed to keep the company afloat and the Sceptre would have been Stevens’ first production car design credit.

Unfortunately, it was too late for Studebaker, and with no funds to continue the company shut down. The Sceptre would have been a unique entry in the mid-sixties car market. Its front end looks similar to an electric razor with a bank of Sylvania headlamps that are said to reduce glare. Stevens idea of the future included clear bubbles over the gauges on the dash board and upholstery with silver accents. The different form of each side of the dash is both interesting and at the same time sensible for a concept car.

Rounding out the group were the 1963 XR-6 Tex Smith Roadster, the 1965 Bugatti Type 101C Virgil Exner Ghia Roadster, 1966 Bosley Mark II Interstate Coupe and the 1969 Farago CF 428 Carrozzeria Coggiola Coupe. All have their own unique stories and were a privilege to see. The future as envisioned by these innovators has yet to happen, but I’m still hoping for a flying car that looks a bit like the Vivant.

Part III of this Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance series will be featured soon. All photos are by the author and contributor Jennifer Strong.

20 responses to “American Dream Cars of the 60s – 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

    • It sits up, although it might not be perfectly in place here. If the door were closed it would be easier to see how the raised hood aligns with the side trim.

  1. Thank you, David! I have long considered Sceptre to have been one of the best-looking cars of the 60’s and would have been a strong competitor to the Thunderbird / Riviera set, provided NVH could have been made comparable.

    The real treat here is the pictures of the interior! I’ve not seen these. I’m hoping those seats would have been cooler than they look they would have been on a hot summer day.

    Again, thanks!!!

  2. I’ve seen the Sceptre in person before, so unconventional in so many respects, I have to wonder if in fact it would’ve sold, had it gone into production.
    The Bobby Darin car is simply ‘out there’ and so over the top, it’s almost attractive. The fins make a `60 Fury look tame!

  3. Wonderful article David! All of the cars are stunning. I’ve always been a fan of Jefferies’s Mantaray. Some interesting face about it. Jefferies dismantled a Birdcage Maserati and used major components in the building of his Mantaray. The Cobra engine was given to him by Carroll Shelby in exchange for repeatedly repainting different colors the one prototype Cobra Shelby had built. Shelby wanted to create the image of a vast number of Cobra’s.

    • Not Birdcage but prewar Maserati Grand Prix chassis was used in the construction of the Manta Ray. It has a live axle in the back hung by quarter eliptic springs while the Birdcage had a transaxle and de dion rear suspension. There were just 23 Birdcages built and all of their histories are well known. The chassis under the Manta Ray is actually far more rare!

  4. Dean Jeffries and his former father-in-law, real estate developer and inventor Darwin Maxson, partnered in a sprint car for a while. Maxson was also into road racng and would sometimes enter cars at Riverside for varous drivers. At some point Maxson imported two obsolete 1939 8CTF Maserati Grand Prix single-seat race cars that ended up just “lying around his backyard.” Maxson offered the two cars to Jeffries for free! He towed the cars to his shop and they became the start of the seminal Mantaray. which I consider a hotrodding ‘tour de force,’ both in design and construction.

    Jeffries built the car essentially by himself in less than three months!

  5. The Mantaray has always been special to me ever since I first saw it on the cover of Hot Rod as a kid. Really was something to finally see it in the Petersen the first time I was there. Wonder what ever happened to the other Maserati GP car? Bob

  6. I had the thrill of seeing the DiDia 150 Bobby Darin Coupe when i was a twelve year old, at the 1962 Hartford (Connecticut) Autorama.

    I knew enough about the construction and features of the car from reading my car magazines (when I should have been doing homework!) that the rep who was with the car at the Motorama motioned me up onto the display stand, and allowed me to slide in behind the wheel!

    I’ve forgotten the details, but I believe that even by ’62 the car had been in a fire, and had a couple of different power plants – possibly Chrysler and Cadillac.
    But I do remember being a custom car and hot rod-obsessed seventh grader, and the excitement of sitting in the driver’s seat of the DiDia 150!

    Glad to see it again all these years later!

  7. Real ly like concepts no matter its year.The Sceptre looks sol cool that you feel you can find one over a córner in any town

  8. I’ve never been a big fan of these dream cars, especially the DiDi. They are like regular cars made of sill putty, elongated this, and accentuated that, and what’s with the circles.? Watching those wheel covers would be not unlike watching a spinning pin wheel. I believe I made a model of the Jeffries car. Now, being a little partial to Brooks Stevens ( from my home town) the Sceptre is the exception. This car, and I’ve heard of it before, is just the coolest. I highly doubt a production model would have been this fancy,but showed Stevens still had it. Had a rendition of this been made instead of the Lark, and there was nothing wrong with the Lark, just a little basic, who knows ? Obviously, it didn’t matter what Studebaker did then, it was over.

  9. And what cars did we get instead? =) I am from Sweden but don’t really get why the DiDia’s color is named “Swedish Pearl Essence”. Anyone? I haven’t googled anything about the car but there ought to be Plymouth genes to it, 1960 maybe?

  10. Studebaker never went out of business – they just stopped making automobiles (1963 in South Bend, Indiana, 1966 in Canada).

  11. The DiDia clearly has Chrysler design influences, particularly in the interior. Given that, the question must be asked, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?{

  12. If anyone wants to see the Sceptre in person, you need to visit the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, IN.
    It’s more beautiful in person than any photo can show. We can only imagine if Studebaker had the means to tool up for that gorgeous car.
    Oh well, we can dream, can’t we?

  13. For whatever reason, the term “Dream Car” –as it was originally understood when it was invented–keeps getting morphed again and again as new generations come along. And then it continues to be swapped back & forth with “Concept Car”… which is likewise morphed, swapped and misunderstood from the original meaning. And then we have the forgotten term that was once (in the 1950s-60s) clearly understood and now no longer used: “Full Custom”…. sad. Those terms apparently are lost along with their original meanings and have seemingly become catch-alls for anything that didn’t make production.

    The Mataray with the Ford Cobra engine stuffed in there is cute, but that’s not what this car had originally (it was a Buick nail head as I recall). People should know these things.

    It would also be tough to say that Sceptre was my friend, Brooks Stevens first automotive design credit. And while we’re at it, the gauges on Sceptre (as much as I love it) are quite obviously inspired by Ford Mystere that preceded it by several years. The tri-blade spinners embedded in the seats curiously became symbols for Dodge. And what happened to the original wheel covers on Sceptre??? The smoothies on there now are certainly not the originals!!!

    As for the DiDia car… it was always known as far back as I can ever recall as the “Bobby Darin Dream Car” (nobody says that anymore) and only in more recent years is now being called “DiDia 150” more and more. By the way, Bobby once overheated the car by driving it to an appearance with the electric fan switched off. Of course one of the most unusual things about this car is not obvious to those who don’t know it. This feature is the “wagging” tail lights. Originally when I first saw it demonstrated when new in Detroit (and believe me, it stopped traffic!), the tail lights swung out of the fins in direction indicated by the turn signals. And there were other things unusual about it. And diamond dust was used in the paint of several dream and custom cars of the bygone era. One of these was the Dodge Diamante which was actually displayed at the Detroit Auto Show with armed guards and a million dollars in diamonds encased in a column next to it.

    Of course, that was a long time ago… and people looking at the cars today with all of the harsh criticisms are kinda like those who may someday look at the ruins of Las Vegas and ask, “Now why did they build that tower? And why would anyone sit in a smokey room and feed money into a machine with a pull handle?”

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