Photos courtesy Joe Bortz.
No coincidence that the nose of Brooks Stevens’ Die Valkyrie concept car not only had the shape of a giant V but also a smaller V-8 emblem within the V: He wanted to make sure the first car he designed specifically for European car shows unmistakably announced its American V-8 powerplant. While it thoroughly impressed European showgoers, that big V and the car attached to it will soon get its first chance to impress the American collector car market as it heads to auction.
“He knew that one of the high points of the American market was its V-8s, as opposed to all the four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines in Europe at the time,” seller Joe Bortz said. “So he wanted to put it in their face.”
While Stevens considered himself a “self-styled aristocrat,” in the words of biographer Glenn Adamson, up until the mid-1950s the Milwaukee-based designer’s work almost exclusively focused on baseball-and-apple-pie American brands: Miller beer, Harley-Davidson, and the postwar Willys Jeep. However, according to Adamson’s “Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World,” his work as a consultant for Alfa Romeo’s 1800 Sprint Series earlier in the decade got him to think beyond American shores.
Specifically, “Stevens had been intent on becoming a recognized name in European car design,” Adamson wrote. And he saw his chance to do so in Guy Storr, a public relations specialist he hired who happened to be French. Storr recommended a “centerpiece car” that Stevens would then debut at the Paris Auto Show and proceed to display on the European show circuit.
Stevens appeared to relish the opportunity to design a one-off show car; all of his then-recent auto design work concerned production cars, but he’d intermittently designed customs and one-offs — largely as commissions for friends — as far back as 1938 with a mild restyling of his personal 1929 Cord L-29.
For Storr’s recommended centerpiece car, Stevens went with the most un-European chassis possible: a 1955 Cadillac Series 60 Special on the 133-inch wheelbase with a 270 hp dual-quad 331-cu.in. V-8 engine and Hydra-Matic automatic transmission (chassis number 556078063). Why exactly Stevens selected a Cadillac chassis — and how he convinced GM to supply him with one — remains unclear, but Bortz said an undocumented story surrounding the car suggests that Cadillac officials at the time were exploring the possibility of entering the European market and saw Stevens’ project as a way to test the waters while maintaining plausible deniability should it fail.
Whatever the reason, Stevens certainly made no attempt to disguise the car’s underpinnings: The Cadillac wheels remained, as did the Cadillac steering wheel and dashboard, along with the aforementioned drivetrain. The rest, however, was all Stevens, and he made sure to emphasize that fact by taking out a design patent for the body later that year. Beginning with the huge V, the chrome trim bisected the headlamps — ostensibly to reduce glare for oncoming drivers — before going on to run down the fenders and the doors. The latter have two vent windows and, according to Bortz, are so wide that when they open “you can literally walk right into the back seat.” And while not many photos show it, the entire top is removable.
Stevens sent the chassis and his final design to Carrosseriebau Hermann Spohn in Ravensburg, Germany, a coachbuilder just as adept at implementing opulent designs as outlandish ones. According to Adamson, Cleveland business owner and city council member Irwin Metzenbaum funded the construction of the car, though to what end is unclear. From Ravensburg, die Valkyrie then debuted in Paris, as planned, and continued on throughout Europe before returning to the United States to tour the show circuit here.
While some sources claim Stevens went into limited production with the Valkyrie, only two are known to exist: the show car and a second. The latter currently resides in a private collection, but the former made its way back to Stevens after its tour; he purchased it for his wife, Alice, to drive, then placed it in the Brooks Stevens Auto Museum after she had put several thousand miles on it.
Stevens went on to make two more runs at the European market with custom-bodied cars — the 1955 Gaylord, another car that he had Spohn build; and the aluminum-intensive 1959 Scimitar, which Reutter built — before resuming his American automotive design work.
According to Bortz, he knew die Valkyrie resided in the museum but didn’t think about purchasing it for his concept car collection until after hearing of Stevens’s death in 1995. Though repainted once, he said the interior and drivetrain remain original with the odometer showing only the miles Alice Stevens put on the car.
In addition to die Valkyrie, Bortz will also put up for auction a 1932 Pierce-Arrow Twelve (chassis number 350087) that he bought out of a barn following 50 years of storage. According to Bortz, the Pierce-Arrow with LeBaron coachwork represented the marque at the 1932 New York Auto Show and is the only 1932 Pierce-Arrow with a padded top and landau bars.
The Pierce-Arrow and die Valkyrie will cross the block at Worldwide Auctioneers’s Auburn sale, which takes place September 2. No pre-auction estimate has been released. For more information, visit Worldwide-Auctioneers.com.