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Giovanni Bucci’s mod apartment on wheels, the EX, to hit the road once again

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos and images courtesy Geoff Hacker.

Fifteen years after Giovanni Bucci left Europe on his own terms, he returned in the same manner, driving a singular vehicle of his own design and construction intended to revolutionize the RV industry. Now, after sitting for more than 40 years, Bucci’s EX has found a new owner and will once again take to the road.

A Chicago-based designer and artist, Bucci was probably best known for crafting replicas of Nicola Salvi’s Trevi fountain that traveled the country. His entry into art, however, came from a sort of necessity. In the early 1960s, not long after he emigrated to Chicago from Gorizia (then a part of Yugoslavia) via Italy, he decided he needed a car — not so much for transport but to attract girls.

Though employed as an electrical engineer at the time, he didn’t have the money to spend on a new or a used car, so instead he found a wrecked 1960 Fiat and learned how to create a new fiberglass body for it, one that blended the twin jet pods of the Cadillac Cyclone with the Plymouth XNR‘s asymmetry (and which may be the only car in the world with pop-down headlamps). While it went by various names — Astro, 0011 Pursuer — it most famously appeared in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair as La Shabbla.

From then on, fiberglass became a staple of Bucci’s design work, both automotive and sculptural. A follow-up to La Shabbla (possibly named Trieste) toned down the asymmetry while his Gina kit car offered Dino-like styling on a Volkswagen chassis. Perhaps his most ambitious project, however, reimagined the self-contained RV as a sort of executive lounge on wheels.

Somewhat similar in concept to the Kershaw Kruise-Aire and the Brubaker Box, the EX didn’t exactly fit the conventional concepts of a van or RV. Instead, Bucci envisioned it filling a number of roles: “a mod apartment where businessmen can confer away from the office,” according to Goodyear’s Wingfoot Clan newsletter; or even “a meeting-space and slide show facility… where twenty people can dance” thanks to its slideaway roof, according to a circular from Manhattan Publications.

Bucci started with a second-generation Ford Econoline chassis and stripped its body in preparation for the 22-foot-long body, reportedly molded in a single piece of fiberglass (the Kershaw used two pieces; the Brubaker 11) that didn’t rely on any steel supports for structural integrity. Though its prow-like cockpit and its uninterrupted side profile — both of which seem like they could have been lifted from a Syd Mead design — make it appear massive, the EX in fact stands just seven feet, two inches tall in the front and six feet, four inches in the rear.

Inside, the EX featured a full bathroom, waterbed, bar, skylights, and a suspended fireplace. If there were any justice in the world, the Broccoli clan would have used the EX as the mobile lair for a Bond villain.

After a 10-month build, Bucci and his wife Jeanne then took the EX on a road trip through the United States and Canada, across the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth 2, and then throughout Europe, reportedly recording 12 miles to the gallon on the trip.

Their trip completed, Bucci then reportedly shopped the EX and its design features to RV companies. At about the same time, however, he also envisioned a successor to the EX, a six-wheel version that he called the Mobile Villa. Rather than pitch it as just a larger mobile lounge-slash-nightclub, Bucci saw the Mobile Villa as a full-on luxury RV complete with the EX’s sliding roof (this time over the bedroom), waterfall, sauna, sunken bath, computerized kitchen, and a small electric car to serve as a tender. While he completed a scale model with UOP Shadow graphics (he reportedly did some design work for the American/British Formula One team), he apparently never built the full-scale Mobile Villa.

Unlike most creators eager to sell their vehicles to fund the next one, Bucci never saw the need to get rid of the EX or La Shabbla. the latter enjoyed pride of place in Bucci’s home studio and even made an appearance at the 2013 Milwaukee Masterpiece, but the EX sat for the next 40-plus years in his driveway.

However, with Bucci’s death this past February, his widow has been looking to place his vehicles with enthusiasts and has sold the EX to Geoff Hacker, the fiberglass vehicle collector who has picked up the occasional cab-forward vehicle and motorhome in his travels.

As with his other vehicles, Geoff’s plans call for a restoration of the EX. He’s promised to keep us informed of his progress.