The ’80s was a time filled with neo-classic cars from a number of pie-in-the-sky makers, and today’s Nice Price or No Dice Phillips Berlina is perhaps one of the best, being properly proportioned and masking its C3 Corvette origins adeptly. Let’s see what it might reasonably be worth in today’s money.
When it comes to true classic cars, the nameplate “Corolla” doesn’t pop up all that often, especially since there aren’t all that many survivors around from the era when Corollas could be considered cool. That being said, the 1978 Toyota Corolla SR5 Liftback we looked at yesterday was pretty cool and is arguably a classic by today’s standards. That wasn’t enough for many of you to warm to its $9,500 asking price, and, in a not-so-classic form, the Corolla when down in a 79 percent No Dice loss.
When you append the word “classic” to any item, it imparts a sense of value and age-earned panache. Think, Coke Classic or Mac Classic. In the automotive world, real classic cars, even those like yesterday’s Corolla, command premium prices for their status. Many classic cars have become so valuable over time that not only are they priced out of the reach of all but the most wealthy of enthusiasts, but are also too dear to use as they were once intended. Take a Mercedes 540K as an example. Once a swoopy German competitor to the likes of the Auburn Roadster and Cord 810, the rare example that passes the auction block today can go for half a million or more. For fans of the model, doesn’t it make sense to try and replicate that look and garner as much of the aesthetic experience as you can, as long as it can be had at only a fraction of the price?
This 1981 Phillips Berlina Coupe strives to accomplish just that. Based on a then-fresh C3 Corvette, the Berlina was re-fabricated into a homage of the ’30s Mercedes through a stretched wheelbase, voluptuous flowing fender lines, and wonderfully eclectic side-mounted spares.
Now, the Phillips is just one of a slew of neo-classic cars that arrived on the scene during a two-decade period from the late 1960s through about the end of the ’80s. There are still a few manufacturers around today doing them, but for the most part, the style has fallen out of favor.
One of the fun things with cars of this ilk is recognizing the modern bits underneath the sometimes thin veneer of neo-classicalism. This was necessary since the most expensive parts of the cars — the cabin, safety, and convenience features, and the mechanicals all needed to be maintained. That didn’t mean they couldn’t be gussied up to the point where those elements were difficult to discern to the untrained eye. Take a car like the Santa Barbara-built Clenet for an example. That has neo-classic looks, and is huge, riding on a Lincoln Mark V frame. In two-seater form, however, its cabin is quite obviously taken from the tiny MG Midget and in four-seater guise from the Volkswagen Beetle convertible.
In the case of the Phillips, which was built by the Phillips Motor Company out of Pompano Beach Florida, and designed by company founder Charles Phillips, the base is the C3 coupe, a source that’s pretty obvious from the smoked T-top roof and deep-set B-pillars on this example. The rest of the Corvette bits include an L81 V8 engine offering 190 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. That is accompanied by a three-speed THM automatic transmission and a posi-traction rear end, the latter evidenced by the warning label under the center-split hood. The Corvette also donated its fully independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and its full interior. The front fender-mounted turn signals are obviously not from a ‘Vette but are instead repurposed VW Beetle units.
According to the ad, somewhere around 80 Berlinas were built by Phillips between 1981 and 1983 before financial woes closed the company down.
As noted, the inspiration for the Berlinas’ bodywork came from the 1936 — ’40 Mercedes 540K coupe. That is a beautiful car designed by Mercedes’ head stylist at the time, Friedrich Geiger. Proving not to be a one-trick pony, Geiger would go on after the war to pen the iconic 300SL coupe.
Phillips did a good job of both aping Geiger’s design and melding it with the Corvette cabin. The two-tone paint looks to still be in excellent shape as does the copious chrome and body-hued wire wheels. The cabin is pure, un-cut Corvette although Phillips did offer a bit of subtle updating by way of a Bundeswappen eagle on the steering wheel center cap and on each of the main instrument gauge faces.
The side-opening hood offers easy access to all the major maintenance items on the car and shows an engine bay worthy of popping at any car show. The SBC sports a new carb and the car comes with new front brake pads and calipers, plus fresh Hankooks all around. The title is clean and the mileage is listed at a meager 12,810. A previous owner called the mileage “unverified” so it’s being sold with that codicil.
It’s also being sold with a $32,995 price tag. As noted, that’s a mere fraction of what a real classic will cost, and with a car like the Phillips, you get easy and cheap to maintain mechanicals to boot!
That sounds like a win-win to me, but we’ll just have to see what you say. What’s your feeling about this neo-classic and that $32,995 price? Does that appear to be a deal for the ages? Or, is that price in a class all its own?
Help me out with NPOND. Hit me up at email@example.com and send me a fixed-price tip. Remember to include your Kinja handle.