Wednesday, May 26, 2010

by imperial decree

They were sexpots with wheels- voluptous styling, plush interiors, and lots of automotive jewelry. They seemed to drip with chrome and styling gimmicks- monstrous fins, freestanding headlamp pods, swiveling seats, square steering wheels, and eagles literally woven into the upholstery fabrics and embossed into the leather. It's like Chrysler Corporation meets Imperator.

George Hamilton seduced Delores Hart in a '59 Crown Convertible. Tony Randall rescued Doris Day's virtue in a '59 Le Baron. Ethel Merman complained about being last in a '62 convertible, Leigh Taylor-Young committed vehicular manslaughter for kicks in a sexy '68 convertible. And Ann-Margaret launched herself into film notoriety by torpedoing off a curve in a white '64 Crown hardtop.

Of course we're talking Imperial, the highest achievement of Chrysler Corporation, who maintained a separate production line to make a comparative handful of chariots to rival Cadillac. They were positioned with dramatic advertising headlines like "By Imperial Decree" and "Gay Companion". And while they did not win the sales race, they're certainly fun and fascinating to remember. So we're dropping in on the Imperial Owners Club Statewide meet, held this past weekend in Palm Springs.

So here we go, "By Imperial Decree"

More Imperials Here

Friday, May 21, 2010

great cars in bad movies 1: the big bounce

The stunningly beautiful Leigh Taylor-Young as a bored mistress devolving into a murderess. Ryan O'Neal as the ex-con drifter studmuffin. The lovely coastline of Monterey, California as a backdrop. A couple of majestic shots of Ryan's adorable little butt. An ensemble supporting cast of Chrysler products ranging from an appropriately beat-up Dodge D-100 pickup to a Valiant two-door sedan. And the star of the film, a heavenly brand-freaking new 1968 Imperial Crown convertible, one of only 474 produced in what was its final year. Monochromatic in Meadow Green Poly with forest green top, leather, and even matching factory pinstriping. Resplendent on original triple whitewall bias ply tires and bronzed dash trim.

We're watching The Big Bounce, the only film Ryan and Leigh made together during their brief marriage. Heavy handed Mike Curb music, a lot of really mediocre acting, Leigh behind the wheel doing her best Daisy Buchanan, and indictment of the robber barons that prostitute themselves and their mistresses for the almighty dollar. And Leigh. Oh, My GOODNESS that devastaing Leigh Taylor-Young. I had totally forgotten how totally captivating she was at twenty four. Almost a brunette Audrey Hepburn, except for the homocidal urges. But beautiful enough to take a chance on, just make sure the gun isn't loaded. And that gorgeous Imperial convertible. Put the two of them together and its a wonderful night with a bad film. But do yourself a favor, don't cut her off in traffic, especially if you're driving a dune buggy. She doesn't take it well. Really.

hello gaywheels

The fine and friendly folks over at contacted me recently and asked if I would be willing to share some of my own unique blend of automotive history and personal flair (along with 25 fabulous years worth of auto industry experience) with their devoted readers. I'm always up for new readers, so I said avec plaisir and I am happy to welcome you to the Palm Springs Automobilist.

Here you'll find adventures, observations, automotive history and trivia, and that most important of discussions, the evolution of the evening gown as a featured icon in automotive advertising. So pour yourself a devastatingly chilled Martini, grab a 1967 Buick brochure, and have a seat. I do hope you enjoy your visit. Oh, and did I mention that reader comments are as welcome as a vinyl covered roof and whitewall tires at no extra charge? Do come back soon.

Friday, May 14, 2010

betty and the parakeet

"Parakeet" in my driveway, April 2003

Last week a friend sent me a link to a New York Times article called Betty White and a Cadillac called Parakeet. It was the story of Betty's beloved Seamist Green 1977 Seville which had been purchased for her as a surprise gift by her late husband Allen Ludden. It was intact and original with just over 18,000 miles and had been donated to the AACA Museum in Hershey, PA by its owner in Texas. Betty herself had donated the car , which she called "Parakeet" to the Humane Society when she decided she could no longer care for it appropriately. And I am the missing link.

