08. January 2005 · Comments Off on It’s 1936… · Categories: General, History

… You have more money than Midas. You are looking for a new car – a sporting cabriolet. What would you buy?

This is an interesting question. Despite the worldwide depression, there was a wealth of spectacular (for their day) high-end automobiles available. Just consider: the Blower Bentley, the Mercedes 540K Special Roadster, the Hispano-Suiza J-12, the Type 57 Bugatti, the Cadillac 36-60/90, the Talbot-Lago T150C SS, the Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8B, the Maybach SW38, and, of course, the Duesenburg SSJ.

Well, the Cadillac and the Bentley can really be considered “second tier” automobiles. [It’s sad to say, my Limey friends, but in-between the Silver Ghost and the VW/BMW takeover, Rolls-Royce produced some relatively crude automobiles (great aircraft engines though)] Further, the Cadillac, the Isotta-Fraschinis, the Maybach, and the Hispano-Suiza were really more touring than sports cars (there were some exceptions, witness the ’37 Dubonnet Hispano.).

The Talbot, and particularly the Bugatti, are both spectacular examples of industrial craftsmanship – every facet finished to perfection. However, while the Talbots were by-and-large particularly beautiful, the 57s, with exception of the stunning Atlantic coupes (only 3 made), were some of the most ungainly Bugattis ever produced. For myself, iconoclast that I am, these cars would have a strong pull for me. But my practical side would not be unaware that these were really “small” and “delicate” cars for their age – not really the ticket for America’s [non] roads.

This brings us to the Mercedes and the Duesy. This is a tough choice. To me, there are few pre-war cars more beautiful than Jack Warner’s 540K Special Roadster (only 6 “hidden spare” models were built, IIRC). But Gary Cooper’s SSJ comes close (also IIRC, only 2 SSJs were ever built). On paper, you had that marvelous Duesenburg engine vs. that futuristic Mercedes chassis. But, in reality, while there are very few who have driven a 540K, ask anybody who’s driven a 300SL coupe, a Porsche 356 or early 911/912, or for that matter, a VW Bug or a MUTT – those swing-axle rear ends aren’t what they are cracked up to be.

In the end, it comes down to this: The Benz was a 105mph car, the Duesy would do 140+. I know what I’d choose.

Update: Well this is the last time I waste my time on an extendeded classic car post on you people. Not one comment? Not even to mention my omission of the spectacular Delahaye? Jeeze. (j/k – As I don’t make a dime on this, if I did it to please the unwashed masses, I wouldn’t do it.).

Comments closed.