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Cars That Time Forgot: Zimmer Quicksilver

Dec 23, 2023Dec 23, 2023

By the mid-1980s, the concept of an American personal luxury car was hardly new; Ford had introduced the concept three decades earlier with the Thunderbird. But in the intervening years, the American car industry lost its way as bloat and inefficiency crept in. What was needed was a return to something more compact but every bit as luxurious, and such a car was – in theory – the Zimmer Quicksilver.

Zimmer Motor Cars was founded in 1978, in Pompano Beach, Florida. The men behind the company were father-and-son team Paul and Robert (Bob) Zimmer, who set out to create a flamboyant car at a time when America’s automotive industry was becoming increasingly conservative. In an era of colour-coded bodywork and subdued lines, Bob Zimmer wanted to build something more eye-catching, with lashings of chrome.

The duo’s first car was the ostentatious Golden Spirit. With its prewar lines, the car was a fully paid-up member of the neoclassic club. Built between 1980 and 1988 and using Ford Mustang running gear, the Golden Spirit was supplemented in 1986 by the very different Quicksilver, a personal luxury car that was modern, gaudy, stylish, and offbeat – along with a host of other adjectives. While the Golden Spirit was an undoubted success for Zimmer (at its peak in the mid-1980s the company employed 175 people and turned over $25M annually), Bob wanted to build something that looked like nothing else, rather than clearly being inspired by something already created. That car was the Quicksilver.

The man behind the Quicksilver’s design was GM stylist Don Johnson, whose start point was a Pontiac Fiero. He added 13 inches of extra bodywork behind the rear wheels and another 16 inches between the front wheels and A-post, to create a car that was striking as well as nicely proportioned, with the look of an elegant front-engined grand tourer. Except the Quicksilver’s 2.8-litre V6 engine was behind the two-seat cabin, just like in the Fiero.

With its large grille, huge chrome bumpers, and pop-up headlights, the Quicksilver looked like nothing else, although the rest of the glassfibre bodywork was relatively discreet. The interior was carried over from the Fiero, but swathed in leather and wood, while a glovebox was also added, along with a few Cadillac fixtures and fittings to spruce things up a bit. Standard kit included air conditioning, cruise control, wire wheels, and an automatic transmission, while there was a choice of four exterior colours (white, black, red, ivory) along with three interior hues: red, fawn (tan) and cameo (black).

The GM-sourced steering box was swapped for a rack-and-pinion setup for greater precision, but mechanically the Quicksilver was just about all Fiero, including the undersized eight-gallon fuel tank. What everyone agreed on, though, was that the Quicksilver was made to an incredibly high standard, despite usually negative preconceptions.

With a $48,000 price tag (£31,800 at the time) when the Quicksilver burst onto the scene in July 1986, Zimmer had to pull out all the stops to make the Quicksilver a lot more special than the $13,000 Fiero that sired it. It’s fair to say that potential buyers weren’t quite as enthusiastic about the Quicksilver as Bob Zimmer was, and it didn’t help that within weeks of the Quicksilver’s unveiling, the Cadillac Allante emerged to take on the Jaguar XJS and Mercedes SL that were already in showrooms. Although the Allante was more expensive than the Quicksilver, it was backed up by a proper dealer network – and a marketing campaign that Zimmer could only dream of.

From the outside, you could be forgiven for assuming that the Quicksilver was a generously proportioned coupé, in the mould of contemporary Yank tanks such as the Lincoln Mark VII, but it was significantly smaller and lighter. With a kerb weight of 2920lb (1327kg), the Quicksilver wasn’t especially overweight, but with just 138bhp on tap (or an embarrassing 105bhp using the DIN system) along with 170lb-ft of torque, performance wasn’t a strong point. The sprint from 0 to 60mph took an unexceptional 8.3 seconds, while the top speed was a mere 121mph.

With well over 1000 Golden Spirits on the streets by the time the Quiksilver was launched, a very confident Bob Zimmer predicted annual Quicksilver sales of 1000 over the years to come. But within a year of the Quicksilver’s introduction, Zimmer Motor Cars’ parent company, Zimmer Corporation, was in trouble. The Zimmer duo had grown their portfolio to include caravans, motorhomes, yachts, and vans, and it seems that the expansion was too swift.

In May 1987, Zimmer Corporation was in the mire, and it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It would take another couple of years for things to wind down altogether, by which point around 170 Quicksilvers had been made.

The company would be revived in 1997 by Art Zimmer. Unrelated to Paul and Bob, he set up the Zimmer Motor Car Company to build a new Golden Spirit, based on the Lincoln Town Car platform. Cars trickled out of the company’s Cambridge, Maryland, factory between 1998 and 2020, and then it was all over. Well, until the next Zimmer revival, maybe?

Known surviving Quicksilvers are recorded on the Zimmer Registry, but four-fifths of the cars produced have disappeared. One of those that is recorded on the Registry, however, is the example pictured here, which was sold for $21,280 by RM/Sotheby’s in 2020. With just 500 miles on the clock, it is as close to a new Quicksilver as you’ll find, but in a world where the market decides values, these quirky tourers clearly aren’t very sought after.