My Car Quest

August 23, 2019

Simpson Design: Reviving the Tradition of Coach Building

by Mike –

After reading Ferrari 275 GTB/4 Competezione NART Spider Jim Simpson contacted me to tell me about how the Ferrari 275 GTB NART Spider influenced his work. Once I discovered what interesting work it is I asked Jim to write this article.

Simpson Design GTB sketch for client

GTB Sketch

Text and photos by Jim Simpson

Since 1993, Simpson Design has been building cars in the tradition of the small Italian carrozzerias, or coachbuilders. These companies took existing reliable platforms and gave them a more exciting look. My designs are not replicas but familiar shapes with a vintage feeling. Our scratch built, metal prototypes take their inspiration from some of the greatest sports cars of all time. We then pull fiberglass tooling from our steel masters so that we can make composite, lightweight, sturdy bodies in a cost effective way.

Simpson Design GTB nose

GTB Nose

I came to design work after years of training and experience repairing and restoring classic and exotic automobiles. In the mid-70s, I served a Ferrari apprenticeship at Simpson Automobili Ferrari Sales and Service in Houston, Texas, coincidentally owned by Sid Simpson, no relation to me. During that time, I had the pleasure of working on one of the illusive 330 GTC Princess cars owned by renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey.

In 1966 Princess Lilian de Réthy of Belgium had asked Pininfarina to build her a special Ferrari on a 330 GTC chassis. She ordered two cars, one for herself and one for DeBakey, her cardiologist. The Princess specials, as they became known, are spectacular designs, now worth well over a million dollars if you can find one of the four to eight cars built (depending on which Ferrari historian you ask).

GTC Rear Simpson Design

GTC

DeBakey’s car was a dark blue metallic with black interior and blue carpets. The striking design made a huge impression on me and remains to this day one of my favorite Ferrari’s. Apparently, it was Princess de Réthy’s as well; she kept her special car until the day she died in 2002.

In 1997 I designed and built the highly successful Simpson Design Italia, inspired by Coco Chinetti’s Ferrari 275 NART Spider design and constructed on the first generation Mazda Miata. By 2005, I started work on the sequel to this project, using the 2000 Gen 2 (NB), but was forced to shelve it due to the more pressing demands of my restoration customers.

Simpson Design GTB

GTB

Three years later, determined to have one of the next gen cars, longtime friend Peter Cameron-Nott in Florida began to badger me about the project and sent money to get it back on track. I found a suitable donor car for Peter and work resumed. On July 4th of 2010, Peter flew to Seattle to pick up his Italia 2 and took off on a cross-country tour on his way back to Florida.

The second Italia 2, the 2000 NB on which I had started the project, was completed right on the heels of Peter’s car. Debuting in August on the Pebble Beach weekend in California, it was prominently displayed and well received at the Concourso Italiano along with the field of original Italian cars.

red italia 2 rear three quarter, Simpson Design

Italia 2

My son Chuck and I had a great time showing off the latest Simpson Design creation at the various events but by the end of the weekend, all I could think about on the way home was my fondness for the old Princess coupe from my apprenticeship days.

I purchased another second gen Miata—a medium dark metallic blue tenth anniversary car like the Princess car I remembered—and undertook a series of sketches to determine if the styling would work on the car and if the project was feasible. Once again, my goal was not to make a replica but rather a car that, like the Italia 2, had elements of design that captured the feel of the Pininfarina car.

After I had the basic design, I posted an announcement of the project with a sketch on the Simpson Design website. A couple of weeks later, I started forming steel and the car began taking shape.

In response to the website post and on the strength of the sketch alone, one of my previous clients, located overseas, emailed to say he wanted a coupe. I emailed pictures of the car taking shape but the client responded that, while the car was very nice, it wasn’t what he had in mind. He wanted something that more resembled a Ferrari 275 GTB roofline.

Slightly disappointed, I responded with a quick sketch of a more 275 GTB style roofline and emailed it to the customer. Within minutes he had a reply, “YES, that is exactly what I want.”

The next day I set aside the Princess style roof and began cutting metal and bending steel. Two days later, I sent pictures of the work taking shape. Again, in a matter of minutes I received a very positive response.

GTC-front-on-beach Simpson Design

GTC

I was able to find a perfect, low mileage, silver 2005 Miata, the last year of the NB, with the options my client had requested. I completed the GTB roof and trunk lid, and dropped them off at my favorite fiberglass shop to have production molds made. Then it was back to work on the Princess style roof, now designated the GTC. The guys at the fiberglass shop were surprised when I picked up the outer roof and trunk lid parts for my client’s GTB car and dropped off a second roof for tooling. The crew and I put the GTB roof together and installed it on the silver car destined for my client overseas.

With the GTB finished, it was time to concentrate on the GTC full time in preparation for its September debut at the Japanese Classic Car Show beside the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, a mere 1,400 miles away. Three weeks before the show, the roof was still off and the car had no rear windows or side glass but somehow the molds for glass were completed, the parts made and the car completed in time.

The new Italia 2 GTC debuted to an appreciative crowd in California. Since then the car has seen its first club rally and is now a fairly regular daily driver.

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For more information on Simpson Design products, email Jim Simpson at jim@simpsondesign.net or call 360-321-4122.

See more photos in the slide show below.


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