The facts about fiction: A breakdown of the cars used in The Great Gatsby
A film adaptation of the classic American novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald recently landed in theaters and proved to be a box office juggernaut, raking in more than $130 million in just its first month in wide release. While this highly stylized take on the 1920s may not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially considering the dearth of car-centric features currently playing at the megaplex, there is no denying that the filmmakers behind Gatsby had great taste when it came to choosing the rides used in the film.
Some of the most pivotal scenes in the entire movie took place in cars, en route from East or West Egg and over the bridge to the bustling metropolis of Manhattan. In fact, the climax of the entire film is centered around a custom-made yellow Duesenberg and one character’s poor driving abilities.
While it’s hard to keep track of exactly how many restored classics from the 1920s made cameos in the film – from the parade of Rolls-Royce’s that drove up to Gatsby’s legendary driveway to the hectic race scene between Jay and Tom going over the George Washington Bridge – there are certainly a select few vintage American cars from the era that either made the final cut or at least should have.
Let’s start with Gatsby’s ride in the film, a 1929 Duesenberg Model J – the car that would make the Duesenberg brand explode in popularity, as it was one of the most opulent and beautiful cars built to date. Although this is obviously the car that any rich playboy of the time would want to drive, critics have argued that the odds that a real life Gatsby would have been driving a Model J are slim to none.
First off, and most importantly, the story takes place in 1922, and (spoiler alert) the character Jay Gatsby would have been long dead by the time the first Model J rolled off the assembly line in 1929. Duesenberg was just beginning to establish itself as a carmaker as the first Model A’s were coming out of the company’s Indianapolis manufacturing plant. Although the Model A was nothing to sneeze at, this was hardly a high profile model embraced by the masses.
Furthermore, the book flat-out states that Gatsby wasn’t a Duesenberg guy, but actually a fan of Rolls-Royce. After all, (spoiler, again) the character was crafting an identity for himself that included an Oxford education and a flair for all things British. It only makes sense, then, that he would be a Rolls fan.
“On weekends,” Fitzgerald wrote, “his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight …” Alas, no mention of any Duesenbergs in the book at least.
The story never got specific about which model Gatsby drove, however, and given his fortune, he could have his pick of the many great Rolls available for movers and shakers like himself during the 1920s. If we are talking about a car that could double as a bus, the 1922 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost certainly fit the bill, as this convertible could easily squeeze a half dozen flappers into the back seat alone.
However, if I had a choice, I would opt for style and speed over spaciousness when it comes to my Gatsby-era Rolls-Royce. The Phantom I Sports Coupe, for example, is one of the slickest rides to ever hit the market, and while it may not be able to hold more than two passengers, it would definitely make a grand entrance at any soiree.
What 1920s ride would you be interested in driving if you had a fortune as big as Gatsby’s? The Duesenberg seen in the film or a Rolls-Royce from the jazz era? Leave your thoughts below: