Automobiles and Social Caste


Ben Lemmon

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Feb 6, 2008
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I was browsing the internet today, looking for some visuals to help me better imagine my story. I came across an internet photo of a Cadillac from 1912, and I was wondering what degree of the Social system would have purchased the automobile. I am sure I want to use this automobile for my story, as it is actually what I envisioned while writing the part that involves an automobile. Even if upper-middle class didn't purchase this type of automobile, I could still use it for my story by pulling some strings within my fictional realm. Anyway, I digress. Here is the photo. As always, thanks again for all the assistance you have given.

134254.jpg
 

Bob Godfrey

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Strictly 2nd Class. Americans in the top league favoured 'the three P's' - Packard, Peerless and Pierce Arrow. There was considerable snob value also in owning a high grade European car like a Mercedes or Rolls-Royce. The Cadillac was very well made and technically advanced, but was not then aimed at the top end of the market.
 
Jan 7, 2002
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I imagine then the 1912 Ford Model T (or Model A?) was for the peasants, the working class. Could you imagine seeing Lady Duff Gordon in a Ford Model T?

To this very day the brand of autmobile a person drives is seen as a reflection the social class of the owner- Of course being a teacher in the city, I take public transportation, so I'm down in steerage.
 

Ben Lemmon

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Thanks for the information, Bob. It's really odd, but I had always imagined that scene involving a car almost exactly like this one. However, I didn't know it actually existed, nor did I think it would be aimed at upper middle-class, where Jimmy and his family reside. Anyway, thanks again for the awesome information.

Tarn, I feel your pain. I soon will be a poor teacher as well, and thus will be in steerage rather than second class.
 

Bob Godfrey

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American peasants were driving Model T Fords in 1912, but us Euro peasants were still on bikes or stout shoe leather back then. In fact it wasn't until the 1960's that most working class people in the UK graduated from bikes and buses to cars.

Ben, if I remember right the family in your story are English? In which case they wouldn't have owned a Cadillac. You'd need to be thinking of a suitable English make of touring car like Austin or Wolseley.
 
May 27, 2007
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The Lortons still had a horse and buggy in 1912. My Grandfather had his own horse at age nine that he'd ride to school which would be 1909 or 10. I think with folks getting cars there was too many horses which meant cheap horses. Of course Gramps grew up in rural Iowa along the Mississippi which meant there were places he could ride his horse. His Mother was quite a Horsewoman and rode til she was 80 or so. She was from Colorado so she always kept a horse about the place which was a good thing once the depression hit. The Lortons saved money on gas.

My Dad says Great Gramps got a used Model T dirt cheap in 1914 and that it was a value because Gramps got the car in 1921 and used it to go across country from Iowa to Colorado and kept it til about 1924 or '25.
 

Dave Gittins

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While researching, I noticed car adverts in the English press that look rather odd to modern eyes. They were for an up-market car called a Napier.

Each starts by singing the praises of an eminent politician, such as Lord Charles Beresford. This person is said to have great judgement and wisdom. What car does he choose? A Napier, naturally.

Imagine modern ads telling us that the infinitely wise President Obama chooses a Ford! Times change!
 
Jun 11, 2000
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Napiers, in the 1920s, were driven as sports / racing cars. By toffs, naturally, under totally ridiculous circumstances. Near me is a lovely museum which has cars (including Napiers), planes, and stuff, and is very strange and very wonderful. People were mad, by our criteria, but they had a very good time nonetheless in the 1920s and 1930s.

http://www.brooklandsmuseum.com/

I love this place as they let you fiddle with the exhibits! And there is a sense of freedom, which doesn't exist now.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Basically snob appeal. Even the humble Austin was advertised thus in 1912: "By the tasteful nature of their various models Austin have earned recognition in the highest circles, where only the finest meets with approval". The ultimate claim, and the best form of free advertising, is the 'Royal warrant' - 'supplier of (whatever) to HM the King'. Why should HM be considered a fine judge of tea or chocolate or motor oil, but if we buy the same we're right up there with the best.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Napier's road cars were sedate, high quality machines in competition with Rolls-Royce and not at all sporty. But the company did recognise the publicity value of motor racing, and their racing cars were highly successful before the Great War. After the War the company soon gave up making cars altogether as by then their main business was in aero engines. And it's those engines that were used to power many of the successful land speed record attempts in the 1920s and '30s. I think John Cobb's Napier-Railton is at Brooklands, Mon? It still holds the lap record, and always will unless they rebuild the track!
 
Jun 11, 2000
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Well, I don't think sports cars, quite as we know them, existed. But Napiers, sedate and high quality though they were, could be driven with the hood down, and they went very fast. So I think they were considered sports models rather than saloons. To race them, of course, the track had to be banked to a quite extraordinary angle, a bit of which you can see at Brooklands.

In the 1920s, road racing was very popular, as described by Evelyn Waugh in Vile Bodies in which Miss Agatha Runcible came to grief.
 

Bob Godfrey

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There were plenty of sports cars in all price brackets in the 1920's and '30s in the heyday of Brooklands, Mon, and easily accepted as such by the likes of us, though the youngsters here wouldn't recognise them as such! The first Aston Martin, for instance, dates from 1915, the Bentley from 1921 and the cheap & cheerful MG from 1924. But no Napiers, unless you count the ex-Grand Prix cars which were sold off to headstrong sons of the aristocracy who no doubt believed themselves to be immortal until experience proved otherwise.

The less affluent could risk their lives at Brooklands in just about anything they cared to bring along, including a family tourer. There were lots of handicap races, in which the no-hopers were allowed several laps start before the real contenders joined in! Health and safety wasn't a big issue in those days of course. There were occasions when cars hurtled off the banking into the trees and nobody noticed - until worried family members began to inquire, perhaps days later, why Reggie or whomever had gone off to Brooklands for the day and hadn't been seen since.
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May 27, 2007
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Dave and Michael,
>>Imagine modern ads telling us that the infinitely wise President Obama chooses a Ford!<<

At least Ford is marginally solvent.
True! I might consider a Ford if there was an add toting that Obama had one and plus that they are solvent too. You might be on to something Fellas.
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Jul 9, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
President Obama is being driven around. I think the Secret Service protection detail would have a stroke if the POTUS got behind the wheel of his own vehical for a spin.
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Speaking only for myself, I'm not sold on star or celebrity power. I'm sold on whether or not a given vehical is of any use to me personally. One of these days, when it comes time to put my Malibu out to pasture, I may be looking to see what Saturn has to offer. They've been reasonably successful in no small part due to their offering vehicals which people actually want, and which get better gas milage then a Centurion main battle tank!

A strange concept there, but that's good enough for me.
 
Jun 11, 2000
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Now, I always buy the same car, Michael. You've no much idea how much time it saves. I buy Ford Fiestas. They're fast, economical, handle like a dream, comfy and never break down. When the Malibu croaks, I suggest you consider one - though I don't know what they're called in the States. To help you make up your mind, here's a rather unusual road test undertaken recently by Clarkson of Top Gear. It starts off fairly normally, but rapidly becomes most interesting.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axfa2fjE_wY
 

Bob Godfrey

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The latest Fiesta should be on sale in the US late this year, assembled in the Mexico plant. But they won't be getting the diesel-powered ECOnetic model which does 65mpg. The Fiesta certainly has received rave reviews worldwide, Mon, but unlike the car most Americans are not subcompact.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Very disappointing review there, Mon. All that firepower and not one round hit Clarkson! My faith in the Royal Marines has been shattered.
 

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