31 July 2013

Transcending Function: Gorgeous post-war interiors

Many cars are blessed with alluring curves or masculine, purposeful flanks that suggest the barely-contained power beneath. But no matter how beautiful a car, if the interior doesn’t at least do the exterior justice, you’ll never seal the deal and actually purchase the car. The cars that follow more than suffice, helping to elevate both the car and your time behind the wheel by providing a tactile and visual feast.

One of the most, if not THE most, beautiful interiors crafted since World War II belongs to the 1956 Park Ward Bentley S1 Continental Coupe. The interiors could be ordered to your taste but all received the most sumptuous inlaid wooden dashboards, rich hides and brightly hand-polished chrome. Gauges were all black with white lettering. But, oh, that inlaid wood — fit for a king!

One of two pure sports cars on this list, the Porsche 356 Speedster’s interior is functional. But it is also stunning in its post-Bauhaus simplicity and efficiency. The Speedster’s dash only has three dials and three pull-knobs (and two stopwatches if you’re lucky). There is little in the way of decoration — it’s actually extremely Spartan — but splendid in execution. It is truly a place to conduct the business of driving fast.

The once-proud and robust French auto industry was decimated during the war. The majority of the coachbuilders were gone and the few manufacturers that did remain focused on mass-market cars. Long gone were the exuberant, bright days and foggy nights of the Parisian Jazz Age, replaced with utilitarian necessity symbolized by Citroën and its 2CV. Yet somehow, a beacon of French taste and glamour did emerge, though briefly—Facel Vega. Its II model was an imposing coupe with an interior where every touch point (except some knobs) was either wood, chrome or leather. So luxurious and so pretty — indeed, so sad Facel didn’t last.

The second generation Chevrolet Corvette (1963-67) actually has a rather ornate interior for a sports car, but Bill Mitchell and his crew managed to pull off a hit. And while it’s clearly influenced by the jet/rocket age, to this day it doesn’t look too dated (just don’t glance at that AM radio). The slender wooden steering wheel feels good in your hands, and in spite of its visually weighty, symmetrical interior, it has a very nice, quick flow.

Strangely, while Sweden is famous for very sleek, modern designs, few of its cars share those qualities. One standout is the Volvo P1800. Its interior certainly isn’t luxurious, but it is endowed with the aforementioned qualities missing from most of its compatriots. The dash wraps around and integrates nicely with the doors, while the center console is unobtrusive and minimal. Meanwhile, the two-spoke steering wheel looks futuristic and sporty.

Yes, the outside of a car may capture your attention, but it’s the seats, dash and overall finish that hold that attention. Gauges are organized and designed thoughtfully, knobs and switches feel good and sit within easy reach. Seats cosset and support allowing long drives. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the majority of these cars were grand tourers, as most muscle and sports cars have purely functional interiors. These, on the other hand, transcend function.

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