Boylan’s Dream Garage
By Roger Boylan
I have a fantasy shared, I know, by all autosavants: to follow the example of Jay Leno and have a collection of my favorite cars, with the wherewithal to keep them looking showroom-new and in perfect condition. This is the only place it will ever happen for me, so I’m going about it methodically and turning it into a miniseries: Part One, The Standards; Part Two, The Sportives; Part Three, The Utilities. For purposes of space and sanity, I’m restricting myself to a maximum of ten vehicles per segment. Some of them have already been featured in these pages under my byline.
We are, in this fantasy, under Mediterranean skies, either on the Cote d’Azur near Menton or somewhere south of Salerno, with a view of Vesuvius.
Part One: The Standards
These are the sedans that once set the standard for their class and time and that, for reasons known only to me and God, I would like to own.
1955 Citroen Traction Avant
Among the first front-drive cars (hence its name, meaning, literally, “Forward Traction”), produced between 1938 and 1955, this beauty, long associated with Resistance movies and the era of Gabin and Piaf, came in 4- and 6-cylinder variants, the latter, with a 2.8 liter engine, known as the “Big Six.” In its upscale iteration, which of course we see before us in my garage, it was equipped with leather seats, a wood dashboard, a very modern 12-volt electrical system, and, typical for a Citroen, an ultra-sophisticated suspension. Some models also had a sliding sunroof. The 2.8 engine propelled the car to speeds up to 85 mph and the state-of-the-art suspension ensured that the Traction was fast and held the road when cornering. Results can be admired in the films The Great Escape, Lacombe Lucien, and To Catch a Thief, among others.
1973 Rover P5 3.5 Litre
This is what the Queen drives, or drove. To my mind, a near-perfect combination of the classic and the sporting a l’anglaise, excelled only by the Jaguars of the period (see below). Powered by the venerable 3.5 litre Rover V8 that started life over here as a Buick 251, these beasts bustled down the road with speed and authority; their 200 hp was a lot of punch, back in the day. Inside, of course, there was the leather-bound, wood-panelled luxury of Athenaeum Club style. Prime Ministers Harold Wilson, Ted Heath, Jim Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher drove, or rode in, Rover P5s, but Tony and Gordon have made do with Jags. Speaking of which….
1967 Jaguar Mk. II 3.8
One of the purest iterations of the “grace, pace, and space” dictum of Sir William Lyons, Jaguar’s founder and chairman. This is the Jag that got me hooked on the marque, back in boyhood at one of the Geneva Motor Shows in the ’60s, and got me hooked all over again in adulthood, when a red variant showed up driven by Inspector Morse in the eponymous TV series, to which I was long addicted. Morse’s Jag (later sold for £100K) was a relatively modest 2.4 litre version, not the 3.8 you see before you in my garage. This is really the archetype of Jaguar sedans, and bears a strong resemblance to its direct descendant, the S-Type that I drive daily in real life. The 3.8 version of the Mark II was one of the fastest production cars available in its day; the engine was the same one used in the E-Type, capable of producing up to 230 hp and generating easy cruising speeds of 120+ mph. Oh yes, I can see myself rushing to nowhere down the Corniche some summer morning in this car (British racing green, ideally, but pearl white would do.)
1980 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9
Beneath the common-or-garden body of your average Manhattan dentist’s S-Series 280 was a ferocious performance sedan that went like the blazes. An easily attained maximum of 140 m.p.h., and prolonged, illegal cruises at 130, were reported by such smitten fans of the day as Car and Driver’s correspondent, who wrote “The 6.9 feels more nimble, more agile than any other Mercedes we can remember. The enormous and very thirsty (12-14 mpg) 6.8 litre V8 powerplant, shared with the M-B 600 Pullman, gave out 286 hp and propelled the heavy car to 60mph in around 7 secs. John Frankenheimer, in Ronin, and Claude Lelouch, in C’etait un rendezvous, were among the movie directors who featured the 6.9 on celluloid; each also owned one. This Benz is durable, solid, and desirable, especially in gunmetal gray. Good for a sprint up the coast on weekends.
1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 “Konrad Adenauer”
Konrad Adenauer was the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of (West) Germany, from 1949 until 1963, the years of Germany’s postwar economic recovery, the Wirtschaftswunder, when the recently prostrate nation got to its feet, brushed off its knees, and set to work. Emblematic of this newfound confidence, and of the renewed luster of the once-great Stuttgart firm that had pandered to Hitler (not a real car buff, by the way: he never learned to drive)–was this magnificent, stately car, named in honor of the distinguished Chancellor, who owned, or was driven in, six over his long life (he died at 91). It was a thoroughly modern car for its day, with an advanced independent suspension system, “Arctic-Kar” air conditioning, Borg-Warner 3-speed automatic, and a 3-liter, 175-h.p. engine. Adenauer’s versions had writing desks, sirens, curtains, fender flagpoles, and division windows. Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect and notorious car buff, owned one; so did Yul Brynner. To me, this car exudes the dignity and self-possession of a much older, aristocratic Germany. It couldn’t care less whether or not you can outrun it to 60; it will take its own sweet time, danke sehr, perhaps reaching a respectable 105 m.p.h. on the Autobahn if so inclined.
