Will Edwinson

Author & Storyteller

In The Days of Olde, Luxury Cars Stood Apart

Lincoln 1949 Cosmopoliton Those people of my generation will probably remember that if you owned a luxury car in the “old days,” it  meant  owning a car with certain amenities that weren’t available on the lower scale lower priced models–not even as options.  As individuals moved up the economic ladder and wanted a few little extras on their car, they purchased a more upscale model for items such as power windows, automatic transmissions, extra chrome trim, white side wall tires, a more comfortable ride; and, also, to “show off” a little bit.

When refrigeration air conditioners came on the scene, owning a car equipped with that option was really upscale–you had arrived.(Packard, I believe, was the first to offer refrigeration type air conditioning in their top of the line model in 1945 after the end of World War II.) Now, days, even though they are included in the price, all these amenities are standard equipment on just about every model the car companies have to offer.

Call me a snob, if you want, but the fun has been taken out of owning a luxury car.  In the old days, luxury cars were a bit larger and heavier than the lesser models, and offered a little more comfort.  Today, all there is  to denote upscale luxury is the price and the name tag, neither of which do the job of providing luxury adequately.  A Lexus is really nothing more than a “dolled up” Toyota Avalon.  Since Lincoln Motor Company stopped production on the Town Car, a Lincoln MKZ is now a glorified Ford Fusion, and the so-called Cadillac luxury  sedans are Chevrolet Impalas  with a few refined appointments,  a Cadillac emblem and name plate.

The Cadillac Escalade is  a fancied up  Chevrolet Suburban, and the Lincoln Navigator is nothing more than a fancy Ford Expedition, and the Lexus counterpart of these is a Toyota SUV.   All three are on truck chassis and ride like trucks. To play on Shakespeare’s words, . . .”a rose by any other name is still a rose.”

When I was a teen-ager, the automatic transmissions that we take for granted today were a real rarity. They weren’t even available in the low end cars for quite some time after they were available in the luxury models.  When they did become available, they were options costing as much as two hundred dollars extra; and two hundred bucks in the late 1940s and 1950s was a lot of money.

The common belief in those days was that Oldsmobile, a semi-luxury line of General Motors which was a step or two above Chevrolet, but not up to the prestige level of Buick and Cadillac, was the test car for many of the extra luxuries the company offered its customers.  I think Oldsmobile was the first General Motors car to offer an automatic transmission—the Hydra-matic, and it might have been the first to offer power windows.

I don’t think the Hydra-matic was exclusive to General Motors’ autos, however. If memory serves me correct, the company sold the rights to that transmission to other manufacturers as well. I think Ford Motor Co. used the Hydra-matic for a few years in the Lincoln before they developed their own transmission.  I don’t know if Mercury used Ford’s “Ford-o-matic,  or if it, too, used the Hydra-matic. The Ford-o-matic was first offered in 1952. That I’m sure about, because I bought my first car that year, and I specifically waited until I could get an automatic transmission. But I paid extra for it; it was not standard equipment.

I think Cadillac was the first in the luxury line-up of General Motors autos to offer the Hydra-matic as standard equipment.  Buick later offered the Dynaflow as a standard in the upscale models such as the Roadmaster,  but as an option in the mid-scale Buick Super, and low end Buick Special.1949 Packard sedan

The luxury cars of old, Cadillac, Packard, Buick, Lincoln, the Chrysler New Yorker and Imperial, were long and sleek and actually had some room in them.  You could stretch your legs out while riding in the back seat.

Today, even in the most expensive of so-called autos you sit with your feet down in a pit in the rear floor-boards with your knees against the back of the seat in front of you—or propping up your chin.    Alas–I guess that’s what is meant by, “new and improved.”

Now I’d like to take you back in time a 150 years, give or take, when one form of luxury travel was a good saddle horse, and tell you about my new Western novel entitled LouIsa—Iron Dove Of The Frontier that will be off the presses later this Fall. 

LouIsa is a many faceted woman.  She can ride and wrangle cows and calves with the best of cowboys,  she can  shoot a pistol with the top gunslingers of the day. 

Yet, she is a well educated woman who can don her finest party gown and be right at home with Vassar graduates.  She is also well studied in classical piano.  She takes this musical talent into the roughest of frontier honky-tonk saloons, and soon wins the crusty cowboys over into enjoying it(but not without a little trepidation on her part).

You can read more about her and some excerpts from the book by visiting the “Books” page, or the “In The Works” page on this website. 

Enjoy, ___Will

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