My Car Quest

August 22, 2017

The Corvette From Wisconsin (Via Italy)

by Wallace Wyss –

Maybe one of the worst things you can do when you are a designer, working in harness for a famous designer, is to develop your own design and premiere it.

It’s like saying “I’m better than my boss.” And yet I remember when Gordon Kelly, a designer in harness at Brooks Stevens Associates in Wisconsin, did his own design for a Corvette (the Gordon Kelly Corvette), back in the late ‘50s.

Gordon Kelly Corvette

It was very Italian, being bodied in fact at Vignale coachworks who at the time was just winding up dozens of Ferrari designs (as rival Pininfarina made more inroads on Ferrari)…

The Kelly Corvette is based on a ‘59 or ’60 Corvette. I remember seeing it on the newsstand on the cover of Car & Driver. I remember envying Gordon Kelly for having the chutzpah (and the cash) to go to Italy to have a proper coachbuilder build his dream car on a Corvette chassis. And then, wouldn’t cha’ know, he has the brass to show it the 1961 Paris Salon de l’Automobile on the Vignale stand…

Gordon Kelly Corvette

The car has a modern look with its domineering egg crate grille and nice fastback. One oddly new looking thing is chunky rubber bumper blocks in the back but those actually hide the leaf springs for this solid axle car.

Gordon Kelly Corvette

I finally saw the Gordon Kelly Corvette for the first time at Art Center College of Design’s annual car show in Pasadena in recent years. It was everything I expected from the front and side but only looked a little too stubby from the back. And the interior doesn’t look Italianized enough for me, snob that I am.

Gordon Kelly Corvette

I don’t know what happened after that, the Gordon Kelly Corvette apparently was not shown for decades. The car changed hands after Kelly died and the current owners have restored it.

Gordon Kelly Corvette

Brooks Stevens Associates is remembered for the Excalibur. They also did a few Studebaker designs. Maybe Kelly’s designs were not much appreciated by his boss so I don’t know if his “See what I can do, boss?” effort was interpreted as a slap in the face. A Google search doesn’t dredge up follow up designs by Mr. Kelly.

But historically, more than a half century later, that one car puts his name on the list of American car designers. Wonder why Harley Earl or Bill Mitchell didn’t call him up?

 
 

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss has many stories like this in his Incredible Barn Finds books, available straight from the publisher at 715 381 9755.

 
 
 

 

 

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Summary
The Corvette From Wisconsin (Via Italy)
Article Name
The Corvette From Wisconsin (Via Italy)
Description
The Gordon Kelly Corvette is based on a ‘59 or ’60 Corvette bodied by Vignale in Italy.
Author

Comments

  1. A great bookend to go with the Scaglietti Corvette, also from the 50’s …it was a very bold look that has somehow managed to look great all these years later…Certainly not as appealing as the much late Corvette Rhondine but spectacular none the less… Not really sad that they did not make more but would certainly be sad if it had not been done. Concepts and customs represent a designers idea realized and even in odd cases can be quite satisfying.
    Don’t think we will ever tire of custom Corvettes… they are in fact the stuff of dreams.

    • Agree, although the Scaglietti corvette is significant not only in design but because it was designed and built by Scaglietti himself. In addition these cars were the prototype for the Shelby Cobra as Carroll Shelby’s first attempt at a production vehicle so their historical significance is material relative to the other two cars which are design studies. Having said that the Rondine is beautiful

  2. Rob Krantz says:

    Thanks for posting Mike. I’ve been a Corvette fan all of my life but never knew of this car. An interesting story and interesting design and nice in many respects for the era.

  3. Robert Feldman says:

    My “first love” was a 1962 Corvette that I owned for 11 years right after I got my drivers license. Since then, I have become a great fan of the Prancing Horse and all the wonderful coach builders such as Vignale that contributed to the cars we love today. This is the best of both worlds. Sign me up!

  4. What is striking is that starkly clear greenhouse that it seems most of us avoid exposing these days. Ray-Bans must’ve been the order of the day!

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