By CRAIG HIGGINS
A Mesquite resident, author and classic car buff was recently featured on the national television program “Jay Leno’s Garage.” Robb Northrup appeared with Leno on the show because of his expertise in the history and background of the elusive and rare American classic: the Apollo GT.
Northrup has brings the enthusiasm and innovation of this 1960s era Italian-America sports car in his recent book, Apollo GT: The American Ferrari. The author recently spoke with the Progress about his fondness for cars, the Apollo GT, and his recent appearance by him on Leno’s car program.
Northrup’s father brought him into the world of automobiles at an early age.
“I’ve been a car nut since I was four,” he said.
The elder Northrup brought his young son along for a test drive in a late 1950s Chevy Corvette. This was the first step in a journey that included a side career writing professionally for car magazines.
No armchair mechanic, Northrup also took to restoring classic models, which ultimately led him to a down-on-its-luck Apollo GT, actually the first production model.
“I ended up getting (the Apollo), and it was a basket case!” Northrup said.
With time and hard work, I have brought the vehicle back to its pristine glory. This was not an easy task given the Apollo was “a handmade car,” its body carefully molded by Italian craftsmen.
The Apollo’s story was one of ingenuity and daring entrepreneurship. Started by American engineer Milton Brown, the car was an attempt at creating a sporty model which combined the sleek look and performance of European sports cars with American-made reliability.
“European cars were not up to driving conditions in the US,” Northrup said.
The thinking of Brown and the rest of the company’s brain trust was that, if they had a European body and chassis, with an American engine, the vehicle could offer the prestige of a Ferrari while packing a Buick engine beneath the hood, serviceable at any domestic garage.
Using financial support from family and friends, Brown and his partners were able to purchase two painted and glazed bodies from Italian builder Intermecchanica, supplementing this haul with parts from a California Chevrolet dealer at a modest mark-up of ten percent.
“The Apollo team didn’t have a sense of what it would take to build a production line of these automobiles,” Northrup added.
What’s more, lacking a marketing research arm, Apollo sold its car at below-market value, resulting in a short production run, Northrup added.
“Misunderstanding a market is not unique to a small company,” the author said.
Determined to get the Apollo’s story out to a larger audience, Northrup wrote and published the book himself.
Then, seeking opportunities to promote his work, the author wrote to long-time late-night TV personality, and prolific classic car collector Jay Leno.
The comedian jumped at the chance to profile the rare vehicle, pairing Northrup up with fellow Apollo owner Kurt Brakhage for an episode filled with the kind of mechanical details car fans crave.
“Jay Leno is Jay Leno,” Northrup said of the experience. “He’s not conceited.”
Northrup further explained the comedian both keeps a collection of his own classic vehicles in one industrial park, and a full-time restoration shop in another.
“He’s a car guy,” Northrup explained.
Apollo GT: The American Ferrari is available for purchase at www.apologtbook.com.
The author also mentioned that, due to web hosting issues, people seeking to visit the site include the full addressing when typing into a web browser.