Glamour Wrought in Steel

Cars Culture


One of the perfect things about classic cars is that unlike the human body, or a loved one’s face, they retain the glamour they were born with. That glamour may oscillate in intensity, and the nature of that glamour alter over time, but sculpted steel retain the beauty it was heir to. And with the fast-paced change rippling through the way of things, classic cars, rather than remaining the privilege of the stratospherically wealthy, are offering a real opportunity for the everyman to retain a bit of culture. The very idea of the classic becomes accelerated as the constant flow of automotive products quickens apace. With every dockside car park that fills up with unsold Rav4s, a model, a marque, a derivative of what was once a workaday motor, is elevated to the status of classic. And it seems that despite the much-hyped economic downturn, classic car prices are holding their value like never before. If designed and built with the aesthetic of their particular era – and if the people who designed, built, marketed and engineered them were tuned in tight to the times, then the products they produce can’t help but crystallise the essence of the time and the place.

Few cars illustrate the point like the Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider America (above), only in production for a single 1956 season, was a triumph of flamboyance over practicality (witness its reverse rake windscreen pillars, upturned quarter bumpers and wilfully shallow doors). Sharing the same sophisticated running gear as its other Aurelia siblings (world’s first production V6 engine, rear-mounted transaxle, inboard back brakes etc) but sitting on a shorter wheelbase, the B24 Spider America ranks alongside the BMW 507 and Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster as a true 1950s icon. With its Pininfarina designed coachwork made up of sweeping, light-handed lines, the car encapsulates the sort of bohemian glamour and down-at-heel frivolity encapsulated in Bridget Bardot’s legendary film of 1956 And God Created Woman in which it starred alongside the great French femme fatale. Bardot’s curves are far more outrageous and provocative than those of the pretty little Lancia, but you’ll remember them with equal pleasure. In the Italian picaresque road movie of 1962 Il Sorpasso, the Spider is the conduit of the ageing lothario’s mischief as he takes a young protégé on a road trip through the centre of Italy in a charming if hokey rite of passage movie.

If you’re interested in buying into the retrospective glamour of the B24 you could get along to the H & H auction rooms next month where an example in need of extensive restoration (pictured below) is expected to raise between £100 and £120K. The sort of cool that this car is heir to never did come cheap.