American Muscle? Step Up To 1960s American Glamour.

James Kraus

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Don Draper in his Starlight Silver 1965 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

One of the few value segments of the vintage car market is what Auto Universum calls American Glamour. A lack of enthusiasm for refinement and elegance has kept prices subdued, a welcome state of affairs waiting to be exploited by those who with a taste for the good life. 

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1961 Cadillac Coupe de Ville in Lexington Green metallic. The pinnacle of postwar Cadillac style.

While Muscle Cars are great at shredding rubber molecules, making burbling noises and accelerating rapidly, the cars featured here excel at most everything else. Indeed they were best of the best, representing the finest efforts of U.S. manufacturers and boasting technical refinements and creature comforts muscle cars could only dream of while dozing in the carport.

So why do people pay top dollar for SS 396s, GTOs and GTXs when often for less money they could be driving the real cream of the crop? Because the tastes and aspirations of vintage car buyers (mostly graying Boomers) have not evolved since they were fantasizing about Big Daddy Don Garlits and dreaming of amorous adventures with the homecoming queen.

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1961 Ford Thunderbird Convertible in Monte Carlo Red.

Can you picture Don Draper driving a GTO? Nor can I. Muscle Cars were designed and built for youngsters. Men drove the cars you see here. Made men, men of means, men of substance, movers and shakers, kings of the hill, tops of the heap, they drove these. They had little need for speed; possessing the assured self-confidence that a man enjoys when he has already arrived, they were in no hurry.

Paulie might have moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move… for anybody. – Henry Hill,Goodfellas

At the dawn of the 1960s, they drove Cadillacs, Lincolns, Imperials, Thunderbirds, Electras, New Yorkers, 300s and Oldsmobile 98s.

Then came Starfire, Wildcat, Grand Prix, Riviera and Toronado.

1963 Buick Riviera in Glacier Blue.

1963 Riviera rear cabin.

Though all were equipped with large-displacement high-compression V8 engines ranging up to 7.7 litres, their drivelines were optimized not for high horsepower and tire-smoking getaway; but firm effortless thrust with peak torque arriving as low as 2200 rpm.

For extra smoothness and reduced harmonics, some were equipped with tube-in-tube drive shafts with internal rubber torsional damping, while others featured drive shafts with double Cardan constant-velocity joints to minimize vibration. All were fitted with outsize mufflers and resonators for near-silent power delivery.

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1964 Lincoln Continental Convertible in Nocturne Blue.

Cadillacs came with Delco Pliacell shock absorbers incorporating freon-filled expanding nylon bladders to suppress damper fluid aeration, a technology shared during the decade only by Corvette. 1966 and later Cadillacs received variable-ratio power steering, endowing them with a quicker steering ratio (16.7:1 overall) than any Muscle Car, even faster than a standard Camaro Z-28 or base Sting Ray.

1964 Ford Thunderbird Hardtop in Phoenician Yellow.

The swank space-age Thunderbird instrument panel of 1964-1966. Its quartet of secondary gauges were designed as fixed drums with needles pivoting around a vertical axis, each set into a hemisphere floating inside a circular chrome housing.

All had creature comforts we take for granted today with near universal fitment of air conditioning, power windows and locks, six-way power seats and vanity mirrors. Many were equipped with automatic temperature control, tilt and telescoping steering columns, leather upholstery, power vent windows, automatic headlamps and cornering lights. With the exception of the 1965-1968 Mustang 2+2 and certain models of the Ford LTD, the Eldorado, Riviera, Thunderbird, and Toronado were the only American cars of the 1960s to offer windows-up flow-through ventilation.

One-upping even the Citroën DS and Mercedes-Benz 600, Lincolns and Thunderbirds featured a Trico Hydro-Wipe hydraulic windshield wiper system that swept the windscreen glass in absolute silence powered by high-pressure fluid via their power steering pumps.

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1966 Thunderbird rear cabin. The T-Bird introduced cocktail lounge-like wraparound banquette seating on 1964 models.

1966 Thunderbird overhead console.

Many early-sixties Cadillacs and Rivieras were equipped with an optional Delco Four-Note (A-C-D-F) horn set incorporating an 18-inch low-C linear trumpet producing a melodious signal both compelling and authoritative.

