Lagonda V12 Rapide

13 Beautiful Pre-War Cars

Despite the effects of The Great Depression, the automotive industry during the prewar era was at its peak. The 1930s ushered in a generation of wealthy individuals who were willing and eager to pay more for timeless beauty and elegance. Although the automobile was still a relatively new invention by this point in history, car buyers knew how to make a statement with this piece of transportation technology. 

During the prewar period, individuals were eager to buy vehicles that emphasized the American Dream, or simply enough: status. Cars exemplified craftsmanship, design, and luxury, and they embodied status and elegance—just as certain makes and models still signal status and wealth today. In a decade where economic challenges were present, the automobile embodied success and sophistication. These vehicles were more than just a mode of transportation; they conveyed personal style and taste.

Prewar cars continue to catch the eyes of automotive lovers. With their sleek, handcrafted elements and meticulous attention to detail, these prewar cars capture the essence of iconic automotive history and classical beauty.

Duesenberg SJ Roadster

Duesenberg SJ Roadster
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Only 36 of these vehicles were ever created. The 1935 Duesenberg SJ Roadster was a modified version of the original car the Duesenberg Model J, which was first introduced in 1928, at the cusp of the depression. Unlike the Model J, the Duesenberg SJ Roadster was “supercharged,” and sometimes referred to as a Mormon Meteor. The SJs were capable of reaching a higher speed because the original engine was replaced with a Curtiss Conqueror aircraft engine. Although the vehicle has a muddied history, the SJ’s grandeur is undeniable. Its masterful design and sleek exterior are top-notch elegance. 

Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic

Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic was built between the years of 1934-1940. This car is one of the most coveted classic cars to ever exist. The Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic’s top speed was 95 mph. Only four Type 57 Atlantic Coupes were built. This iconic car is exceptionally rare, and its dorsal fin design is part of its allure. 

Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster

Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster is a work of art. This symbol of German automotive excellence was introduced at the 9136 Paris Motor Show, and the vehicle came in both two and four-seat models. The 540K was one of the largest vehicles of its time as it was over 17 feet long and six feet wide. Only the most lavish car buyer could afford this car with its shapely fenders and elegant design.

Delahaye Type 136 Competition Court Teardrop Coupé

Delahaye Type 136 Competition Court Teardrop Coupé
Image Credit: Carrosserie Figoni et Falaschi Michael Furman/RM Auctions.

If the name alone doesn’t signify class! The Delahaye Type 135 Competition Court Teardrop Coupé is known as a masterpiece of the “French curve,” or in short, a teardrop shape. Joseph Figoni thought moving curves and fluid shapes captured the essence of French sensuality. This beautiful coupé showcases the intersection of aerodynamic function and artistic design. 

Cadillac V-16 Sport Phaeton

Cadillac V-16 Sport Phaeton
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Cadillac V-16, also known as the Cadillac Sixteen, was the top model for nearly a decade. It was the frontrunner between 1930-1940, and the V16 was both very expensive and very exclusive. This particular Cadillac had a pioneering V-16 engine, which is a sixteen-cylinder engine arranged in a V-shape. Only 4,076 vehicles were made, and each car was custom-finished. The V-16 was a fan-favorite among the most elite of society during the Great Depression.

Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider

Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Italian masterpiece, the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider, was known as one of the most advanced sports cars of its time. This two-seater sports car was both a luxury car and a racing car. Although the car was only in production for about eight years, the Alfa Romeo 8C continues to be known for its potent engine and sleek design.

Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow

Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

American luxury automaker, Pierce-Arrow, designed the Silver Arrow in 1933. The vehicle was introduced at the New York Auto Show that same year, and it’s expected that only three Silver Arrows still exist today. Five were made in 1933. The fender-mounted headlight design was patented by Pierce-Arrow in 1914, but when the company ceased production in 1938, other automakers were able to adopt the headlight design. 

Packard Twelve Coupe

Packard Twelve Coupe
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Packard Twelve was built from 1916 until 1923, and then made a comeback from 1933 until 1939. During the car’s initial run, custom bodywork was standard. However, when the Packard Twelve returned in the 1930s, the cars were only “semi-customs.” This prewar gem has a long hood and exquisite detailing.

Bentley 8 Litre

Bentley 8 Litre
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Bentley 8 Litre was the epitome of British Luxury. This 6-cylinder luxury vehicle had several different configurations, all of which were made at Bentley Motors Limited in London. In 1930, the Bentley 8 Litre made its debut at the London Olympia Motor Show. This grand touring car had unparalleled power and could easily accelerate from low to high speed. Only 100 Bentley 8s were ever made.

Hispano-Suiza J12

Hispano-Suiza J12
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

This luxury France vehicle was made by Hispano-Suiza from 1931 to 1938. The J12 was powered by a V12 engine, and it was a French-Spanish collaborative effort. Debuting in 1934, this luxurious automobile sets the standard for elegance and beauty. The J12 boasts an elongated hood, a distinctive grille, and flowing fenders that add to its sleek design.

Lagonda V12 Rapide

Lagonda V12 Rapide
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Produced by the British Lagonda from 1938 to 1940, the Lagonda V12 Rapide is known for its graceful styling and robust performance. The car was first shown at the London Motor Show in 1936, but production didn’t actually start until 1938. The Lagonda V12 Rapide boasts a powerful engine with a smooth driving experience. This rare gem from the prewar era and this classic beauty is a reminder of timeless allure and luxury.

Auburn 12-160A Speedster

Auburn 12-160A Speedster
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

This American classic is known for its sporty design and impressive performance. The Auburn 12-160A Speedster is a representation of the 1930s with Art Deco craftsmanship that combines sportiness with luxury.

Cord 812 Supercharged Phaeton

Cord 812 Supercharged Phaeton
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Cord 812 Supercharged Phaeton is an American icon. This vehicle was the first American front-wheel drive car, and it was the first car to have hidden (pop-up) headlights. Despite being nicknamed “coffin nose” due to its curved, yet elongated hood, the Cord 812 offers groundbreaking features, solidifying it as a prewar car that defines beauty. 

Author: Marisa Higgins

Bio:

Marisa Higgins is a lover of good storytelling, and she’s spent the past decade teaching college English, and writing and researching about American Literature and Culture. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her husband, and their Beagle-Chihuahua, Rumi, and cat, Rory. Marisa’s work can be found at A-Z Animals, FuelsFix, and TellTaleTV.

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