Sometimes you have half of a puzzle. When I worked in the wholesale auto industry, one of my clients was Martin Cadillac in West Los Angeles. On occasion I would have to walk through the service department and always kept an eye open for an interesting Cadillac. One day I spotted a pale green and white Seville in a service bay. It was very well polished and clearly loved, showing just 18,000 miles on the odometer and sporting a first generation AT&T car phone and a dash plaque that read "Betty". I made a mental note of what a nice car it was, but thought nothing more of it.

About a year later I went to see a first generation Seville for sale at a Charity lot in North Hollywood. It was white with blue, had some sunfade on the interior and a generous share of dents and dings. Just a bit too rough for me, I said to the attendant. "Well, you should go see the one at our Oxnard location", he replied, "It only has 18,000 miles". I picked up my cell phone and dialed the number he gave me, and asked about the Seville. "It's a beauty", was the reply, "and it was owned by Betty White". She wasn't as red hot then, but I was still a life long fan. I drove directly to the Oxnard location, pausing only to pick up my neighbor in case I needed a second driver.

When I got to their location, I recognized it instantly- the little Seamist gem from Martin Cadillac was Betty White's car! They showed me the original title in her name. It was just as nice as I had remembered, with the cell phone and "Betty" dash plaque still in place. Of course, it needed a little dialing in and I treated Parakeet to some glamorous new correct tires and some NOS chrome, replaced the rear bumper trim and made repairs to the a/c and fuel systems, and then enjoyed showing the little car for a season before I sold Betty to a collector in Texas the same gentleman who donated her to the AACA Museum. What a fine gesture he made, and what a lovely little car that was. I was very pleased to see her featured in the New York Times.

Now I wonder what happened to her yellow Eldorado called Canary...

cadillac seville- the baby turns 35

It was 35 years ago this month that the Cadillac Seville made its debut. The smallest Cadillac since the 1920's also debuted with the highest price tag in their line up- the base price of $12,479 was the highest of any american made passenger car. This was a deliberate marketing move by Cadillac, who knew that in order for the car to succeed, it had to break through the "bigger is better" mentality that had permeated the domestic industry up to that point.

And succeed it did- with its simple yet elegant styling, rich interior detail, high level of equipment and outstanding workmanship, the Seville was a stunning success. Derived from the basic platform of the Chevrolet Nova, the Seville featured isolated subframes front and rear, a fuel injected 350 V8 engine, totally unique interior and exterior styling, and unmatched quiet and isolation. It was built on its own special line at Cadillac's Clark Avenue plant, and in order to ensure the highest level of build quality, the line speed was only fourteen cars per hour- versus an industry standard of 60 cars per hour. The launch was even special, with the first 2,000 Sevilles produced in the same color- triple Sterling Silver- which coincidentally matched the launch brochure and advertising photos.

The car became the darling of Hollywood- among the many celebrities who owned Sevilles were Fred Astaire, Isabel "Weezy" Sanford, and Betty White. Even Elvis got into the act- he bought one for girlfriend Linda Thompson. The design was so successful that imitators rushed to market- The Lincoln Versailles, Chrysler's Le Baron and even GM's own Oldsmobile Cutlass and Buick Century borrowed from Seville's rich styling, although not its level of luxury. It's a style that still looks crisp and elegant today, 35 years later.
Click here to find out more!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

new gig

In my never ending quest for media exposure, I've been named the Palm Springs Automotive Examiner. It should be fun and allow me to write in a very product focused way, as opposed to this journal format. Please go check it out. My first piece is about the launch of the 1975 1/2 Cadillac Seville. Do drop by and say hello. I'll be waiting.

Palm Springs Examiner