The awesome age of the American automobile

Back in the 1930s, America made cars that were the envy and the standard of the world. It wouldn’t surprise Peter Heydon, a retired professor of English from Michigan. This is his big green Lincoln K Series V12 Le Baron Coupé from 1935.

What does the fabulously well-to-do American man with an interest in cars do? He buys vintage cars. Fancy vintage cars, racers with the right pedigree, dents and scrapes carefully restored away, Italian cars, French cars, British cars, more Italian cars. The fabulously well-to-do American man with an interest in cars buys Italian cars and Italian shoes and learns the name of his car’s period Italian paintjob in Italian and proceeds to include it in carefully deliberated sentences.

This is not what Peter Heydon does. He may have a British car or two, true. He may have gorgeous and menacing Bentleys, but what he also has are American cars. He knows that America used to make cars the equal of any car in the world. The timing was terrible, true. Most of America’s fabulous cars were built in the 1930s and cost more than a streetful of houses, back when people had no houses, only dust storms that were never the rooster tails of fabulous cars. But the cars were big and beautiful and elegant and graceful and opulently optimistic in ways no other American cars have been big and beautiful and elegant and graceful and opulently optimistic since.

This is Peter Heydon’s big green Lincoln K Series V12 Le Baron Coupé from 1935. It’s got a V12. A 6.8-liter V12. When was the last time America made something with a V12? It’s also got a trick window for smokers: crank it up, crank it some more, and the window will move an inch backwards. It’s all mechanical, of course, built in the age that came before

The awesome age of the American automobile

computers and penicillin and space rockets, an age that is nevertheless still in living memory. Peter Heydon does not own a computer.

He used to teach English at the University of Michigan, he wrote his PhD on Robert Browning, and his big green Lincoln K Series V12 Le Baron Coupé has an extra seat in the back, behind the big, beautiful cabin, and the seat is called a rumble seat, only Peter Heydon tells me that’s not what it’s really called, the seat back there is actually called a mother-in-law’s seat. At this point, I chuckle: in my native Hungarian, it’s the shotgun seat that’s called the mother-in-law’s seat, and every car has one, except the McLaren F1, which has two. Dr. Heydon considers this and concludes that Hungarian mothers-in-law have it better, but not by much.

The awesome age of the American automobile

See, he likes to drive his big green Lincoln. He takes good care of it, he has it flown all over the world, to England, to Italy, and he dresses up for his car and shows it to children and men and women, and he’s a terribly nice man. How would we know otherwise that there once was an awesome age of the American automobile? When a Cadillac was the standard of the world, when a Lincoln was the equal of any Bentley with cylinders to spare, on the dawn of America’s coming of age.

It’s a big, beautiful car, Peter Heydon’s Lincoln K Series V12 Le Baron Coupé. It’s painted Brewster Green. No need to deliberate carefully when you say that.