One’s understanding of this depends very much on how one defines or understands Romance. Looked at one way, the US has produced some highly Romantic vehicles.
It gets rather complicated or at least ambiguous when you look closer. One can explain the expressive, expansive and generous adornment of American cars (of the old school) by referring to what might have been a bias towards emotion over reason. That is why the tailfins of the Cadillacs emerged for a short but memorable spell. People were excited by the drama of jet fighters and the imagery associated with them. The car sublimated that excitement.
The rest of the 60s and mid-70s saw remarkably expressive forms made manifest. Those long, long bonnets and stately (to some) grilles sought to capture aristocratic grandeur as some interpreted it. I am being careful here with my choice of words. To others these baroque confections such as the ’73 Olds Toronado we showed a few weeks back merely appear grotesque. And I think even the most die-hard relativist would say that the attempt to apply the trappings of 6 metre cars onto 4.9 metre cars was almost an unalloyed disaster.
What I would like you to consider is that for the people of the time, those huge and chrome-encrusted vehicles were the epitome of the Romantic ideal of American motoring. I am not expecting you to see it in the same way but to see that it could be viewed thus.
As a thought experiment, consider that the images of women in paintings of the 1700s represent the ideal of the feminine at that time. Similarly, the images of men also represent notions of ideal masculinity. The women seem improbably rounded and over-inflated (did anyone ever really look like that?) and the men weirdly, steroidally muscled and with laughable haircuts. However, we can still see the paintings in which these figures appear as being masterpieces (though I tend to prefer the work of Rembrandt whose depictions still seem realistic and believable today).
The American land-yacht or even the Pony cars can be seen in this light as cars designed to conform to the ideas of romance that were prevalent at the time. Of course, they are
also at the same time reflections of cynicism: there was nearly no limit to what the designers would do to lure customers and to create dissatisfaction. Just making a car longer by 5 centimetres was enough to make existing cars seem quantifiably inferior. Let’s leave that interpretation aside true as it is and consider that such manipulations worked because the great driving American public was inclined to believe in the car as freedom-giver and emblem of the good life.
I asked readers to look at Romance one way up there in the opening paragraph. Now I have to explain what that one way is. To understand the American car as romantic it is necessary to conceive of romance as an emotional approach to the practical. Human relations at their extreme can be reduced to bodily functions. Driving is just about moving that distance that lies between ‘a’ and ‘b’. Romance in design drives us at speed away from that dull truth, at least until the carburettor fouls.
5 thoughts on “Theme: Romance – 6.7 litre V8’s, Chrome and Buttoned Velour”
Having known these vehicles and their peers since new, I’ve gone through a range of opinions about them over the years. As an 8 year old, I worshipped the chromey spaceships we in the UK usually only glimpsed on grainy black and white imported TV shows. Even into the mid 60s, the idea of a big Impala (actually available in the UK in LHD form from Lendrum and Hartman) still had appeal but, by the end of that decade, I, and many others, had had enough and viewed the Yank bloaters with their crude chassis as anachronisms. Nevertheless, seeing the once proud US industry trying to face reality in the 70s, with a series of ill-proportioned, wheezing runts, was an immensely dispiriting sight. And it’s never recovered its confidence.
For me, ownership of a ‘Classic Yank’ would come with too much extraneous baggage in terms of perception by others to be contemplated, but I’m happy to admit that’s sheer hypocrisy. If a friend asked me to look after theirs whilst they were away (probably whilst they were doing a year inside for some knock-off faulty goods they knowingly tried to sell to old ladies – see what I mean about perceptions) I’d probably be out there every weekend, if not driving just sitting in it or (unthinkable for me) polishing it. They are certainly Romantic.
Romantic in context, I must say. Or particularly romantic when not in the UK or Ireland. The surroundings typical to the UK and Ireland give the strong impression of antipathy. Putting a finger on where this stems from is hard. I also suspect it´s subjective. I have no problems seeing American cars parked in Germany, Switzerld, France or Scandinavia. I´ll never forget seeing 80s Cadillacs in Cologne and Basel. The 60s cars look very at home on Denmark´s country roads or even in the old central parts of town. Would a German or Dane be less troubled by the sight of Chevrolet Caprice in Surbiton?
I really have no idea how wrong or right such a car in Britain would look to me. Certainly not as wrong as a bloated German SUV in Italy or France.
I think I mentioned before that, around 1966, my Dad seriously considered replacing a run of Mark 10 Jaguars with either a Chevrolet Impala or Ford Galaxie. Why he should have considered these bloated equivalents of a British Zodiac and Cresta as a suitable substitute for the sophistications of Bill Lyons’ Behemoth, I have no idea. Even more strange is that I conspired, even encouraged him, in this madness. Fortunately we saw the light in time. Allelujah!
These cars were, as far as I know, never ever offered in Ireland. I vaguely recall a Galaxie 500 parked in Donnybrook and that´s it. Sometimes returning Irish people brought their cars from the US so there was a K-body Chrysler New Yorker resident in D2 for a while in the 90s. And that´s really it. American cars fascinated me when I went to live there. Now I´m more balanced:some good, some bad, depends on context.