I am not a fan of Hollywood, but I do like to watch James Bond 007 flicks. Since I was a boy, I have enjoyed 007 regardless of who played Bond. The international intrigue, cool gadgets, fast cars, and scantily clad beautiful women keep me glued to the TV screen. I proudly admit this even in the WOKE world we live in today. Though my blood runs red, white, and blue, the American Bond, Matt Helm, played by Dean Martin, was good but never quite grabbed me as 007 did. However, I did like the cars since they were always American.
Some Bond episodes did feature Detroit iron, but during the 1960s, 007 always drove an Aston Martin. I have an old issue of Mechanix Illustrated where Tom McCahil road-tested the Bond modified version. I did admire that car but believe it would have been better with a small block Chevy or Ford under its bonnet.
The one thing that both special agents did make clear was luxury cars can go fast and be desirable rides. Keep in mind that both movie series came to the screen during the heyday of the factory muscle car, so the producers chose luxury for a reason.
Matt Helm drove T-Birds and possibly some other Ford or Lincoln products to the best of my recollection. I still love the curved sofa-like rear seat in the 1960s Thunderbirds. Though not as sophisticated as an Aston, Ford’s personal luxury entry packed plenty of ponies under the hood with its FE engine. Similarly, the TV private detective Frank Cannon used early Mark Lincolns to chase down the bad guys and save the day. And never forget the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty was a heavily modified Imperial.
Those of us old enough to remember can confirm that thru the middle 1960s, almost every American luxury model offered a high-powered V-8 on the option sheet. Often with multiple carburetors. The usual setup was two four-barrel fuel and air mixers with a progressive linkage. Even Cadillac had a dual four-barrel option on the early Eldorado.
The hallmark of a luxury hot rod was a good flowing induction and exhaust system with a high compression ratio. Some other examples in 1964 were (these are all luxury car applications):
- Buick: 425, 2 4-bbl, 360 hp, 10.25:1
- Chrysler: 413, 2 4-bbl, 390 hp, 10.1:1
- Ford: 427, 2 4-bbl, 425 hp, 11.5:1
- Oldsmobile: 394, 1 4-bbl, 345 hp, 10.5:1
- Pontiac: 421, 3 2-bbl, 370 hp, 10.75:1
The luxury hot rods were more impressive since they needed to maintain a level of civility that a muscle car could do without. A Detroit engineer would never think of producing a vehicle that would not allow a banker’s trophy wife to idle in traffic with the air conditioner cranking, regardless of the number of carburetors under the hood. Similarly, the idle quality needed to be worthy of a luxury vehicle. No rumpty-rump cam for a Buick Electra 225. Also, the exhaust would be required to expel the spent gasses while keeping the resonance low.
Before aftermarket performance muffler companies such as Flowmaster and others came into existence, the hot mufflers for a street/strip car were the Chrysler Imperial reverse flow design. That silencer offered a minimal power loss but with little to no noise. To my way of thinking, Chrysler created the entire luxury go-fast market segment with its fabled letter series 300s that first appeared in the 1950s. The Mopar letter cars were and still are desirable vehicles. When I do come across one, my heart does double beats.
If you remember your high school physics, acceleration is mainly a function of mass and power. Aerodynamics come into play but not until the velocity crosses the 100-mph mark. Thus, a luxury vehicle will not accelerate as quickly as a traditional muscle car by nature of its mass. But where these vehicles shine is out on the open road. The additional weight becomes an asset and provides high-speed stability with little front-end lift. The highway belongs to the luxury car.
With the considerable growth in the Factory Appearing Stock Tire (FAST) racing class, those guys’ tricks to classic muscle cars can be converted over into a luxury ride. The only area that would be tricky is the cam selection. Good idle quality would need to be retained for the august personality of the vehicle. Huge stroker crankshafts, cylinder head, and intake manifold porting, along with other tricks, can really wake these engines up and put fear into the heart of Porsche owners. Smooth, quiet, and powerful would be the mantra.
Detroit has seen the potential of reintroducing the luxury hot rod. Lincoln was first to recognize this thirty-five years back with the LSC. A Mark VII with a Mustang HO engine and a more refined suspension calibration. A late 1980s version of the Chrysler letter series.
But the crown jewels go to Cadillac. They belong to the 2022 CT5-V Blackwing with its 668-horsepower supercharged V-8 and a top speed of over 202 mph! It is all American, and I could not be prouder.
Where is Matt Helm when you need him?