These Classic American Luxury Cars Are Incredible—and Rare
This quintet comes from the time when American luxury was king.
The Greenwich Concours d'Elegance is just one of the ways the American northeast ushers in car-show season, but it's one of the best, and it just so happens to be the largest concours in the region. What separates Greenwich from most other similar events is that it is spread over an entire weekend rather than being relegated to a single day, with Saturday dedicated to showcasing American cars and Sunday to those from elsewhere.
We had warm and relatively mild weather to take in the unique and valuable vehicles on display, and here are our top American picks from this year's show, including perspective provided by their current owners. Once you're done checking them out, view the other American classics on display in our extensive gallery.
1938 Packard 1604 Super Eight Mayfair Coupe
No concours feels complete without a few cars from Packard, once one of America's premiere luxury automakers. This specific model is based on the 1604 Super Eight, with the 1604 number placing the car in context with its lineup mates by wheelbase (Packard also made shorter 1603 and longer 1605 models). What truly separates this specific 1604 Super Eight, however, is its custom body by the Mayfair Carriage Company in London. But more so, this car was specifically built for the grandmother of the one and only Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It is, of course, a one-off.
Owned by Ralph Marano, it's part of his eponymous Marano Collection in Westfield, New Jersey; Marano is the owner of the largest grouping of Packard concepts in the world. The story has it that when Jackie Onassis's grandmother passed away, the car was to be destroyed. But once World War II broke out, the car was tucked away in a warehouse in the U.K., where it served as a chicken coop. A U.S. serviceman then bought it for $600 after spotting it in the side of the road and imported it to the States in 1961. Marano purchased the car in 2001 to become its fourth owner, ultimately fully restoring the car.
"I'm a big Packard collector; we've got over 60 Packards in our collection," Marano says. "I'm just a sucker for one-off cars and this is the only one in the world, so I had to have it. I fell in love with Packards when I was a teenager. In 1978, I was hit head-on by a drunk driver. I had purchased my first Packard two weeks prior to that, and it was $12,000. I tried to get the money together [to replace it] but it just didn't work. That Friday, when I was laying on the bed in the hospital, I wrote my father a note to go buy that Packard, and that was the passion that's been with me ever since."
1948 Cadillac Series 62 (Bodied by Saoutchik)
Cadillac's Series 62 is arguably one of the GM division's most iconic vehicle lines, running as it did from 1940 through 1964. This particular example stands out with a custom body by J. Saoutchik, a high-end French coachbuilder founded in 1906 perhaps more famous for clothing chassis from the likes of Bugatti, Pegaso, and Delahaye. This Cadillac was one of the last cars the firm created before going defunct in 1955, and it is only one of two in existence.
The car is currently owned by Sonny and Joan Abagnale of Cedar Grove, New Jersey, having previously passed through the hands of just two other parties. The car was recently fully restored and has only accumulated 19,000 miles strictly as a show car.
"I remember seeing this car in 1952, and it was for sale in Union City, New Jersey, for $3,000. [The equivalent of about $29,000 today—Ed.] I was getting ready to go into the army, waiting to get drafted. I looked at the car and said, 'you're crazy!' when seeing the price. I thought, 'I could buy a new car for $3,000, why would I want to buy that?' And then, I bought it 50 years later knowing it was my dream car."
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1959 Buick Electra 225 Convertible "Summer Edition"
As a successor to the hugely popular Buick Roadmaster and Super models that preceded it, the Electra surfaced in the 1959 model year as a major aesthetic departure from previous Buicks. Offered in coupe, convertible, four-door sedan, and station-wagon forms, the Electra served as the company's flagship model through the 1970s before eventually being superseded by the Park Avenue.
Known as the "deuce and a quarter," the 225 was named after the car's overall massive length of 225 inches and was built on General Motors' C-body platform, which also underpinned the Oldsmobile 98 and a few contemporary Cadillacs. But separating the Electra 225 from its platform mates was its unique styling, featuring slanted headlights and rear-three-quarter "Delta-Fins."
This example has been owned by Chris Trefz of Westport, Connecticut, for five years after undergoing a complete restoration. Trefz is the third owner and said he absolutely loves driving the car at least once a week, yet it's only accumulated 67,000 miles. This particular example was one of the first off of the assembly line in 1959 and it's specifically a "Summer Edition," which were made only during the first two to three months of the summer of that year. Separating it from other 1959 Electras is its two-tone interior and exterior.
"I was always attracted to the beauty of these cars. This was my era growing up. I've always thought the 1950s brought us the most beautiful cars ever, specifically '58, '59, '60, and '61—all spectacular cars," Trefz said. "I just fell in love with the design and purchased it. This was one of my dream cars back in the day, so it's very special. It's so incredibly different."
1953 Cadillac "Series 62" Eldorado
Arguably one of Harley Earl's most recognizable designs, the first-generation Cadillac Eldorado surfaced in 1953 as a luxurious subseries to the recently overhauled Series 62, hence the similar look. It shared many of the same underpinnings, including the same 331-cubic-inch (5.4-liter) OHV V-8 as the Series 62, but at nearly twice the price. It cost $7,750 in 1953, or about $74,000 in today's dollars. That's because the Series 62 Eldorado came with far more standard features such as a signal-seeking radio, power windows, a heater, and windshield washers. Air conditioning was also optional, a rare amenity in its day.
Owned by Jeremy Weiss of Bridgewater, New Jersey, this Eldorado is number 522 out of only 532 made and is one of seven featuring a black exterior and red interior with a black top. It was also the only black-on-red '53 Eldorado sold new in Oklahoma that year. Weiss believes he's the third owner. It was fully restored just over 20 years ago and has clocked only 3,800 miles since having its odometer reset as part of the work.
"I've been collecting them forever. I bought my first one, a '59 Cadillac, when I was 12," says Weiss. "I think the styling speaks for itself, it's looks sort of custom, having been built for the Motorama. It's absolutely the crown jewel of my collection."
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1960 Chrysler Imperial Crown Limousine by Ghia
This Chrysler Imperial was special-ordered by former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller strictly for driving around Manhattan; it was one of only a few Imperials shipped overseas to be rebodied by coachbuilder Carrozzeria Ghia. At the time, it was Chrysler's attempt to show up its two main American luxury-car rivals, Lincoln/Continental and Cadillac, and to prove that it was just as capable as producing ultra-high-end vehicles. More specifically, the Imperial Crown was meant to go head-to-head with the Continental Mark II and the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham.
This example is one of two that were owned by Rockefeller, the other seeing use as his diplomatic transportation outside of the city. Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Henry W. Hallowell III, a renowned Chrysler Imperial collector, this car is number 14 of 17 made for 1960 and was brought to the show by Alex Ruozzi, representing Mr. Hallowell.