Exemplar 1: More Riviera-based goodness.
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.
Enlarged in all dimensions, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 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.
 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