Rat Pack Cars


Swing, baby! 18-Karat rides that everyone digs

THE RAT PACK is gone, but the legend remains. While you can no longer go to Vegas to see them live, you can own and drive the cars that wound their (decidedly analog) watches. So go ahead, make the scene in Palm Springs — or even Palm Beach — in a car guaranteed to take you out of Nowheresville.

First stop on the auction roulette wheel was February’s McCormick sale in sunny Palm Springs, which featured a 1955 Ford Thunderbird in black. If Frank had one, it should be good enough for you, baby. Equipped with a 292-cid V-8, it had the matching hardtop, power seats and windows, and a two-tone black and white vinyl interior. Wire-wheel hubcaps and wide whitewalls completed the package. On the big-style-for-little-money scale, a ’55 T-Bird is hard to beat, and this one was bought at a reasonable $26,775.

Like slot machines, Continental Mark IIs differ in both the number of coins you have to put in, and in the payout. The Mark II is a beautiful car, and when well restored (or astonishingly original), they are a delight to own and drive. I found two at recent sales, one of which made waves when it sold at RM/Sotheby’s in January. Lovely in burgundy, it broke every record at a hefty $247,500. Two things to keep in mind before you spill your cocktail, baby: First, a well-restored Continental is a bit rare, and as an effectively hand-built car, they cost plenty both to take apart and to put back together. Second, the best often costs the most. You have to tip the maître’d to get the best table, capeesh?

Where a great Continental can bring huge money, a decent one can go for much, much less. Back to Palm Springs and the sale that featured our Thunderbird, you could have spent just $34,125 to get a Mark II. This black 1956 Mark had some flaws, but you still got all that swagger and saved a cool 200 large.

Dean Martin had a Ghia L6.4, and you had a chance to own your own as well. Where Dino’s was customized by Barris, this black one was stock. It sold for a big $412,500 back at RM’s Phoenix auction. Equipped with Chrysler’s 383 “Wedge” V-8, up close and personal, this was an excellent restoration, and it looked great with black and white leather. Rare when new and hard to find now, the L6.4 would look great parked right in front of your pad.

What says, “I won at the craps table” more than an Eldorado Biarritz? Sure, you could have had the Brougham, but four doors are for travel, and ragtops are for catching rays, Sunshine. The 1957 Eldorado Biarritz at the Leake Auction in Dallas last November would have made even Joey Bishop into a show-off. A Caddy convertible in red with red and white leather might have been just the way a Rat-Packer might have ordered it. By adding the parade boot, chrome wheels and a set of wide whites, you are officially running with the Pack. When it crossed the block at $106,700, you could almost hear it cry out, “VEGAS, Baby!”

A helping of style, a dollop of class and a lot of attitude will get you far with Rat Pack cars from an era that will never return, except in your garage.

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