My taste in cars has always been pretty diverse. When it comes to the cars I’ve actually bought and paid for myself, I’ve consistently gravitated toward the small, foreign, low-displacement and sporty end of the spectrum. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of many genres, including, but not limited to, European sports cars of the ‘50s and ‘60s, Italian exotics of the ‘70s and ‘80s, German über-sedans of the ‘80s, Japanese cars from the ‘90s, classic Americana from the ‘20s-on, pony cars, muscle cars, and even practical sedans that do their jobs particularly well.
However, there is one segment of the automotive market for which, until fairly recently, my affection has felt like something of a guilty pleasure: the old-school American land yacht.
Maybe my advancing age is to blame, or maybe it’s that I’ve fallen in love with sailing on actual yachts, or maybe it’s the fact that, with the end of Ford’s Panther platform, such cars no longer are available new, but whatever the reason, I feel it’s time to openly embrace my admiration for these barges.
Some background is in order here.
I was exposed to cars from an early age. For decades, my father was in the rental car industry, working his way up from managing locations to an executive position with one of the major rental companies before my 10th birthday. In the early years, he didn’t have an official company car, but he was allowed to take any car off the lot to use for commuting between locations, and back and forth to work. He brought home a different car every couple of days. The ones that stood out to me were the second-generation F-bodies and Fox-bodied Mustangs. As he climbed the corporate ladder, he was eventually given official company cars, which he got to order (from an approved list, of course) new every year.
My dad’s taste in cars has always leaned toward Northern Europe. Still does. He drives a Volvo now. When he left the car rental industry to start his own marketing company, he bought himself a sensible used Mercedes W123 300D turbo, a car which he graciously ended up letting me borrow for almost a year when both my ex-rental ’82 Reliant and recently purchased ’74 Karmann Ghia were out of commission. But back to the company-car days.
Dad had a lot of company cars I thought were cool. He didn’t always agree. Oh, he enjoyed a Dodge Daytona for a year, but the two before that were a Chrysler Fifth Avenue and a C-body New Yorker, both of which he derisively referred to as “old-man cars.” He’d get free rental cars when we travelled, and most of the time we’d end up in a Lincoln Town Car or a Caddy Seville. He never requested those cars, but I suspect the location managers wanted to please the guy from corporate by handing him the keys to the nicest cars they had on-hand. They were just more old-man cars to him.
But I liked them. I liked the cushy interiors, the neato electronics, the cursive script badges, the chrome and the fake-wood trim. Even then, I was a little ashamed of it. I guess I just didn’t want to seem uncool to my dad.
Later on in life, I had plenty of opportunities to drive rental cars, myself. Usually it was through insurance, when one of my own cars met with misfortune at somebody else’s hands and had to spend time in a body shop. I rented a lot of shitboxes that way, from a terminally embarrassing Ford Aspire to terminally crappy fifth-generation Chevy Malibus. But when I rented cars for road trips, I always chose a Lincoln Town Car.
By then, my mom had developed a taste for V6 Accord sedans. My first time driving a Town Car, I was amazed at how a car with a V8 could be that much slower than something my mother drove. The Town Car was unresponsive in every imaginable way compared to one of her Accords. It was a couch on wheels, sprung on marshmallowy suspension and guided by hilariously overboosted steering. I realized that, by the standards of practically everything else I’d piloted, they were horrible to drive.
Yet I found that my driving style was partially to blame for that. Once I got used to that numb steering, pillowy suspension, and utter lack of bolstering in the seats, I discovered that there is a certain rhythm to driving a luxobarge. No, they’re not sports cars in any sense, but there is a sort of satisfaction in finding an effective way to make them hustle down the road. Figuring it out made me feel like Jim Rockford himself.
These days I daily drive an old NA Miata. It’s on stiff springs, Bilstein shocks, and polyurethane bushings. It has no AC, no power steering, no driver aids of any kind, and very little in the way of sound insulation. It is cramped, stiff, and noisy as hell. And I absolutely love it that way. It is, after all, the kind of conveyance I’ve always most naturally gravitated toward. I never plan to let it go. It will be mine until one of us dies.
But lately I can’t help looking through the online listings at Hemmings, just daydreaming. And most of what I’m looking at are old American land yachts. I don’t particularly need a second car. Oh, sure, it’d be nice to have one. I’d like something I can use to pick up my folks from the airport, or transport my massive Mesa half-stack. But logically speaking, a used Honda Fit can do that. But if I were going to have a second car, why not make it something completely opposite in character to the tight, noisy little thing that has been my daily for the last seven years?
Just check out this low-mileage Coupe De Ville. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Or this well-preserved Delta 88.
Or this Ford LTD.
I could go on. In fact, I probably will, in private. These cars consume far more of my automotive passion than I should probably admit. Yet here it is. Like an addict at his first meeting, I’m here to own up to it: My name is Shaun, and I love old, wallowy, soft, bench-seated, column-shifted, body-on-framed, V8-powered, gas-chugging, six-passenger, chrome-bumpered American land yachts. And I’ve decided not to be ashamed by that.