Coooooooooooupe!

Wikipedia provides a definition of the cars found on today’s blog:

personal luxury car is an American car classification describing a highly styled, luxury vehicle with an emphasis on image over practicality. Accenting the comfort and satisfaction of its owner and driver above all else, the personal luxury car sometimes sacrifices passenger capacity, cargo room, and fuel economy in favor of style and perceived cachet, as well as offering a high level of features and trim Typically mass-produced by employing a two-door platform with common mechanical components beneath their distinctive exteriors, these vehicles were a lucrative segment of the post-World War II automotive marketplace.

Personal luxury cars are characteristically two-door coupés or convertibles with two-passenger or 2+2 seating. They are distinguished on the performance end from GT and sports cars by their greater emphasis on comfort and convenience. Even though they usually contain higher horsepower engines and the necessary support systems for the higher horsepower output (transmissions, tires, brakes, steering, etc.); these larger power trains usually only bring these vehicles back to the power-to-weight ratios that they would have had; if, their gross vehicle weights had not been increased to accommodate the installation of their luxury features and accessories. …

Typically, the per unit profit of the sale of a new personal luxury vehicle is measured in thousands of dollars; to both the manufacturer, and the dealer. While the sale of a new compact or intermediate sedan yields only a few hundred dollars in profit per unit. However, they have additional styling elements and sometimes “baroque” designs. They are typically equipped with as many additional features as possible, including power accessories such as windows, locks, seats, antenna, as well as special trim packages, leather upholstery, heated seats, etc.

Today’s blog could be said to be a variation on my previous work on types of cars not made anymore. By today’s definition these cars are battleship-size, but in their era there were, believe it or don’t, bigger cars on the road.

While the majority of cars have had four doors for decades, two-door cars used to signify that the owner (1) had a smallish sports car, such as a Corvette; (2) didn’t want to pay more for a four-door, including salesmen who owned business coupes, or (3) had enough status that he (or sometimes she) had a fine car, but wanted to drive it himself (or herself), and didn’t usually need the back seat for passengers.

A good starting point is 1949, when the automakers had been frantically redesigning their cars after frantically pushing new-before-World-War-II designs out the door after the end of WWII. In those days, Cadillac was the standard of the world, and not just in price, but in power. Cadillac’s 1948 cars were a new design, with its first “modern” V-8 added one year later:

The Coupe de Ville was a fancier version of Caddy’s standard car. Midway through the next decade, Chrysler took its new hemi V-8, put in a handsomely styled car, and created the Chrysler 300

… which Carl Kiekhaefer, owner of an outboard engine company, promptly raced on the stock car circuit.

(Notice the “Mercury” underneath “Outboards” under the C-pillar. So why, you ask, would someone who created the Mercury outboard brand not race Mercurys? Good question, perhaps one Kiekhaefer’s son, Fred, could answer. I don’t believe Kiekhaefer or Mercury ever had a business relationship with Ford Motor Co., though I may be wrong about that.)

One year later, Ford revived a model name it hadn’t used for several years, Continental, for briefly a new marque separate from Lincoln. The Mark II cost $10,000, five times the average car’s cost, yet Ford still lost almost $1,000 per Mark II it sold.

Not to be outdone, Studebaker introduced four Hawks in 1956, ranging from the six-cylinder Flight Hawk to the Packard V-8-powered Golden Hawk.

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Either the 300 or the Hawk could be said to be the world’s first “personal luxury” car  — at least one someone could actually afford to buy, though the 300 wasn’t cheap either. The second didn’t start as a personal luxury car, but the Ford Thunderbird, which started life with two seats similar to the Corvette …

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… added two seats in 1958. Sales flew upward, you might say; in fact, in the recession year of 1958, the Thunderbird was one of only two American cars that sold measuredly better than in 1957.

2689715-1958-ford-thunderbird-thumb

Over at GM, big coupes were basically just the two-door version of their model line. Pontiac debuted the Grand Prix in 1962, though it wasn’t distinctive from other Pontiacs until 1963:

The bigger GM news in 1963 was the introduction of perhaps the most beautiful car of all time …

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… the Buick Riviera, though I prefer the ’65 and its hidden headlights myself.

One year after the Riviera debuted, Pontiac debuted the 2+2 option on its Catalina — two bucket seats in front, two seats in back. It was meant to be to the Catalina as the GTO was to the LeMans.

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GM took a while to make a big stand in the personal luxury market, but once the Cadillac Fleetwood of carmakers got going, the hits came quickly.

This is the Oldsmobile Toronado, the biggest car to that point powered by front-wheel drive since before World War II. The Toronado was a huge innovation, followed one year later by …

… the Cadillac Eldorado, also front-wheel-driven.

Three years later, the aforementioned Pontiac Grand Prix shrank to become …

… this beauty, still a Grand Prix, but based on a lengthened mid-sized chassis. So was, one year later …

… the Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

You may notice a design theme developing here — long hoods and, with the advent of the Riviera, shrinking trunks, or at least the part of the car behind the rear axle. The full-sized personal luxury cars — the 300 and so on — still had full-size trunks, but styling started to shrink the trunks because longer hoods looked better.

The Toronado, Riviera and Eldorado were redesigned to look either more or less conventional depending on your point of view in the early ’70s:

The Toronado looked more like the previous Eldorado by 1971.
The famous, or infamous, “boattail Riviera.”
cadillac-eldorado-1971-8
The 1971 Eldorado was still a fine-looking car, but more conventional in styling.

Meanwhile, over at Ford Motor Co., president Lee Iacocca told his stylists to “put a Rolls–Royce grille on a Thunderbird,” and thus was created …

… the Continental Mark III, followed in 1972 by the Mark IV …

The 1976 Continental Mark IV Designer Series (from left) Pucci, Givenchy, Cartier and Bill Blass editions.

… and in 1977 by the Mark V.

Elsewhere in the Lincoln–Mercury showroom could be found Mercury’s brief answer to the Pontiac 2+2 …

… the Mercury Marauder X-100, a car so over the top (hidden headlights, fender skirts, buckets and console, and of course a 429 V-8) that I of course would love to have one. This looks like something a 1970s private eye would drive.

GM redesigned its Monte Carlo and Grand Prix, adding the companion Olds Cutlass Supreme and Buick Regal in 1973. Chrysler was selling big coupes, but not exactly anything special, until it introduced …

Most of these cars were redesigned and shrunk in the late 1970s into the 1980s. (Chrysler brought back the 300, which looked a lot like a Cordoba.) And then the market started to fizzle out, due to gas prices, their practicality, or the ephermal nature of style.

I didn’t have a personal luxury car in my early driving days, but I did have a big coupe …

… a 1975 Caprice. It wasn’t sporty, though it had Radial Tuned Suspension. But it had a certain style, and doors big enough to serve as weapons if necessary:

These cars are not and really were never practical. They had big engines but not necessarily great performance, but certainly bad fuel economy. Back-seat passengers complained about getting into and out of the back seat. Practicality was never the point; style was.

The only domestically produced personal luxury coupe that comes to mind today is the Cadillac CTS and CTS-V coupes:

01ctsvcoupefd2011

 

On the one hand, style has certainly changed. On the other hand, with 556 horsepower under the hood, the CTS-V could run rings around any other car on this blog.

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