1961-1967 Ford Anglia 105E
I’ve never quite figured out why I like this car so much, but I always did, and still do, so there it is, in my dream garage. As mentioned in a previous piece (“I Dream of Anglias”), my adoration reached its height during a family trip through northern Italy and Yugoslavia in the early ‘60s, when I noticed in my weird childish way that spanking-new Ford Anglias were almost as popular in Italy as were Fiats, and that the prevalent hue was a luscious pistachio green. And there you have justification enough, for the Italians are the world’s premier nation of car lovers. If they like a car–basta cosi. Anyway, I always admired the Anglia’s styling, inspired by American cars of the day (Studebakers and Lincolns in particular), so much more attractive and inspired, with its reverse-rake rear window and flashy add-ons, than the previous, plebeian Anglia. As of the inception of Series 105E, you could get your Anglia with chrome side strips, two-tone side flashes, two-tone vinyl seats, chromed rear lights, and a handsome toothy chrome radiator grille. This was at a time when small cars were only just emerging from the humdrum era of postwar deprivation; the chromed-up and sassy Anglia was the harbinger of a new age. The Mods and the Rockers were upon us (well, upon the Brits), and around the corner were the Fab Four and the Stones. All that seems as quaint and remote now as the Crimean War, but at the time the Anglia 105E represented the fever pitch of modernity. And the little car has held up well. It featured prominently in two of the Harry Potter films, and it’s still a hot property on amateur rally circuits.
1937 Cord 812
Finally, an American car, and one of the finest ever–and one of the biggest commercial flops. A lesson learned by writers and auto designers alike is that originality has its price, and it’s usually too high for the public. Mind you, early Cords had dodgy transmissions, a problem that didn’t get fixed in time to reassure the understandably wary Depression-era public. Upshot: The Auburn Automobile Co., manufacturer of Cords, expired in 1937, just as it was beginning to manufacture an automobile of the first rank, the model 812, the last, and the best, of its line. Sleek and aerodynamic, it rode lower than any of its contemporaries, and moved faster than most: The speed endurance record set on a Cord 812 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1937—24 hours at 101.74 m.p.h.—was unbroken until 1954. Unlike most of the other cars of the time (the Citroen Traction Avant excepted), Cords had front-wheel drive, and they dispensed with such impedimenta as running boards and bulbous headlamps and other leftovers of the age of the hackney-cab. The headlights were retractable popups hidden in the flowing front fenders. And, like one of the mighty Pacific Limited locomotives of the day, the 812 boasted unadorned louvers around the hood, a vivid statement of futurismo. The Cord had no chrome, unlike its little Anglia stablemate. But its beauty is hard to deny. It could be the very embodiment of the Goddess of Speed. And while we’re on the subject of goddesses….
1975 Citroën DS 23 Pallas
Citroën sold nearly 1.5 million of the DS (“déesse,” or “goddess”) and near-twin ID (“idée,” or “idea”) models over 20 years of production. A unique car indeed, the DS is what the world thinks of when it thinks “French car.” Like its ancestor the Traction Avant, and so many early French cars, it was a pioneer. Its famous self-leveling suspension, which caused it, when coming to a halt, to sink sighing to its knees like a tired camel, gave it a ride equal to that of a Rolls-Royce. The extraordinary roadholding was credited for saving the life of President Charles de Gaulle during an assassination attempt in 1962 (as described in my article, “The Goddess and the Idea”). And of course there’s the unmistakable, futuristic, aerodynamic body, one of the most influential automotive designs of all time. Yes, you love the DS or you hate it. I fall into the former camp, perhaps needless to say, which is why there’s a place in my garage for a silver-gray 1975 DS Pallas, the summum bonum of the species, with the biggest engine and the most goodies.
1975 Tatra T603
And now for something completely different: Communism’s finest automobile, from one of the oldest and most distinguished Czech manufacturers. Not to laugh: remember that pre-Communist Czehoslovakia produced some of Europe’s finest machinery, from sewing machines to heavy guns, and not even Communism could extinguish the spark of Czech craftsmanship. Tatra was founded as a wagon and carriage manufacturer in 1850 as Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriksgesellschaft, and became Czechized after the First World War as Tatra. This beauty (if you’ll excuse the expression) dates from ’75, the last year of its 20-year run. It was the crème de la crème of Politburo limos; Fidel Castro had a white one, and Nicolae Ceaucescu and Leonid Brezhnev each owned a couple. Actually, the T603 was quite a good car. Its burly air-cooled V8 moved it briskly along, its disc brakes lowered the anchor convincingly, and an all-independent suspension system gave it a ride nearly as smooth as that of a Citroen. The early T603s, with three headlights, looked like goggle-eyed extraterrestrials, but later versions had a more normal four-headlight arrangement, and in the end acquired a kind of quirky elegance that appeals to me.
1956 Lincoln Continental Mk II
The only 2-door sedan in my collection and, in my eyes, one of the iconic American cars of the 1950s. Elvis owned one; so did Sinatra and the Shah. With a magnificent V8 capable of 285 h.p.,it would give the Benz 6.9 in my collection a run for its money in the traffic-light derby. In the marketplace, however, it was soundly thrashed by Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, and Benzes, because–apart from the afroementioned celebrities–people were reluctant to fork out the equivalent of about $75,000 in today’s money for a car manufactured by Ford. But what a Ford it was! There’s never been another like it. Each one was handbuilt to a high standard; interiors were richly appointed, with Turbo-Drive 3-speed automatic, air conditioning, power windows, power seats, and leather upholstery. Ford claims to have lost a thousand bucks on every Continental Mark II it sold. But it is the epitome of an age, and an attitude. It speaks to me of balmy evenings at the Tropicana and the sweet-scented air of the desert dawn after a night’s debauch at Caesar’s Palace. We all need a touch of that kind of jaunty swagger in our lives.
Next installment: The Sportives
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