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.

17 Reader Comments

  • 1
    David Little Rock, AR August 7, 2013 at 13:32
    Where are the pictures? The author does a wonderful job of description, but, alas, I am left to my imagination as to the actual appearances.
  • 2
    Ross United States August 7, 2013 at 13:34
    No pictures? Seriously?
  • 3
    Bob Denton Bloomfield Hills August 7, 2013 at 13:35
    I agree that Bentley Continental S-1 had a beautiful interior, but no where on any Rolls Royce badged cars did one find "inlaid" wood. They used many different type of burled wood over the years. What they did was to ge a piece a little wider than one half of the length of the dash and "split" it. The only vertical seam was in the middle of the dash and the two sides were mirror image, identical grain. Nothing inlaid.
  • 4
    Saki Canada August 7, 2013 at 13:37
    I would appreciate if you could e-mail me a similar analysis for MB 280 SL Model year 1970. Regards
  • 5
    David Martin Dallas, Texas August 7, 2013 at 14:05
    How can you have an article like this without photos??
  • 6
    rob stone philadelphia suburbs August 7, 2013 at 15:34
    1962 Chrysler 300H with "astro" dash is one of my favorites!
  • 7
    Patrick Prendergast Massachusetts August 7, 2013 at 15:58
    So why no pictures???
  • 8
    Jim H United States August 7, 2013 at 17:54
    The description sounds great. Do you think you might include some photos of these interiors?
  • 9
    Flavio Ca August 7, 2013 at 20:59
    I guess we'll have to take your word for that.
  • 10
    Bruce McLaughlan United States August 7, 2013 at 10:33
    Where are the photos? Talking about beautiful interiors without showing them is just frustrating.
  • 11
    John Crouse NC August 7, 2013 at 11:55
    What about the 1963 Studebaker Avanti? Wrap-around dash, an abundance of instrumentation, heater controls in console simulate the slide controls of an airplane, and there are rocker switches for lights in an overhead console.
  • 12
    William Seaton South Carolina August 7, 2013 at 12:25
    Definitely a nice looking interior, no doubt about that. For a more modern sports car, I would nominate our Mercedes Benz SLK interior of ash and black leather.
  • 13
    Doc central Ohio August 7, 2013 at 12:34
    This article is quite useless without pics, or at least links to pics.
  • 14
    Bob Denton Bloomfield Hills August 7, 2013 at 12:58
    I agree that Bentley Continental S-1 had a beautiful interior, but no where on any Rolls Royce badged cars did one find "inlaid" wood. They used many different type of burled wood over the years. What they did was to ge a piece a little wider than one half of the length of the dash and "split" it. The only vertical seam was in the middle of the dash and the two sides were mirror image, identical grain. Nothing inlaid.
  • 15
    Jeff Dallas August 8, 2013 at 18:02
    I sure would like to see pictures in your articles and valuations. I know I can go to Google but why not just add a pictures to what you do.
  • 16
    Steve Fort Worth, TX August 27, 2013 at 23:26
    Didn't even bother to read the whole article. 1 picture = 1000 words.
  • 17
    bill peterson oregon October 25, 2013 at 21:43
    I didn't even read tha article. Without pictures it is just pointless. Can you say l"loss of credibility".

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