At $32,995, is this 1981 Phillips Berlina a neo-classic affair?

Nice Price or No Dice 1981 Phillips Berlina

The 80s were a time filled with neo-classic cars from a number of pie-in-the-sky makers, and today Good price or no dice Phillips Berlina is perhaps one of the best, being properly proportioned and cleverly masking its C4 Corvette origins. Let’s see what it could reasonably be worth in today’s money.

As far as true classic cars go, the “Corolla” nameplate doesn’t show up very often, especially since there aren’t many survivors of the days when Corollas could be considered cool. That being said, the 1978 Toyota Corolla SR5 Liftback we watched yesterday was pretty cool and is arguably a classic by today’s standards. That wasn’t enough for many of you to warm up to its $9,500 asking price, and in not-so-classic form, the Corolla suffered a 79 percent dice-free loss.

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When you add the word “classic” to any item, it gives a sense of value and panache gained with age. Think, Coke Classic or Mac Classic. In the automotive world, true classic cars, even those like yesterday’s Corolla, command high prices for their status. Many classic cars have become so valuable over time that not only are their prices beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest enthusiasts, but they are also too expensive to use as they were once intended. Take a Mercedes 540K like Example. Once a swoopy German contender to the likes of the Auburn Roadster and Cord 810, the rare example passing 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 this look and garner as much aesthetic experience as possible, as long as it can only be achieved at a fraction of the price?

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This 1981 Phillips Berlina Coupe strives to accomplish just that. Based on a then-fresh C4 Corvette, the Berlina has been rebuilt in an homage to the Mercedes of the 1930s thanks to an extended wheelbase, flowing and voluptuous fender lines, and wonderfully eclectic side spares.

Now, the Phillips is just one of many neo-classic cars that hit the scene over a span of two decades, from the late 1960s to around the late 80s. There are still a few manufacturers making them today, but for the most part the style has fallen out of favor.

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One of the fun things about cars of this ilk is recognizing the modern elements beneath the sometimes thin veneer of neo-classicalism. This was necessary because the most expensive parts of cars – the cabin, safety, and convenience features, and mechanicals all had to be serviced. That didn’t mean they couldn’t be drilled to the point where those elements were hard to discern for the untrained eye. Take a car like the Clenet built in Santa Barbara for example. It has a neo-classic look and is huge, mounted on a Lincoln Mark V frame. In two-seater version, however, its cabin is obviously borrowed from the tiny MG Midget and in four-seater version from the Volkswagen Beetle convertible.

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In the case of the Phillips, which was built by the Phillips Motor Company in Pompano Beach, Florida, and designed by company founder Charles Phillips, the base is the C4 Coupe, a fairly obvious source of the smoked T-roof and deep B-pillars on this example. The rest of the Corvette parts include an L81 V8 engine offering 190 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of couple. This is accompanied by a three-speed THM automatic transmission and a positive traction rear axle, the latter being highlighted by the warning label under the centrally slotted hood. The Corvette also donated its fully independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and full interior. The front fender-mounted turn signals are obviously not a ‘Vette but are instead reused VW Beetle units.

According to the ad, around 80 Berlinas were built by Phillips between 1981 and 1983 before financial difficulties shut down the company.

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As noted, the inspiration for the bodywork of the Berlinas came from the Mercedes 540K coupe from 1936 to 1940. It is a beautiful car designed by the chief stylist of Mercedes at the time, Friedrich Geiger. Proving that he was no one-trick pony, Geiger would go on to write the iconic 300SL coupe after the war.

Phillips has done a good job of both mimicking Geiger’s design and fusing it with the Corvette’s cabin. The two-tone paint still appears to be in excellent condition, as do the copious chrome and body-color wire wheels. The cabin is pure, uncut Corvette, though Phillips offered a subtle update by way of a Bundeswappen eagle on the steering wheel center cap and on each of the main instrument gauge faces.

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Side-opening hood provides easy access to all major car maintenance items and shows off an engine bay worthy of appearing at any car show. The SBC sports a new carburettor and the car comes with new front brake pads and calipers, as well as new Hankooks all around. The title is clean and the mileage is listed at a measly 12,810. A previous owner called the mileage “unverified” so it is being sold with that codicil.

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It is also priced at $32,995. As stated, this is only a fraction of what a true classic will cost, and with a car like the Phillips you get easy and cheap mechanical maintenance!

Sounds like a win-win to me, but we’ll just have to see what you say. What do you feel that neo-classic and that price of $32,995? Does this seem like a deal for the ages? Or, is this price in a class of its own?

You decide!

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