Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass

 Exemplar 1: More Riviera-based goodness. 

Coggiola sketch for Exemplar 1. Image: neautomuseum.org

While the name of Sergio Coggiola might be known to the enthusiast, that of Mario Revelli de Beaumont may not. Roman born Revelli made his name submitting handsome designs to coachbuilders in the nineteen twenties and thirties with Rolls-Royce, Lancia then post-war, with Fiat. Coggiola on the other hand spent time under Pietro Frua at Ghia before setting up his eponymous carrozzeria in Orbassano, a district of Turin during 1966. Around that time, the two Italians collaborated, with the use of atomic element number 29: copper.

Bridgeport, Connecticut may not be the automotive centre of the universe but the Bridgeport Brass Company (henceforward referred to as the BBC) had plans to publicise the virtues of their products over staple material, steel. The BBC along with the Copper Development Association (CDA) had previous form, with a 1964 Mercer-Cobra one-off; a stretched Shelby Cobra chassis clothed in a Sibsna-Basano body after a design by both father and son, Virgil Exner. This copper clad vessel was an all-out attempt to woo Detroit into using copper for more than just wiring.

Possessing no automotive experience, the BBC and CDA once more sought outside experience, contacting the Italian pair along with a purse of $150,000. Revelli’s design transmuted by Coggiola’s team required a donor car – in this instance a model year 1967 Buick Riviera. This car, was shipped to outskirts of Turin and the resultant study, named Exemplar 1, was proposed to present the beneficial -including safety – implications of copper.

Image: Hemmings

Enlarged in all dimensions[1], Exemplar 1 resembled the MkII Ford Capri from the curving lower DLO along with the rear quarter panels – did Ford glean inspiration from something so cupric? The car’s rear offered a semblance of Javelin, à la AMC, had the glass been flush between those Capri buttresses. Overall, the car gave hints toward Riviera with glimpses of Miura or perhaps the almost equally rare Iso Lele?

Allow your eyes to linger outside, first landing upon the wheels – brass plated, Borrani wire rims wear Firestone safety tyres, an early runflat, if you will. The knock-off is a Revelli custom design. Our American brethren name the panel covering the wheelbase the rocker panel. This too is subject to a suntanned finish, as indeed is grille, front and rear valances along with the slatted back end and even the exhaust pipe. An average late sixties car contained 30 pounds of copper, mainly wiring. Exemplar 1 totalled 150.

Image: Hemmings

Heading up front, the bumpers were piped with copper. A standard 1967 Riviera’s headlight folded down from under the bonnet. Exemplar’s popped up, electrically. The windscreen surround, side rub strip and door handles were all afforded different golden shades. Heading to the power barn, significant changes were afoot under that elegantly sculptured bonnet. The spare wheel (with those safety Firestones, let us not forget) was placed forwardmost as crush protection. Angled as a vee, two highly polished copper radiators nestled the wheel – one to cool the engine, the other for the air conditioning. The Wildcat header along with many ancillaries were golden metal, too. The engine remained stock, however[2].

Those not vain enough to wear sunglasses outside may have been encouraged to don them upon venturing within. A Riviera enthusiast would immediately notice the padded leather dashboard housing the standard gauges, decked within a golden fascia. Air vents, centre console, transmission tunnel and practically anything the driver or passengers could touch might convince them of the Midas touch. Choose any one from a dozen shades and finishes of brass, copper or bronze. One wonders at human digits becoming cold metal fatigued. Red hide apart, the front screen was copper free – the rear equipped with the demisting copper latticework.

Image: Cars That Never Made It.

The extra weight involved modifying the Gran Sport chassis which retained arch enemy, steel, yet brake lines and discs were copper. Otherwise mechanically, the car remained stock.

Uncertainty reigns around exact timescales but it would seem that but a few months separate initial contact to Exemplar 1 heading to Connecticut. Private showings for BBC and CDA bigwigs were followed by a national tour lasting from late 1967 through to 1969. As with so many concepts, public appreciation seemed high yet Detroit was not quite as enthusiastic. Exemplar was never road legal and therefore unsaleable due to the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. The BBC decided to decommission and crush the car, only for a last minute rescue.

BBC President, Herman Steinkraus thought Exemplar ‘too beautiful to crush.’ A keen arts supporter, the car was purchased for an undisclosed sum, then taken to his 25-acre Darien, Connecticut estate where it was tucked away, unseen until his passing in the late 1980s. The Steinkraus estate was sold off in the early 1990s, where fellow Bridgeport residents, the Dragone Brothers bought Exemplar 1. Treated to a full restoration, the car became a prominent display unit within their extensive collection. By 2015 they decided to auction Exemplar off. Bidding reached $850,000 – the reserve not met, the car remains with them. 

Image: Conceptcarz

Which is more than can be said for the CDA’s next few copper experiments. Exemplar 2 used an Oldsmobile Toronado chassis (sister to the Riviera) in another attempt to generate Detroit interest. Designed again by Revelli, wholly ignored by the manufacturer then crushed. The CDA next upped the voltage with four electrically powered cars – all destined for destruction and probably headed to Detroit as scrap. Thus ended the copper industry’s forays into potential vehicle production.

Over time the price of copper has risen considerably but even during its moment under the spotlight such widespread use of the material would have made Exemplar prohibitively expensive to build in number. An Italian American folly then – a failed tribute to an element which remains, in the main, completely covered by plastic, hidden from view.

