Robert Pirsig, author of counter-culture classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, died last month at the age of 88. Though he never mentioned the make/model of motorcycle he rode in the book, it’s well documented that Pirsig loved touring on his Honda CB77 Super Hawk. This little bit of trivia got us to thinking: With the summer reading season almost here, what are some other great old books that use classic vehicles to help drive the plot? Read on.
The Great Gatsby/1922 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost
The car Gatsby should have driven in the movies based on the book—in a creamy, rich yellow, of course. (source: rmsotherbys.com)
In the 1974 movie version of this F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, Robert Redford in the role of Gatsby drove a 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I. In the 2013 version starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Gatsby drove a 1929 Duesenberg II SJ.
Both cars would have been impossible in Fitzgerald’s story, which was set in 1922. Fitzgerald was never specific on the exact model owned the mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby, only that the Rolls-Royce—definitely not a Duesenberg—was a “rich cream color” and of “monstrous length.” Scholars who have studied the text generally agree the car had to be a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.
Grapes of Wrath/1926 Hudson
In John Steinbeck’s 1939 classic, a struggling Depression-era family of Oklahoma sharecroppers converts a $75 Hudson passenger car into a truck in an effort to escape the poverty of the Dust Bowl. Like pioneers piled into a 1930s version of a covered wagon, the Joads head west to the “Promise Land” of California along Route 66.
Henry Fonda starred in the 1940 film version of the book, a movie that reportedly used an actual 1926 converted Hudson that was put into storage after production ended. Old Cars Weekly News & Marketplace reported in 2009 that the car—basically untouched in the intervening years—had been rediscovered. You can read the full story by clicking here.
On The Road/1949 Hudson Commodore
“The car that started the modern road movie”—the 1949 Hudson Commodore—was central to the plot of Jack Kerouac’s semi-factual novel about an aimless road trip across America in the late 1940s. “In the novel,” writes Auto Week’s Ronan McGrath, “the author never mentions the make of the ‘sleek’ and ‘spacious’ Hudson used in his travels, but he does identify it as a 1949 vehicle.” That could only mean that the car was a Commodore, the largest and most luxurious model Hudson produced from 1941 until 1952.
The Bond Novels/Aston Martin, Bentley
James Bond might now be synonymous with Aston Martin, but O07’s first car was actually a 1930 “Blower Bentley,” aka a Bentley 4½ Litre equipped with a supercharger. (source: jamesbond.wikia.com)
Prior to World War II, the supercharged Bentley 4½ Litre epitomized the mystique of the British motor racing scene. Between 1927 and 1931 some 720 4½ Litres were produced, of which 55 models housed the so-called “Blower Bentley” engine.
Rare, distinct and incredibly powerful—in other words, the perfect driving machine for Britain’s most lethal and super-suave secret agent, 007. Ian Fleming’s Bond character originally drove the Bentley in the first three novels in the series—Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker—before fans convinced the author that Bond would better serve Her Majesty in a more sleek and sexy Aston Martin.
From A Buick 8/1953 Buick Roadmaster
Stephen King’s other novel about a supernatural car, 2002’s From a Buick 8, features an automobile with a toothy grille, the knack for healing itself and the unsettling ability to transport people between two worlds. As with the 1958 Plymouth Fury that starred in Christine, the 1953 Roadmaster’s menacing looking “face” made it a great pick for the role of automotive villain. Buick’s original Roadmaster was the company’s flagship car when it was built from 1936 until 1958.
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