Our previous posting was focused on cars offering a fun driving experience, and mostly involved cars you could enjoy flinging around corners. But there are other enjoyable aspects to old cars, and one of them is that old cars, like new puppies, have an innate ability to invite comments and stories from total strangers. I've found this to be so true that if you're the kind of person who wants to avoid interaction with strangers, then you probably have no more business driving around in a vintage car than you have walking downtown with a new pup at the other end of the leash. Most of the cars in this posting are of special value because of the stories attached to them and the stories they invite. In fact, where there were other finalists the decision went to the best story, not always to the best car. These cars are not here for their dynamic qualities, so our descriptions will be brief, and when there are special performance or engineering aspects we'll note them. The dates in parentheses do not always refer to all the years the cars were produced; instead they relate to the model years I can recommend.
**Hudson Hornet (1951-53)
These low, streamlined Step-Down Hudsons were among the first truly new postwar car designs, appearing in 1948. A '49 model enabled the cross-country adventure in Kerouac's On the Road, and the Hudson legend got another boost from Marshall Teague's dominance of stock car racing with the Hornet which was introduced in 1951. So with the big 6 cylinder Hornet you get both Kerouac and NASCAR bragging rights. Other finalists: 1948-49 Hudson Commodore Eight, 1949-50 Nash Airflyte, 1951 Studebaker Commander Starlight Coupe.
***Panhard Dyna Junior (1952-56)
Though it took its name from the postwar Dynavion show car, France's front-drive Dyna Junior had to content itself with 40 hp from a two-cylinder, air-cooled engine. Panhard fans always remind you about the roller bearing crankshaft. No matter; according to my 1956 Road & Track Road Test Annual, zero to 60 still took 26.2 seconds. Other finalists: Not really; nothing else looks this much like it would be driven by a circus bear...
**Studebaker Starliner (1953-54)
Raymond Loewy stands next to his industrial design firm's most famous product, Bob Bourke's Studebaker Commander Starliner Coupe from 1953. In a poll taken of Detroit car stylists decades later, it took top honors as the most beautiful American car. There was also a Starlight Coupe with center pillar, and both coupes were available as Commander V8s or Champion 6s. Visually the main difference is the vertical bars in the '54 grille; under the skin, however, the '54 had a stiffer frame to deal with some flexure issues on the '53 Starliner, so the '54 is my choice. Other finalists: 1963 Studebaker Avanti R-2.
**Citroen DS-19 (1956-75)
Engineer André Lefebvre and designer Flaminio Bertoni may have come up with the most memorable car design of all time when they conceived the DS. Here we do need to talk about the engineering and the dynamics: Like previous Citroens the DS is front-wheel drive, but here allied with a self-leveling hydropneumatic suspension actuated by an engine-driven pump which also assisted the disc brakes and the steering, the latter featuring a distinctive one-spoke wheel. When introduced at the 1955 Paris Auto Show, the DS (Goddess) seemed like a space ship from a more advanced planet. Other finalists: Not in a category of one. If driving an old Caddy limo to the coffee shop will prompt passerby to tell you about their high school proms, driving up in a DS will likely net you some alien abduction stories.
Virgil Exner's designs for the 1957 Forward Look Chrysler Corporation cars sent shock waves through the GM design studios, and none more than the Imperial with its uninhibited fins, curved side glass and Jetsons Go Baroque detailing. On top of that, the legendary Hemi V8 was up to 392 cubic inches, bigger than Cadillac, and the torsion bar suspension provided decent handling for such a big car. Convertibles are scarce, and always were. Other finalists: 1955 Chrysler 300, 1960 Dodge Polara convertible or 2 door hardtop.
**Lincoln Continental (1961-63)
Driving one of these might be the next best thing to commanding your own aircraft carrier.
Elwood Engel's design for the 1961 Continental established a new template for elegant restraint after an era of bombastic excess (see "When the Sixties Really Began" from Nov. 15, 2015 in these pages). The four-convertible is unique among postwar American cars as it was a true pillarless convertible; the top mechanism is fiendishly complex and involves miles of wiring. The sedan is just as elegant and the center pillar improves rigidity. But both models were built like bank vaults, and all were road tested before being delivered. Other finalists: 1964-66 Imperial convertible.
***Simca 1200S Bertone (1967-71)
This was a high-performance (105 mph) version of the little Simca 1000 coupe from 1962.
That car, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and built by Bertone, was briefly imported into the US, and the 1200S has a cult following in France. The 82 hp engine is in the rear, but as with the Alpine Renault A310 in the previous post, the radiator is in front, which helps avoid overheating. In a way, that makes it a more practical choice than the related Fiat 850 sport coupes and spider, which still have the radiator in the rear. If you drive it to a "cars and coffee" event in Silicon Valley, it's guaranteed to be the only one there, and you can't safely predict that about a McLaren or a Lambo. Other finalists: 1967 Fiat Abarth 1000 Spider.
***Mazda Luce R130 (1969-72)
Giugiaro also designed the Mazda Luce which appeared in 1965 and anticipated the shape of future products like the BMW Bavaria. When the R130 Luce coupe appeared in 1969, it had a similar shape to the Luce sedan but two different features: a twin-rotor Wankel engine similar to the one which had just appeared in the NSU Ro80 (see "The Future in the Rear View Mirror" in these pages), and front-wheel drive. Unlike the rear-drive, 4 cylinder Luce line, it was made in small numbers, around a thousand cars in four years. It's the only front-drive Mazda rotary. Other finalists: 1966-70 Honda S800 roadster.
Hudson Hornet: Christopher Ziemenowicz on Wikimedia
Panhard Junior: Wikimedia
Studebaker Starliner: Studebaker Corporation, on cruise-in.com
Citroen DS-19: Wikimedia
Lincoln Continental: Wikimedia
Simca 1200S: picautos.com
Mazda R130: Wikimedia