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Classic cars from the 'Roaring ‘20s'

New Great Gatsby movie stirs up memories of grand automotive classics

Published: May 15, 2013, 2:00 PM
Updated: April 29, 2018, 12:44 PM

The release of the blockbuster movie The Great Gatsby has not only provided a visual flashback to the 1920s, a decade of prosperity and carefree living, it has also rekindled interest in the stylish works of automotive art that emerged during that era.

Marques such as Cadillac, Duesenberg, Lincoln, Packard and Pierce-Arrow not only became symbols of wealth and prestige during the ‘20s, they also introduced advancements in technology that would set the foundation for the industry for decades to come.

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"The 1920s brought together an intoxicating convergence of influences for the automobile," says McKeel Hagerty, president and CEO of Hagerty Insurance, a leading provider of insurance coverage for classic vehicles.

"New wealth combined with rapid engineering advances were brought together with the ‘Jazz Age’ style and fashion of the Roaring ’20s to create mechanical works of art and beauty. These cars were not just about transportation and practicality; they were about projecting the wider, richer lifestyle of the age.

"While most historians and collectors point to cars from the 1930s as the zenith of the automotive era – only to fade from the effects of the Great Depression and later World War II – the cars of the 1920s were the clear forerunners of this golden age."

To help us appreciate and celebrate the classics of the ‘20s, experts at Hagerty’s Traverse City, Mich. company have put together a list of 10 outstanding cars, one from each year of that decade, that reflect the lavish, high-society environment author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character Jay Gatsby lived in when his novel was first published in 1925.

The cars on this list where show-stoppers in the ‘20s and continue to be highlights at any high-end car show today:

1920 Kissel Model 6-45 "Gold Bug" Speedster –

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Considered the most desirable of all Kissel cars, the Gold Bug speedster is one of the most honoured early sports cars in America. Gold Bugs were a favourite among celebrities of the ’20s, including entertainer Fatty Arbuckle, pilot/adventurer Amelia Earhart and boxer Jack Dempsey. Less than 40 examples survive today, and whenever one hits the market it is quickly snatched up by wealthy collectors.

1921 Mercer Series 5 Raceabout –

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The Series 5 Raceabout is an extremely sporting yet civilized machine, a sleek, powerful car you’d expect upper classmen at Princeton to drive. Even though it has only four cylinders, the 4.89-litre, 70-horsepower L-head engine has pistons the size of coffee cans, giving it a displacement that rivals modern V-8s.

1922 Packard Twin Six Model 3-35 Special Runabout –

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This Packard runabout not only looked the part of the elite, but also travelled comfortably at higher speeds with its highly sought-after "Twin Six" engine – a 60-degree, 6.9-litre V-12 that produced 90 horsepower.

1923 Lincoln L-Series Sports Phaeton –

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Immediately upon Ford’s acquisition of the Lincoln Motor Car Co. in 1923, Lincoln gained recognition as one of America’s top luxury brands, thanks to vastly improved styling. Powered by a 90-horsepower, V-8 engine, more than 20 body styles were offered in 1923, including the very stylish sport phaeton that could accommodate four passengers yet retained a sporty appearance.

1924 Cadillac Series V-63 Phaeton –

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Nearly 10 years after Cadillac introduced the first V-8 engine in a mass-produced vehicle, the engine received an extensive redesign resulting in enhanced performance. It was also the first Cadillac to offer four-wheel brakes. More than 18,000 Cadillacs were built during the 1924 model production year with prices ranging from about $3,000 to $4,600 US.

1925 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Piccadilly Roadster –

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The Silver Ghost name remained with Rolls-Royce automobiles for nearly two decades after its introduction in 1907 and was immediately associated with prestige and breathtaking beauty. Only 7,874 Ghosts were produced, each with its own coach-built body. Rolls-Royces were in their own class and ownership was mostly limited to the ultra-wealthy (like Gatsby in Fitzgerald's book and in the original Robert Redford movie).

1926 Pierce-Arrow Series 33 Runabout –

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Regarded as one of America’s finest automobile manufacturers, Pierce-Arrow is commonly referred to as one of the "Three Ps," along with Packard and Peerless. The Series 33 served as the company’s flagship model throughout the Roaring ’20s and it is elegant and stately right down to its trademark fender-mounted headlights. With about 50 Series 33 examples remaining today, these Pierce-Arrows commonly command a high price tag.

1927 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A –

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The Italian-built Isotta Fraschini 8A targeted high-class buyers in Europe and America. Not only did these lavish automobiles have a striking appearance, but they were mechanical marvels with a refined 7.4-litre, eight-cylinder engine that produced 135 horsepower.

1928 Stutz BB Blackhawk Boattail Speedster –

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If there was one American car that barrelled into the ’20s to make a statement, it was the Stutz BB Blackhawk Boattail Speedster. The Blackhawk was America’s fastest production car in 1928, capable of consistent speeds of more than 168 km/h. Dual side-mounted tires, cycle fenders, wire wheels and a sharply-tapered boattail body gave the Blackhawk a racy character that a Long Island playboy would appreciate.

1929 Duesenberg Model J –

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Few other automotive names are as automatically associated with class, luxury and wealth as Duesenberg. "Duesies," as they are commonly tagged, were far ahead of their time, featuring a dual-overhead-cam, straight-eight engine with four valves per cylinder, producing an incredible 265 horsepower. Intended for the wealthiest and most discerning owners, the Model J could be sporting, stately or incredibly flamboyant, depending on the body style. (Gatsby drives a Model J in the new movie.)