The Playboy: A Product of Its Times and a Victim of Them

The Playboy: A Product of Its Times and a Victim of Them

Pity the Playboy. This darling little roadster with the world’s first retractable steel roof was launched in the heady times following WWII, when a Can Do spirit reined supreme and anything seemed possible. The Playboy was a contemporary of the famous Tucker. It was a bit less ambitious, but just as optimistic. The master showman Preston Tucker sought to change the way the world thought about automobiles. Playboy’s founders just wanted to sell a bunch of them to young people and housewives. Alas, the promise of the times proved illusory, at least for startup car companies. The Tucker and Playboy would share a similar fate.

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Eagle: The Automotive Version of a Harlequin Romance

Eagle: The Automotive Version of a Harlequin Romance

The lineage of the Eagle brand spans five automobile companies from four nations. Eagle was paired with the fabled Jeep line. It sold close to half a million cars over 10-years. Despite all that, you’ve probably never heard of Eagle. Too bad. The story contained all the elements of a good novel; romance, betrayal, farce and tragedy. It even produced a couple of excellent cars. The only thing the story missed was a purpose. No one ever stopped to ask what need Eagle filled. But then, if they had asked, we would have no story. 

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The Story of DeSoto

The Story of DeSoto

The DeSoto automobile was launched in 1928 as part of a new and rapidly expanding Chrysler Corporation. Conceived to do battle in the fast growing mid-priced range, DeSoto‘s position in the price/prestige strata was between the budget-minded Plymouth and the luxurious Chrysler. Through a series of events, DeSoto was also wedged sometimes awkwardly alongside a newly acquired but well-established Dodge brand. With such a family dynamic is it any wonder that throughout its 33-year history DeSoto struggled for recognition. Ask any DeSoto devote’ and they will rattle off half a dozen delightful models. But to the average car buff, the name is but a blip on the screen of automobile awareness. DeSoto’s anonymity is especially true for those of us born after 1960, the marque’s final year. We know the stunning 1957 Adventurer, of course, with its graceful soaring lines and mighty Hemi engine, arguably the apex of 1950s American automotive design. After that, the marque is mostly remembered in B&W images of 1940s taxicabs from old movies on the late show. Such was the DeSoto lot in life; a middle child forever fighting for its rightful place within the Chrysler family of cars.

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Recycling at its Best: ThePowell Sport Wagon

Recycling at its Best: ThePowell Sport Wagon

While most vehicles end their lives in a junkyard, it is there that the 1300 Powell Sport Wagons built from 1955 to 1957 began theirs. Beneath the modern looking steel and fiberglass body of each of these sport utility vehicles, lay the bones and innards of a 15-year old Plymouth plucked from the scrapheap. This noble act of recycling resulted in a whole new category of vehicle, the car-based utility truck. 

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The Crofton Bug

The Crofton Bug

The Crofton Bug was a pint-sized truck-let built in San Diego, California from 1958-1964. The Bug was nearly a foot shorter and 1000lbs lighter than the original WW2 Jeep. Do not confuse this Bug with the more famous insect from Germany. The Volkswagen was called the Beetle (and nicknamed Bug) because its U.S. ad agency thought it was cute. The Crofton was called the Bug because it crawled over rocks like one.

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The Plymouth Barracuda

The Plymouth Barracuda

The Plymouth Barracuda was introduced on April 1, 1964 but it was no joke. It was a sporty derivative of the tried and true Valiant compact sedan. The Barracuda broke ranks with the vanilla Valiant sporting a sleek fastback roof, bucket seats, and an innovative fold-down rear seat that created a long flat cavernous cargo area. It might have been the coolest new car of 1964, had not 16 days later Ford introduced… the Mustang. 

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American Microcars of the 40s, 50s and 60s

American Microcars of the 40s, 50s and 60s

It was the mid-1940s. America was emerging from a decade and a half of depression and war. The nation’s industrial might and entrepreneurial spirit were now being focused on something they had not done in a long time…sell stuff. For the first time in years, Americans had money to spend. With their new found wealth, they wanted new suburban houses, washing machines, refrigerators and TV sets. But most of all they wanted automobiles. They wanted new cars to replace the old ones that for years they’d been holding together with spit and bailing wire. Demand was frenzied. Anyone making cars could sell cars…lots of them. The great Seller’s Market was upon us. And like wildflowers after a spring rain, strong demand brings forth entrepreneurs blooming with ideas to sate it. 

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