An ode to America’s land yachts

An ode to America’s land yachts

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It’s hard to imagine how a modern car could incorporate a ‘rumble seat’ or what a 2019 Phaeton body style would look like. Just as brands and models come and go, so do body styles. While we can try to imagine a 1960s version of today’s crossover SUVs, they are little more than taller Hatchbacks and Estates, it’s often much harder to go in the opposite direction and imagine a now extinct body style being made that fits with today’s cars.

One type of car that is very much an endangered species is what used to be known as a personal luxury car. At least, that’s the American name for it. Think of those great big two-door Lincolns and Cadillacs from the 1960s and 1970s. Big luxury coupes today always try to become GT cars, sacrificing an ounce of comfort for a pound of performance. Those ‘land yachts’ however were interested in just one thing, comfort.

Unlike today’s big coupes, these didn’t try to get around a corner quickly. They’ll reach the quarter mile, eventually. But that was never the point. Those same cars had performance brethren. The Cadillac Eldorado for example shared the General Motors’ stable with no less than four or five muscle cars (if the Buick GSX counts), not to mention the Corvette.

But customers of today’s personal coupes want to know that their car can keep up with best exotics out there. They want eight or twelve cylinders tuned as much for smoothness as for horsepower. A 1974 Lincoln Continental was rated at 250 horsepower from titanic 7.5 litre V8. Hit a corner and you will understand why they were known as ‘land yachts!’

An Aston Martin DB11 or a Bentley Continental GT is superior in every single way to the Lincoln. They have better interiors, handle better, are faster, and even get more miles per gallon from their hi-tech engines. Their counterparts from the 1960s and 1970s were also performance cars, leaving the yank tank in their dust.

We often laugh at big American cars. But that’s because they weren’t really designed with us in mind. America’s long and seemingly endless highways are perfect stomping grounds for them in the same way that a Peugeot 208 feels more at home in the tight and narrow European streets. Swap them around and they’d each be a fish out of water.

So, what happened to the land yacht? Over time they became diluted. The Eldorado for example became a compact car before disappearing entirely. But Cadillac has teased a future ‘full-size’ coupe with the Escala concept, and Buick has been considering a new Riviera (the original shared a platform with the Cadillac and an Oldsmobile).

While BMW brought its new 8 Series, Mercedes will streamline its model range with the S-Class coupe on the chopping block. That leaves a great gap in the market that the Yanks could easily exploit. Nostalgia, even for something you’ve never experienced, can be a powerful thing.

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