The Rear Engined American Car You've Never Heard Of
This is the Fitch Phoenix. It's an ultra lightweight, rear-engined 1960s prototype sports car designed by a couple of neighbors and executed by Italian legends Intermeccanica. Under the gorgeous skin, the car is essentially a Chevrolet Corvair, and because of Ralph Nader's anti-Corvair crusade and the resultant founding of the NHTSA, the Fitch Phoenix never saw production. 500 cars were slated to be made, but in the end, only one ever existed. You're looking at it, and if you've got the cash, you can buy it at Bonhams' Greenwich auction.
The Phoenix is the brainchild of John Fitch, a man whose career path was somewhat similar to that of Carroll Shelby and Enzo Ferrari. He raced in Europe for a while, then came back to the States to run Chevrolet's Corvette racing team. Ultimately, he started producing high performance cars, which is where the Phoenix comes in.
Fitch picked the Corvair as the chassis to go with it, because it offered fantastic handling and was incredibly light. He then spent three years designing the body with his next door neighbor, who just happened to be an illustrator. Eventually, they handed it off to Intermechanicca, who formed the body out of steel and mated it to the Corvair underpinnings.
It wasn't exactly a stock Corvair, either. Power from the air-cooled flat six cylinder was bumped to 170 hp, helping the car to a top speed of 130 mph, and it got disc brakes up front to help slow things down.
Fitch was so specific about how he wanted the car to handle that he used different sized wheels front and back — a practice that’s become commonplace — and as a result, the car has two spares, hence the bubbles you see on each fender. He actually drove the car, too, to the tune of 2,3000 miles to and from car shows.
Rightly or wrongly, we all lost a piece of American automotive history when the Corvair found itself at the center of Nader's controversy.