Car Show Classics: Art Deco Marvels At Motorclassica

One of the most intriguing special classes at this year’s Motorclassica show was the Art Deco cars.  We’ve already seen some from Cadillac in an earlier post, but let’s check out some more from other marques, starting with this Delage.

The famous Parisian coachbuilder Figoni and Falaschi has built many amazing cars, including this 1936 Delage D6.70 competition coupe.  Frenchman Louis Gerard bought the car (reputedly with bags of 20-centime coins from his slot machines) and ran it in the 1937 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing fourth.


The car was lost in WW2, and in 2002 an Australian imported the correct model D6.70 base car to modify as per the original and have a coachbuilding firm in Melbourne build a recreation of the F&F body.  It has since had a few changes for improved authenticity, including the original orange paint colour.  (note I didn’t get enough photos to fully illustrate this post, so have used some found on the shows website or elsewhere)

This 1937 Buick Special has been registered continuously since new, has had its third owner for more than 40 years, and was fully restored 20 years ago.  The styling exemplifies the later Art Deco style also known as Streamline Moderne with the fine chromed grille slats and side vents emphasising the sleek horizontal lines of the hood, and a strong rounded front end.  The long teardrop headlight pods either side of the grille and torpedo side markers also have chrome trim to emphasise their length.  This car was built by GM-Holden, and so might vary from US cars.  The straight-eight engine can’t be forgotten either, giving the Special strong performance.

Here is a 1940 ‘Fireball Dynaflash Eight’ engine which has overhead valves and made a strong hp and torque.  This car had covered 253,000 miles by 1973.  While I’m not sure that a 248ci straight eight has much real benefit over a six of the same size, some of these late thirties cars are not that different mechanically to those from the sixties.

The grille of the 1940 Buick echoes that of the 1938 Y-Job show car, and while I don’t know enough to say definitively it must have been one of the early pioneers in the move from a vertical to horizontal format of vehicle styling.

The 1936 Cord 810 Sportsman has to be one of the highlights of the show, both as an example of the famous ‘coffin-nose’ Cord that introduced so many new features from the concealed headlights, variable windscreen wipers and hidden door hinges, to the history of this individual car.  It was bought by George Putnam, husband of Amelia Earhart.  The colour is ‘Eleanor blue’, after the colour of the dress Mrs Roosevelt wore to the 1933 inauguration.

The interior is just as notable, with the steering wheel featuring the first example of the horn ring so many of you will be familiar with.  Behind that is a very comprehensively-stocked dashboard which included the first standard car radio in addition to gauges for everything you can think of plus some you wouldn’t expect, such as engine oil level.  Note the rear view mirror features another clock – perhaps the equivalent for today’s reversing camera screen?

Courtesy of the Motorclassica Facebook photo feed, here is a shot from the front.  To get a sense of how radical this car was when it debuted for 1936, just compare it to the 1931 car beside it, the 1934 Plymouth behind or the 1936 coach-built Delage at the start of this post.  It is like a concept car that went straight into production.

Like the Jaguar Mark 10 we saw outside, this 1937 Cord 812 also has a partition for the back seat because it is a Custom Berline model.  This means it has a 7” longer wheelbase to make room for the partition and some more stretching room.

This car won best-in-class.  The 812 model designation indicates the Lycoming 4.7L V8 has the supercharger that boosted power by a handy 50%.  This car was originally owned by Bing Crosby, and came to Australia in 1974.

Is there anyone reading this who doesn’t recognise a Tucker 48?  Even though it dates from 1948 I think it still has a heavy dose of Art Deco style, and it is the style rather than a particular period that is most important.

This car was purchased at auction in 1950 by Leroy Phifer, and tracked down years later by his daughter Lynn.  It was brought to Australia in 2010 after being bought at a Pebble Beach car week auction; it also appeared at Motorclassica that year just days after it had arrived in the country.

The details of the Tucker are great in themselves, such as the nameplate on the rear bumper.

One of the contentious aspects of the Tucker Corporation was that it was just a scam, and not serious about producing automobiles; surely this elaborate badge on the hub cap indicates that wasn’t true?  Conspiracy theorists could say it was produced to help conceal the scam, but if I was running a scam I wouldn’t be spending money on something so intricate and unnecessary.

When I saw this 1939 Oldsmobile Sports Roadster, I had a case of déjà vu because there was an almost-identical car at the show last year.  The information board says that just 5 of these were built, although I have also read that it was 10; regardless, having 2 of them on show is quite impressive.  The main difference is this car doesn’t have the widened wheel rims that last year’s car did.  This car was assembled in GM-H’s Newstead, Brisbane plant, with a body built in Pagewood, Adelaide; I’m not sure if this was the case for all of the Sports Roadsters.  The car was sold to Bundaberg in northern Queensland, and was in use until 1985; it has only recently been restored.

This 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 MM Spider may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Art Deco cars, but it does have characteristic swept-back lines, flowing fenders and horizontal chrome accents along the sides.

This car is an original 1935 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 chassis with a new body based on a 1939 Touring sports-roadster body, built with the design assistance of Mike Simcoe, now VP of Design at General Motors.

I’d even include this 1949 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Freccia d’Oro (Golden Arrow) saloon, even if it is a post-war interpretation with what I would call an envelope body.  Is that the right term?  The Golden Arrow has the distinction of being the first Alfa produced after WW2, starting in 1946 and running until 1951.

As this badge indicates, this was an in-house body by Alfa Romeo, although the 6C 2500 wore a wide range of different bodies from the most famous coachbuilders from its initial debut in 1939.  680 Golden Arrows were built, representing about half of all 6C2500 production.

The rear view is less flattering, as the roofline benefits rear headroom more than style.  This car is one of two known in Australia, but its history is not known before it was purchased at a Mazda dealership in the country town of Albury, NSW in 1974.

The car has only been sold once since that time and has not been touched cosmetically, although it has had mechanical reconditioning.  The interior is in sound shape, but the exterior is a little too dilapidated for my tastes, and the beige paint is not flattering.

As a contrast this one was auctioned by RM Sothebys in Italy a couple of years ago.

This 1931 Delage D8S has a conventional radiator, and pre-dates the ‘streamline’ movement, but the body is pretty incredible.  It was built in 2014 by Melbourne coachbuilder Mills & Bilotta in the style of Carrossrie de Villars of Paris.  The short wheelbase ‘S’ chassis was originally sold in Australia, and bodied in Melbourne although that was removed a long time ago.  It has a 4,061 cc straight-eight engine that made 145 bhp in the ‘S’ form.

This 1939 Hudson has an unusual  grille shape, on what is otherwise a fairly conventional sedan for the era.  Note the chromed vertical slats on either side; something typical when the elegant style-driven but narrow main grilles proved to be inadequate in practice.  These were built in Australia by GM-Holden with local bodies on an imported base.

The separate headlights are quite different to images of US cars such as the one above, however it may just be a matter of different trim levels or models.

Compared to other similar cars, the Hudson struck me as slightly awkward in appearance, perhaps because of its height compared to relatively small tyres; I’m not really sure.  This car is wearing its original registration number, and had been restored extremely well.

I’ll finish with another shot of the Tucker, and a reminder to have a look at the Cadillac feature if you haven’t yet, because several of those cars fall into the Art Deco camp too.  I haven’t finished with Motorclassica yet, as there are a lot of cars that just have to be shared!


Further Reading:

Car Show Classics: Some Major Microcars At Motorclassica

Car Show Classics: Motorclassica Outdoor Display

Car Show Classics: Motorclassica’s Cadillac Collection

Car Show Classic: 2018 Tourclassica – Quick Observations