The Road to Excess
From the earliest days of the automobile, manufacturers learned that the affluent would pay a hefty price for a stylish ride. Here’s a look at how past generations defined luxury through their cars
THE CLUBMAN’S CAR
“I am easily satisfied with the very best,” quipped Winston Churchill. And when he wasn’t saving the world from Nazi Germany, he liked to tool around London in the very best car: a 1939 Daimler DB18 Drophead Coupé with two-tone black and silver paint, green leather seats and a chocolate-coloured folding roof. Although usually chauffeured, Churchill (a notoriously bad driver) would sometimes take the wheel, to everyone’s immediate peril.
BIGGER THAN BOND
When Beatlemania became a worldwide phenomenon, Paul McCartney could finally afford his first car. And he did it in style, with a 1964 Aston Martin DB5, a.k.a. the James Bond car. Painted in Goodwood Green, it had reclining seats, pile carpets, electric windows, full leather trim and a black interior with a stitched music-note pattern. McCartney’s urbane ride also had a record player, on which he would presumably spin his hit single from 1965, “Drive My Car.”
The 1917 CraneSimplex Model was a seven-passenger touring convertible that looked more horse carriage than car. Still, back in the day, it was the last word in high-end design and comfort. Its advertising campaign was targeted to “those who demand the utmost in smoothness, flexibility and luxurious comfort,” i.e., the only people who could afford these cars were named Vanderbilt or Rockefeller.
Sleek, speedy, agile and brash, the 1960 Mercedes-Benz 300SL coupe was the perfect car for Pierre Trudeau, a bachelor about town with big political ambitions. Trudeau’s Merc is often regarded as the pinnacle of German design and engineering (ranked by Sports Car
International as the fifth best sports car of all time). The car remains in the family and was restored for son Justin and Sophie to use on their wedding day in 2005.
Elvis loved cars but his favourite was his 1955 Pink Cadillac Fleetwood Series 60, which he used for touring with the band. At 5,000 pounds, it was big, even by American standards, and its stylish chrome, sleek lines and metal dash topped in padded leather were truly fit for the King. It came with AC for hot Memphis nights as well as spotlights on the reverse of its rear-view mirrors. In true Elvis fashion, he eventually gave the car to his mother, Gladys, despite the fact she didn’t have a license.
The most ’80s of all ’80s cars, the flashy Ferrari Testarossa perfectly fit the lifestyle of that decade’s rich and famous, including Michael Jackson, Elton John, Don Johnson and Michael Jordan. Its extravagant cockpit came with hand-sewn leather interior, fine carpeting and all the latest predigital gauges and controls. High performing, it was also fast and furious – 0 to 100 km/h in 5.2 seconds. —Peter Muggeridge
ELVIS PRESLEY ELTON JOHN PAUL McCARTNEY WINSTON CHURCHILL PIERRE TRUDEAU