The American dream is alive and well and taking up a very large corner of the Cartier Style et Luxe at the Festival of Speed. There might only be six cars, but you sure can’t miss them. Big, huge, vast, enormous – all apply here, as does enough shiny brightwork to sear your eyes in the sunshine of this year’s FoS.
Headlined ‘Affairs of Status – aspirational automobile for living the American Dream’, the six cars on show were what middle America lusted after in the years after WW2. And you can see why – they represent some of the most extraordinary cars ever designed. Not to mention the most shiny. We went along to check them out…
1958 Mercury Park Lane Convertible
Known as the Big M, this giant was by far the biggest and baddest car Mercury had ever built. Power came from a V8 of 430 cubic inches – that’s 7 litres – and the styling, including the standard ‘cruiser skirts’, left rivals from Chrysler and GM for dead.
1959 Buick Electra 225 Convertible
The longest of all GM’s car at the time, the ‘225’ in the name was quite a claim to fame for those who thought bigger was better. It refers to 225 inches, as in the car’s overall length. That’s 5.7 metres. With its dramatic delta wings front and rear it definitely looked the part in 1959, but in convertible form didn’t sell as well as expected.
1958 DeSoto Firesweep Convertible
Chrysler’s mid-price DeSoto division was rapidly falling from grace in the late 1950s and the final Firesweep did little to help things. DeSoto’s entry model, the Firesweep in convertible form mixed Dodge body with typical DeSoto touches like the bumpers and grille. Just 700 of these convertibles were made. Its styling extravagances including those massive tail wings were the work of Chrsyler’s controversial head stylist Virgil Exner.
1960 Lincoln Continental MkV
The longest and heaviest post-war American convertible, we can stand back in awe today but at the time even Lincoln’s affluent customers baulked at this corpulent and over-styled final version of the 1958-introduced Conti MkIII. Vast, expensive and luxurious in the extreme, it also came with such a thirst that its engine had to be detuned (to 315hp) to appease customers.
1959 Chrysler New Yorker
The fifth generation New Yorker for 1959 came with a revised version of Ford’s ‘Forward Look’ styling and, believe it or not, rather more modest tail fins than earlier models. This is a very early model, powered by the 6.8-litre V8, and is one of only 286 convertibles built in 1959.
1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz Convertible
Cadillac’s range-topping Eldorado came with styling tweaks courtesy of GM’s famed designed Harley Earl. He made them longer, lower and wider while for 1958 the Biarritz convertible, along with its Seville two-door hardtop cousin, gained double headlights and new grille, plus even more brightwork than before. Not forgetting of course the ‘chipmunk cheeks’ protruding rear wings.
Photography: Richard Pardon