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