Anniversary Waltz 1959 – Neatness Is Always the Result of Deliberate Planning

“This matter is best disposed of from a great height, over water”.

Eve Marie Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau in a still from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. (c)

Amid a year of cinematic gems such as swords and sandals epic, Ben-Hur and Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, North by Northwest might not have drawn as many cinemagoers, but if it wasn’t the auteur-director’s finest film, it was probably his most enjoyable. Starring an at-his-peak Cary Grant as the film’s suave but unsuspecting Mad Man, a diverting Eve Marie Saint as the requisite femme-fatale, combined with a strong supporting cast, a sharp, pithy script by Ernest Lehman and some of the best-known set-piece scenes in movie history, North by Northwest remains something to savour.

1959 also played host to the introduction of the Mattel corporation’s Barbie doll, beloved of young girls and student film makers, the communist revolution in Cuba, beloved of cigar manufacturers and CIA assassination attempts, the first of the Mercury programme space flights and the air crash which killed, amongst others, musician and teen-idol, Buddy Holly. In Britain, the first section of the M1 motorway – from London to Birmingham – was opened, precipitating high-speed inter-city road travel, even if few domestic cars were actually capable of it.

(c) Pinterest

One which undoubtedly would have been made its debut at that year’s Earls Court Motor Show. The AC motor company could trace its background to the very dawn of motoring, the Thames Ditton carmaker having made its name producing quality saloons and sporting models. The Greyhound was based on a modified Aceca chassis, itself a coupé version of the pretty Ace two-seater. The Greyhound’s elegant coachwork was formed in aluminium. Engines were either the popular and rugged Ford in-line sixes, or the more rarefied and exclusive BMW-derived Bristol units.

The Greyhound’s suspension was independent all round with coil springs and wishbones at the front and semi-trailing arms at the rear. Disc brakes were fitted at the front and steering was by rack and pinion. The AC’s cabin seated four with a high standard of creature comfort. Aimed at cars like Alvis’ TA or Bristol’s 404, the Greyhound however was not a commercial success, with production ceasing in 1963 with only 84 cars built.


Fiat’s upmarket ambitions in the immediate post-war period were somewhat on the modest side, being predicated broadly upon what the Italian market was deemed capable of absorbing. And while Italian specialist carmakers were producing cars of considerably more power, style and technical allure, the large Fiat saloon was already something of a national fixture.

With the 1800/2100, Lignotto aimed to produce a more contemporary looking car with strong export potential. Equally strong were the visual similarities to Pininfarina-penned contemporaries from Lancia, BMC and later, Peugeot – the latter in particular being almost a carbon copy. However, the big Fiat’s shape was perhaps the better balanced one. Mechanically, the 1800 employed a wholly conventional chassis layout, and six cylinder engines of 1795 or 2054 cc capacities.

Never a big seller outside its native Italy, the large Fiat was a capable motor car, and not an unattractive one but unlike the rivals it once so closely resembled, it’s almost entirely lost to the mists of time now.

(c) mercedes-Benz

Not so the big Fiat’s German rival. History accords the Mercedes W111 a degree of immortality, largely because (a) it’s a Mercedes and (b) it was adorned by perhaps the only visual concession to fashion ever to make it to a Daimler-Benz production car – until the Wagener era anyway. The W111’s cropped tailfins lent it the ‘heckflosse’ soubriquet and were, it’s been suggested intended as a parking aid, but you can believe that if you wish. What they signified was perhaps Germany allowing its collective hair down a little as the Wirtschaftswunder took hold.

Created under the auspices of Karl Wilfert, Fredrich Geiger and most notably, Austrian engineer and inventor, Béla Barényi, who pioneered more than 2500 patents over his long career, most of which took place at Sindelfingen. The fintail’s most significant innovation and one which would revolutionise the entire industry, not to mention save countless lives, was the creation of the passenger safety cell, which in conjunction with standard fit seatbelts, crash padding and recessed interior fittings, allowed progressive deformation at front and rear, and did much to prevent serious injury in the event of a crash. In 1959, the heckflosse was probably the safest car in production.

