It’s retro in the best possible way. Looking at the world’s only Daedalus, the immediate reference points are the sensational and curvaceous European sports roadsters that ruled the road at Sebring, Le Mans and high-end tracks around the world in the late 50s and early 60s. Yes, you could drive them to the race, win, and drive home.
According to its builder, Kris Heil, 70, of Aptos, California, the immediate inspiration for the Daedalus was the Aston-Martin DBR-1 that came in first (driven by Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori) and second (Maurice Trintignant and Paul Frére) at Le Mans in 1959. But there’s a fair amount of Jaguar C- and D-Type in there, too.
The Daedalus story is touched by tragedy. Heil built the gorgeous British racing green car solo in his garage over 11 years, 2005 to 2016. He wanted some American heritage in there, too, so it’s powered by the straight-six GMC engine (built from 1952 to 1960) that was frequently hot-rodded back in the day.
Heil fabricated the tube chassis and the aluminum body. The latter he did after simply buying an English wheel and watching some videos. When he finished it, the highly evocative car became a driver and a star at prestigious shows—it was exhibited at The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering in 2017 in the custom coachwork category.
Consider what happened next, a nightmare evoking sympathy from classic car owners the world over. Heil was driving the Daedalus on the freeway, headed for the Danville Concours in August of 2017. It was early in the morning, and practically no one else was on the road. According to Heil, a car came out of nowhere and “crossed five lanes of traffic to punt me in the back at speed and push me into the center divider. I was alive, but every panel was bent, the chassis damaged, the suspension torn off the car.”
Being the guy he is, Heil, a career firefighter who has long been a race car fabricator on the side, immediately started on the rebuild of the Daedalus. It’s taken until now, but the car is finally finished again—needing only a cut and polish. But what would your attitude be if a car had taken up 16 years of your life? “I’m tired of it,” he said. “I’m done with the car—I built it twice.”
And so the Daedalus will be for sale, at a price—no matter how high it is—that probably won’t account for 16 years of sweat equity. But the money will finance a project that got sidelined when the Daedalus was hit. “In my garage I have a dry-sump BMW V-12, a Graziano six-speed transaxle, and suspension bits from Can Am cars,” Heil said. “My goal is to build the mid-engine car that BMW didn’t. When the V-12-powered Jaguar XJ13 came out in 1966, BMW said, ‘What can we do to compete with it?’ My car will be the answer to that question. I always wanted a V-12, and it will kick my automotive production up to two.”
Heil is in a long line of car guys for whom the build is the thing. He briefly competed in F Production road racing with a 1,275-cc 1967 Austin-Healey Sprite, but decided that he didn’t belong behind the wheel. “I just found it nerve-wracking,” he said. “The main question was on which side of the pit wall I belonged. I decided I needed to be on the wrenching side, not the driving side.”
And so Heil built race cars, Formula Fords, a pair of MG-Bs, single-seat Can Am cars. One of his clients doubles as his brother, a much more enthusiastic driver. Their latest project together is a 1977 March Formula Atlantic car.
Heil said that building street cars is “orders of magnitude” more difficult than building racers. “They’re complicated—you need windshield wipers, doors, headlights that are at a legal height and taillights that are a legal brightness,” he said. “They need seats for two.” They don’t need a top, though—the Daedalus has never had one.
The Daedalus looks track ready, but it has plenty of creature comforts, including custom leather seats and—the first thing to go in race builds—wool carpeting. Heil used the accident to fix some things in the car he thought he could improve. The interior is all new, as is the paint. Body lines have been refined, and the car has new gold headlight bezels Heil built. “It is gorgeous now, one and a half times better than it was,” he said.
The 302-cubic-inch GMC straight six is still with the car. It’s running triple sidedraft Weber carburetors that ride on a manifold Heil fabricated himself. A modern Tremec five-speed manual transmission is in place, and there are Wilwood disc brakes all around.
How fast is Daedalus? Heil doesn’t know. He wanted to ensure it could reach 100 mph and it does, without complaint or a threat to stability. He figures it puts out 280 to 300 horsepower, which is plenty for an aluminum-bodied car weighing just 2,650 pounds. But the zero to 60 time is up to the next owner.
It’s fitting that the Daedalus moves on to finance Heil’s mid-engine BMW might-have-been. He’s not a car collector. He builds stuff and lets it go. In that regard he’s in the fine tradition of horticulturalist Richard Bosley who in 1953, with no engineering training, built a beautiful Ferrari-inspired tube-framed car with a fiberglass body and a Chrysler Hemi V-8. He traded it in on a Corvette chassis that became the basis for his more sophisticated Bosley Mark II. And the Mark I? It was restored and won awards at two Pebble Beach events.
Shown the Mark I, Heil said, “That is lovely. Building a hard-top car is very challenging. Kudos to the man.”