[1] Standard 1967 Riviera: L: 211.2 inches (5,364mm), W: 78.8” (2,002), H: 53.2” (1,351) with a wheelbase of 119” (3,023)
Exemplar: L: 216” (5,494), W: 82” (1,321), H: 53.4” (1,356), unchanged wheelbase although front track was 63.4” front with 67” to the rear.

[2] 7.0 litres, 430 cubic inch making 370bhp @ 5,000 rpm, final drive ratio 3.42:1

Data Sources: Hemmings.com, classicandsportscar.com, conceptcarz.com, neautomuseum.org

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

18 thoughts on “Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. Yet another car uncovered that I had no clue existed. Apart from wiring I associate copper with cars from the early 20th century. Maybe looking back, rather than ahead wasn’t a good idea in the 60’s.

    In case anyone is wondering: here’s a shot of the interior

    On an admittedly rather pedantic side note: it’s Exner not Exener.

    1. Thanks, Freerk. Duly corrected and the sub-editor has been reprimanded.

    2. Another shot of the interior:

      Parles tu Citroën? The “V” shaped center console of the Exemplar 1 harks back to the 1963-65 Riviera.

      1966 Riviera dashboard featuring the “bathroom scale” speedo in its usual setting.

  2. Another metal promotion organisation, The International Lead Zinc Research Organisation, also modified a car with their products. In this case it was the lone Lamborghini Miura Roadster, rechristened the ZN 75.

    The car has now been converted back to it’s original Bertone showcar specification, with the ZN 75 items stripped off.

    At least it avoided being crushed.

  3. Good morning Andrew. Copper seems an unlikely metal for external decorative finishes, given how quickly it tarnishes in the wet, then oxidises and turns green. Presumably, it all had to be lacquered to prevent that happening? I’m afraid I cannot see any Capri Mk2 in the design. The curvature of the bodysides puts me more in mind of this, another GM product:

    Is it just me, or is the Exemplar sitting rather heavily on its axles? It must be the weight of all that copper…

    1. I think you are right about the external decorative use of copper. I would think the automotive use of copper is more on the inside. Wiring is already mentioned in the article, but with electrification the motors will use their fair share too.

    2. Daniel, you are right. Copper, in it’s other outside use, copper is used precisely because it doesn’t stay shiny. It’s use in architecture is all about the patina.

  4. Copper is still a common material for decorative purposes – today I came across some Honda with a copper clasp in the grille, then the ornaments/logo from Cupra – at least in the plastic version.

    1. Back before the 1920s and the invention of chrome over nickel plating or stainless steel, there was little alternative to the use of copper in brass- indeed it’s now known as the brass era. Polishing this 1912 Buick would have occupied quite some time.

  5. Copper is relatively cheap* right now, losing 50% of its value since March of this year and relaxing to peak 2018 levels. Might be this persists for a little longer. Maybe…

    Here is the chance to get lots of copper for your car! Do it soon.

    * ~20 cents/ounce for the pure

  6. I’ve always wondered why copper isn’t used more in car interiors. Yes, it would have to be lacquered, but I presume that aluminium and wooden facings are lacquered too. Surely someone like Pagani or Rolls-Royce could consider copper fitments? In Rolls’ case, there’s even an historical precedent: they could argue it harks back to the early Silver Ghosts. Downmarket a bit, surely a bunch of copper fittings would appeal to the steampunk enthusiasts…

    1. Personally I wouldn’t lacquer aluminium, but anodize it.

      The ‘copper’ used in the Cupra is just a representation of the metal. It’s just plastic and if we’re lucky some parts may be anodized aluminium. Even on the official Dutch website they are called ‘copper-colored’ accents.

    2. Exactly, Freerk. From the article I gathered that using that much copper really wasn’t that helpful, as is the detailing on the Cupras – which I doubt is very popular anyway. I really don’t see that many Cupras around, apart from the occasional Born. I can’t say I’ve noticed whether they have the accents applied, apart from the logos.

      Given the weight of most modern cars, I shudder to think what would have happened if the Bridgeport Brass Company (I have quite different association with the acronym BBC) and the Copper Development Association (CDA is the acronym of the Dutch Christian Democratic party, which might or might not be a happy association to make – depending on your political inclinations) had gotten (more of) their way.

  7. I many ways the use of copper or brass for decoration on an car is no more strange than using wood (real or fake) in car interiors and exteriors (I’m thinking of you, Mini Clubman Estate). That has made no sense for the last 70 years, yet most people still accept it as normal or even desirable.

    1. I would almost always pick an interior with a tastefully applied wood trim than without. Matter of personal taste really but in my opinion it brings a warmness and coziness to the cabin no other man made material can match.

  8. Copper / brass / gold has a tendency to be a bit overpowering, as some of the Docker Daimlers and the 1960 ‘Golden Jaguar’ MK2 New York show car demonstrate.


    One of the cleaners at the Earl’s Court motor show apparently got in to trouble for tying to polish a gold-plated Docker Daimler with Brasso.

    Using copper or brass in an interior would prove problematic in strong sunlight, I think. I also that guess copper and brass were used extensively in Victorian engineering and that, originally, automotive designers may have wanted to distance themselves from the steam age.

    1. Yikes, that Jaguar Mk2 is horrible, Charles! 😲 Norah Docker would, no doubt, have approved.

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