History and histories

Spider USA: a symbol of sporty well-being

Photo credit: Bonhams, Wheelsage

To start a conversation about American spiders – or rather open-top two-seater sports cars – you have to start from afar. The first open-top two seaters were originally created for racing and today rank amongst the most coveted models at the Concours d’Elegance events. We’re talking about Mercer and Stutz. 

The Mercer was born in 1911, first dedicated to the track (Racebout) and then to road-going vehicles (Runabout). 4 cylinders, sophisticated mechanics and extensive use of aluminium meant it could reach speeds of 100 mph (160 km/h)

Proud adversaries on the track between 1911 and 1914, the two cars also represented an aristocratic example of road-going super sports. And it didn’t take long for the idea to catch on, as demonstrated by Fred Duesenberg who, among his models, boasted the magnificent model J form the 30s. It’s sad to remember that the founder of the company lost his life in an accident with this same, very high-performance model for the time. In the pre-war period, another flagship of the American car industry was Auburn, whose muscular silhouette made no secret of its intentions.

Mercer’s direct rival, Stutz, was founded in Indianapolis and had equally deep-rooted sporting ambitions. Many victories and a curiosity shared with Mercer: the intriguing windshield intended for the driver that was mounted on the steering wheel

The history of American spiders changed during the post-war period. Compared to the compact and agile imported spiders – Ferrari first and foremost, but also British and German alternatives – American sports cars have always been proudly large, comparable to the many roadsters derived from production vehicles. Among the pure spiders, the Corvette wrote a long and magnificent story while Ford, with the Thunderbird, introduced creative solutions such as the Bird’s Nest Rumble Seat version with a rear sofa bench for additional passengers (the chapter on road safety was still on the drawing board back then… ). European design influence led to the profound transformation of the English AC into the Shelby Cobra which in 1962, thanks to generous enlargements of the wheel arches and the installation of a mighty V8 engine, took on an entirely new appearance. This too was originally designed for racing, and it was as successful on the track as it was on the streets.

Duesenberg’s slogan was eloquent: “The only car that could pass a Duesenberg was another Duesenberg—and that was with the first owner’s consent”. Elegant and powerful: a staggering 320 hp for the supercharged version in 1932

Slightly less fortunate was the 1987 Cadillac Allanté, designed and produced in Italy by Pininfarina. Expensive and complex logistics made it almost impossible for this model to take off.

The most recent success-story for American spiders is the Dodge Viper from Chrysler. Once again, there was a touch of Europe in this car: the big American engine was developed and prepared by Lamborghini which, in 1992 belonged to Chrysler.

Auburn Boattail Speedster
Produced with engines of different power outputs, the Auburn Boattail Speedster was frequently customized for the customer. A truly elegant and decidedly sporty Spider
Ford Thunderbird
The Ford Thunderbird, in addition to the two-seater version, was also produced with four-seats and even in this Bird’s Nest Rumble Seat version, which accommodated an additional two passengers in the opening rear compartment
first Corvette
The first Corvette set the foundations for an incredible story when it was introduced in 1953 with its unmistakable looks. It was also later progressively modified with the addition of the two side recesses, often painted in a different colour from the rest of the bodywork
The American habit of transforming cars turned into winning genius when Carroll Shelby turned the English AC into the mighty Cobra
Allanté project
A complicated marriage between Cadillac and Pininfarina resulted in the Allanté project. Any dreams of success quickly disappeared due to the complexity of production between Italy and America
The Viper is perhaps the best expression of the American idea of a spider: muscular, angry, difficult with a touch of Italian spice thanks to Lamborghini’s intervention on the engine