Of late DTW has taken a liking to the term ‘brougham’ with our interpretation of it deriving from its use in the post-War US motor industry.
A true, horse-drawn brougham from the 19th Century was an upright carriage, reasonably compact and nimble, with enclosed and comfortable seating for two in the rear, facing forward, leaving a view ahead through glass of the driver and footman exposed to the elements on a raised front seat. In the earlier days of motoring, the transition was quite faithful but, as with other terms from the coachbuilding industry, such as landau, coupe de ville and cabriolet, it began being used more for its classy sound than for its strict adherence to a traditional template.
But, long after Cadillac and others had hijacked the term to suggest added luxury, rather than a specific body style, someone was remaining faithful to the term. Nubar Gulbenkian was well-known in the 50s and 60s for his lavish lifestyle and provocative attitude. A multi-millionaire, both through inherited wealth and his own oil-industry dealings, he was a well-tailored bon-viveur, his own pragmatic interpretation of the English gentleman.
His exploits were fodder for magazines and newspapers and, a bit like Jeremy Clarkson, the public seems to have been inexplicably fond of him, even though he was doubtless entirely indifferent to them. We seemed fascinated by his profligacy and his nonchalantly witty comments on it.
He had various cars specially made but, in particular, he had two Austin FX4 London taxis re-bodied for him in true brougham style, upright at the back with gold plated carriage lamps and an open chauffeur’s compartment. They were built by FLM Panelcraft in Battersea, and at least one had wickerwork covered side panels. Gulbenkian is supposed to have said two things about these conversions. First, that ‘it will turn on a sixpence – whatever that is’ and second to the effect that he liked his driver to be exposed to the elements since he never felt totally dry unless he could see someone who was totally wet.
I’m not asking DTW to amend its current use of the ‘brougham’ tag but, in a world of diminishing rooflines, let us give a short thought to the dearth of vehicles today that the late Mr Gulbenkian could have entered without having to remove his top hat.