Interior furnishings were appropriately lavish, incorporating delightful extravagances including novel and highly stylized instrument displays, overhead consoles, and on 1966 Cadillacs, available heated seats. Most models had four ashtrays, those in the front discreetly illuminated and sized to accommodate a generously proportioned cigar.

Don Draper in rented 1964 Imperial Crown Convertible unfortunately refinished in generic non-original Resale Red. It was originally Dark Roman Red, a deeper, richer colour more befitting Chrysler’s flagship. 

Opening a door after twilight on a car of this genre was not unlike walking out of a casino in the wee hours onto neon-lit Las Vegas Boulevard. The interior beckoned not with the emasculated glow of a Muscle Car dome light, but the seductive incandescence of up to a dozen courtesy lamps. Who loves ya, baby?

65 Cadillac De Ville Convertible in Samoan Bronze…

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… with sumptuous matching Bronze leather interior.

It wasn’t just men of a certain age who enjoyed these opulent pleasure craft; they were also coveted by the select few younger men who could afford the price of entry.

Recall what young Henry drove in the aforementioned Goodfellas? A 1965 Buick Riviera, 1966 Chrysler Newport and 1968 Pontiac Grand Prix. When off duty; Henry, like most successful wise guys, quickly developed a taste for the good life.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado in Silver Mist metallic.

Lancia Fulvia Berlina-style fixed-needle rotating drum speedometer (in this case rotating on a horizontal axis) featured in 1966-1970 Oldsmobile Toronados. Buick borrowed it for 1966-1967 Rivieras.

Gary Usher was deeply involved in the burgeoning Southern California drag racing and music scenes in the 1960s to the extent that he co-wrote 409 with pals Brian Wilson and Mike Love while writing and producing similar tunes like Draggin’ Duece and My Sting Ray. Now if anyone would seem to be the prototypical Muscle Car owner it would be Gary, right?

Well… he did drive a 348 Turbo-Thrust Chevrolet Impala and later a 426 Max Wedge Plymouth Sport Fury early in the decade, but as the royalties started rolling in, 26-year old Mr. Usher unloaded his once beloved hot rod Plymouth and bought himself a brand new 1964 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

Leonard Nimoy with his Buick Riviera at Paramount Studios Hollywood, 1966. Paramount archives.

Across town, during the first season of Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy, then just in his mid-thirties, was driving around in a 1964 Buick Riviera. You thought he might have been racing stoplight to stoplight in a new Oldsmobile 442 maybe?

Fuggedaboutit; this guy travelled at speeds of Warp 6 and more as part of his day job. The Buick 425 (7.0 litre) Wildcat V-8 backed by their new Super Turbine 400 automatic gearbox provided more than adequate real-life thrust. His beloved Riviera is now immortalized in the form of a 1/64th scale Hot Wheels replica.

1966 Buick Riviera Gran Sport in Champagne metallic.

These cars represent the high point of postwar American automotive opulence before the era of ersatz luxury took over in a fog of vinyl roof coverings, opera windows, plastic wood, crushed velour, shag carpet and pillow-look seats.

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1967 Pontiac Grand Prix in Mayfair Maize. Illustration by Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman.

While American Muscle Cars were driven to malt shops, burger joints and factories; American Glamour machines were heading to steak houses, executive offices, boardrooms and movie studios. They were grown-up cars for grown-up men. Men who smoked cigars. Men who wore Old Spice… They drove these.

So can you.

7 thoughts on “American Muscle? Step Up To 1960s American Glamour.

  1. Great article. I agree wholeheartedly; I have a ’65 Continental since I was 29. It’s a keeper!

  2. The old muscle cars did “accelerate rapidly,” by 1960’s standards, but they’ve now been eclipsed by modern descendants.

    • A well-optioned 2+2 is a good choice often overlooked; a sportier Grand Prix. Another candidate is it’s Oldsmobile counterpart, the Jetstar I.

  3. Rat-Pack Transit! I ran across this image just after the article posted. Frank and Dino in Beverly Hills, December 1963 in a brand-new ‘64 Riviera with optional Guide-Matic headlight dimming. Nothing but the best.

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