Introduced in 2.2 litre six cylinder form, the range would later be expanded to encompass the W112 3oo SE, the short-nosed W110 four-cylinder models and elegant coupé versions. However, the fintail style, while modish in 1959 dated quickly and by the time the car was superseded by the /8 model in 1968, had started to look rather old fashioned. But like most Mercedes’ of this era, one of the best-regarded and most durable cars of its time and a lasting monument to a fine engineering team.

One thing which could be said of the cars of 1959, and especially those of Fiat and Mercedes was that their creators were moving away from the more intuitive manner in which cars used to be conceived, towards something more considered – something more akin perhaps to the results of deliberate planning – without the cliffhanger…

The class of ’59 we did write about.

We’ll come back to these another time. BMW 700/DKW Junior/Lloyd Arabella/ Maserati 5000 GT/ Studebaker Lark


Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

3 thoughts on “Anniversary Waltz 1959 – Neatness Is Always the Result of Deliberate Planning”

  1. Nice summary, though perhaps light on the introduction of both the Mini and Anglia in the early autumn of 1959 – those cars sold by the millions and dragged the UK out of such abysmal ’50s era cars as the Austin A35, the old square small Fords that wheezed about only slightly more quickly than a horse with that 1172cc side-valve lump, and Standard 8 and 10’s. If you haven’t been subjected to any of them, my advice would be to not bother if you perchance are offered a drive by a wild-eyed restorer/enthusiast. The Mercedes 220 was a treasure indeed, though – I think it was an incredibly solid machine -far beyond what any other car manufacturer of the day could accomplish. A brother bought a 20 year-old one in the early 1980s, which was about 12 to 15 years beyond the best-by date of anything else from 1962. I couldn’t believe how well it handled our colonial beaten up roads after the frost comes out of the ground in Spring. All of a piece and comfy. The SE engine was powerful and unlike any other I’d experienced – it sounded incredibly busy at all times, but in a pleasant way. Nice one.

    North By Northwest was the featured movie on the SS Maasdam which brought our family from Southampton to Halifax NS the last week of July 1959. Halfway through the film, the feed got stuck. And the audience, unaware that the sudden yellowing of the image followed by orange and what looked suspiciously like fire wasn’t part of the Hitchcock plot but reality, were startled by the booth operator yelling at the top of his lungs! Yeah, we got out quickly then. The film had indeed caught fire. Two nights later, spliced and patched up, the film made it through the yellowed area in bated-breath audience silence. Two mornings after that, we exited Canadian Immigration clutching free gifts from Welcome Wagon onto the street and what did I espy — a parked 1959 Cadillac. To my English eyes it seemed that something so big and brash couldn’t actually exist. But the other giant cars that shortly hove into view brought home the reality that yes indeed, this was NOT the UK. And yes, we were surely at the beginning of an adventure.

    1. Bill: Thanks for your comments and your vivid reminiscences. Time is never our friend here at DTW and the sands ran out on a lot of cars I had intended to mark. The W111/110 deserves more column inches than it received, a matter I hope to remedy at some future point. It was a fine car. If you recall, I did mark the Anglia back in October, whereas the Mini is one I still hope to get around to talking about in some way, shape or form – if I can think of anything even vaguely original to say.

  2. One thing to bear in mind is the sheer scale of the Daimler-Benz operation. For being an upper middle management car catering to the bourgeoisie, they really had that market cornered on a global scale. Total sales of the Heckflosse totals some 350 000 units or ten times the size of Jaguar. Or Comparing it to Fiat that had some 150 ooo sales of the 1800/2100. And what strikes me the most with Mercedes at the tine was the consistency and level of quality control. The W110 really was a mass market car, but with a concistency level Jaguar could only dream about. It would have been a no-brainer for about most of the population to chose the Mercedes over just about any other comparable car.

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