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

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“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.


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


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