Vintage Article: Motor Trend’s 1959 World Cars Issue – Grand Touring And Sports Cars

Today’s featured categories from Motor Trend‘s 1959 World Show issue represented the stuff of dreams: Sports Cars and GT cars.  What they gave up in practicality they made up for with styling, handling and driver appeal.  For both the young and the young-at-heart car enthusiasts, there was an array of interesting choices, though for U.S. brand fans there was but one choice: the Corvette.  The rest were imports, some familiar, some obscure, some affordable and some pricey, but all interesting.

The affordable grouping of Sports Cars contained the basic, fun-to-drive rear-wheel-drive roadsters that embodied the category and earned a small cadre of passionate American fans.  The one exception was the extremely unusual Berkeley, which was front-wheel-drive and also offered a “stretched” version with a small bench seat in back as shown.  I have literally never seen a Berkeley in person, not surprisingly since only 4,100 were ever produced for global consumption between 1956, when the company was founded, to the end of 1960, when it was liquidated.

I’m sometimes guilty of having caviar tastes, but without question this category of cars really excites me, since it contains some truly iconic machines.  Like this Mercedes-Benz 300SL, a timeless work of engineering and styling art.  Imagine being able to pick one up for $10,970 ($95,035 adjusted).  Sure that was a ton of money, but it’s less expensive than Mercedes-Benz’s current top sports car, as the AMG GT C Roadster starts at $158,850.  And a 1959 300SL ranges between $800,000 and $1.8 million at auction today.

Likewise I’m a sucker for the BMW 507, which I find to be one of the most beautiful cars ever built.  And once again the prices make you weep: the glamorous Bimmer roadster sold for $8,988 ($77,865 adjusted), while today prices are north of $1 million, if you can even find one on the market.  Maybe I should just stick with the Alfa, which is also one of my favorite designs, and more affordable, both then ($3,686, $31,933 adjusted) and now: $95,000 in #1 condition.  Well, still caviar tastes….

I am also a big Corvette fan, and Chevrolet’s fiberglass sports car certainly played in the big leagues in 1959.  Again, the car has seen fabulous appreciation, rising from $3,875 ($33,570 adjusted) to today’s market price range of $89,000 to $275,000 for #1 condition cars.

Motor Trend also broke out closed-roof sporty cars as Gran Turismos, and once again served-up a selection of rare, mouthwatering treats, whether super-expensive or more affordable.  One unique little sports car was this Abarth, a bantam-weight car filled with brio and capable of a surprising sting, along with a relatively affordable price: $3,460 ($29,975 adjusted).  Good luck finding one now, however: the only auction result I could locate was from 2007 when a pristine example sold for $125,000.

Designing the Borgward for American tastes didn’t necessarily do it any favors….to my eyes it was one of the less successful European/American design mash-ups.

One of the priciest cars showcased in this issue was the Ferrari 250GT at $12,000 ($103,959 adjusted), though the sticker pales in comparison with today’s models, where the “cheapest” Ferrari Portofino lists for a mere $214,533 before extras.  However, if you are interested in a ’59 vintage 250GT, get ready to fork over between $1 million and $6.5 million.

The Auto Union 1000 looks like a bizarrely distorted take on a 1957 Ford Thunderbird, though I suppose I should reserve judgment until seeing one in person, though that is highly unlikely since only 5,000 were produced for global consumption over an 8-year run.

Continuing with my caviar consumption, I also lust after the Facel Vega.  The first time I ever saw one in person was in the mid-1970s in New Orleans (I was about 8- or 9-years-old) and I was mesmerized by the striking big black car.  I was with my mother at the time, and neither she nor I had any idea what it was.  We wound up doing some research at the library (I kid you not) so I could figure it out.  Been a fan ever since, and this Vega will definitely make my fantasy “lotto garage.”

So today’s post was the stuff of dreams.  Tomorrow’s post, the final in this 1959 World Cars Series, will cover far more pragmatic Compact and Economy cars.  They may have been small, but they wound up having a huge impact on the domestic market.