What Car Was That in The Great Gatsby? [w/ video]
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby tells the story of a mysterious man whose life is a testament to the evils of greed and wanton excess. Almost as mysterious is the automobile that Gatsby drives in the book. Fitzgerald describes it as “a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns'' (68). So what of the car in the new Gatsby flick, which comes out today? The car is a symbol of Gatsby’s desperate need to show off his wealth. This puts him in good company with many modern-day musicians and actors, not to mention those who are famous just for being famous (can anyone say “Kardashian?”). But, other than its value as a literary metaphor, we learn little about this amazing vehicle. This has led to endless speculation over the years about the exact type of car Fitzgerald had in mind. Hollywood added to the confusion by putting Robert Redford behind the wheel of a 1928 Rolls in the 1974 film version. Given that the novel was written in 1925 and set in 1922, this was a serious blunder indeed, and was left uncorrected in this year’s remake.
So, what was the identity of Gatsby’s ride? In all likelihood it was a customized version of the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, built from 1906 to 1926. It had a 143.6” wheelbase, was powered by a 2924 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine (two rows of three cylinders each), and had a four-speed gearbox. The Ghost was crowned “best car in the world” in 1907 by Autocar magazine, a phrase that the manufacturer was more than happy to adopt as its key catchphrase.
The Silver Ghost was ahead of its time technology-wise, with innovations like electric headlamps and optional four-wheel servo-assisted brakes. The most famous of the 7874 units built is the AX 201, manufactured in 1907 and owned today by Bentley Motors. A painstaking restoration in 1989 raised its estimated value to a current total of $57 million, a sum that might have made even the Great Gatsby flinch.