Classic Cars and Classy Stars: A Glance at the All-American Classics
When auto makers set out to design new automobiles, they may have had classic American actors and actresses in mind. Let’s do a comparison of a few cars and the classy stars that may have been inspiration for the rolling beauties.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Jean Harlow, otherwise known as “The Blonde Bombshell”. The Kansas City native was born as Harlean Harlow Carpenter. She accomplished quite a bit before her death at age 26. The “Platinum Blonde” was beautiful, talented and much sought after. That was very similar to the 1933 Stutz DV-32 with its double overhead cams and Bijur chassis lubrication system.
Harlow’s ten year career produced 36 movies; Dinner at Eight was one noted as Harlow’s comedic best. Many didn’t realize that despite Ms. Harlow’s talents she suffered from occasional illnesses. During her last film, Saratoga, Ms. Harlow left the set claiming illness. It was on May 20, 1937. After a short battle, Harlow succumbed to her illness on June 7.
Many experts considered the company that produced the Stutz DV-32 to have a strong engineering background, but history shows that their appeal dwindled over time. The 1933 model was considered their best work. During the company’s history, they produced a total of 35,000 cars. Like, Harlow – this was yet another icon gone before its time.
Next up, is the 1942 Packard 180 Darrin – and it’s counterpart, Frank Sinatra. This classy convertible was a dream actualized by WW1 veteran Howard “Dutch” Darrin. Upon his discharge from the U.S. military, Darrin left France and set out to serve his country once again by bringing style back into the automotive industry. That same year, “The Chairman of the Board” was making his historic appearance at the Paramount Theater.
As Sinatra captivated audiences, limited edition Packard cars rolled along the streets of Hollywood. Alongside the 180 chassis luxury automobile, galloped the reputation of “Ol’ Blue Eyes”. The crooning melodies and mere production of 14 units guaranteed both of their places in conversations all over the country.
“Ms. D”, Dorothy Dandridge
Who could forget “Ms. D”, Dorothy Dandridge? This 1954 Academy Award nominee paved the way for many African-American actresses today. So would the 1954 Buick Skylark Convertible for its successors. The two-door 5.6L Nailhead V8 purred on the road much like Dandridge poured onto the silver screen. Because of the lack of roles for African-American women, Dandridge’s options were little. But she more than made up for the lack in quantity with the quality of her work.
The “anniversary convertible” celebrated Buick’s 50th anniversary during the same year that African-Americans were getting their day in court. The Brown v. Board of Education created a climate that matched up with the sacrifices that people like Ms. Dandridge gave to help young Black children move the ladder. The ruling and the sacrifices made it possible for actresses like Halle Berry, who played Dandridge in a 1999 film, to have a chance at stardom.
The Skylark rolled on Kelsey-Hayes wheels to outsell its competition – the Cadillac Eldorado – by nearly 3:1. Similarly Dandridge’s talents in films like the 1959 Oscar winner, Porgy and Bess, took her on to become the first Black actress to stand in the limelight with the likes of superstars like Ingrid Bergman and Marilyn Monroe.
Finally, we get to one of the last of what we could call ‘the classics’; Sydney Poitier and the 1963 Chevrolet Impala SS. The full sized auto is well matched to the fully loaded actor. There were only 55,000 convertibles, and 125K sport coupes sold of this timeless piece of automotive mastery. Poitier’s resume has done nothing but grow over the years; his notoriety leading him to become well known as an actor and a dignitary.
The Impala SS had a longer rear deck and deeply sculpted rear fenders which made it stand out among the rest. The same could be said for Mr. Poitier. The Bahamian-born, American actor was the first Black actor to actually win an Academy Award for his role in Lilies of the Field. Though on a smaller scale, Chevrolet experienced a similar win with the V8 engine; one of the most powerful V8’s in Chevrolet history. The SS Convertible had a starting price of $3,186, well worth it for the executive styled body that carried a 425 horsepower engine.
Whether sitting in front of the silver screen, or at the drafting desk – style, class and sophistication remain important. We’ll never know if auto designers had classic entertainers in mind when they designed cars – but, one can’t ignore the subtle similarities. It’ll be interesting to see what new designs current stars might prompt tomorrow.
By Janean Watkins, an exotic and classic automobile enthusiast from Montway Auto Transport, an award winning, five star customer rated auto mover based in Chicago, IL. They've worked hard to earn the trust and respect of classic car collectors, dealers, sellers and everyday automotive aficionados alike by providing safe and secure, door-to-door services and instant vehicle shipping quotes.