One of the most widely-read and critically-respected American novels is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 masterwork, “The Great Gatsby.” Although a slim and brief work of fiction, it is noted for its elegant use of language, enduring literary images, and layered meanings that reward repeat readings. Set during the Roaring Twenties of the U.S.’s decadent post-World War revelry, it also celebrates a relatively new addition to the American stage: the automobile.
Although we never learn the precise make and model, the vehicle driven by protagonist Jay Gatsby features prominently in the novella, and has been the subject of auto enthusiasts’ speculation over the years. Fitzgerald gives us a brief description:
“I’d seen it. Everybody had seen it. It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory we started to town.”
Is it a Rolls-Royce? That would be consistent with Gatsby’s connections with England, and was also the choice for the 1974 film that featured Robert Redford and a 1929 Silver Phantom I. Or perhaps it was a Duesenberg like the 1929 Model J replica that Leonardo DiCaprio drove in the 2013 film. It might even have been an invention cut wholesale from the cloth of the famous author’s travels around East Egg and the French Riviera.
While author Fitzgerald left this detail and many others in the book up to readers’ imaginations, Town & Country Magazine has produced a charming article about several cars that would have provided Gatsby solace while he waited for his chimera. Better still, the magazine’s article presents actual vehicles—not replicas—that endured to this day and were convened last year at the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance.
The photos are beautiful and the subjects offer a captivating education of makes and models that even collectors might not have heard of. Consider the first entry, a “1932 Avions Voisin roadster with ostrich leather seats.” Who else besides Gatsby could fully appreciate a gem like that?