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Saloons are practical. They’re sensible too. They’re always going to be the sound choice. But they’re perhaps not the most sexy. Only, don’t put them all under one roof. A few select saloons are raised above the rest. They’re different. They’re more. These are SuperSaloons!

For our Prime Find of the Week before the last, I fell for a Maserati Quattroporte III project. Well, it was actually two Quattroportes which could potentially be made into one. Financially risky, I admit. But what a car! I’ve always – ever since I was a kid – admired the big Quattroporte III. There’s an element of Evander Holyfield wearing an exquisite Italian tailored suit about it. It’s stylish, but it’s also just a bit too brutish to qualify as elegant. And therein lies its appeal to me. But judging from the lack of reader comments that Saturday, I’m guessing I might stand somewhat alone with my feelings for the imposing eighties Quattroporte. Only our own Claus Ebberfeld replied with a single word: “RUN!” – and I’m fairly convinced he meant run away. Which got me thinking…

If that’s not a SuperSaloon, then what is? Which saloon is the most sexy, classy, heavy-hitting, and downright cool of them all? Which saloon won’t ever need to shy away from all those elusive Gran Touring coupés? Of course, there are several right answers to this one. But I’m fairly certain many would immediately mention the legendary Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 (W116). Rightly so too, yet it’s just a bit too Teutonic to be considered sexy in any respect, and that is ultimately it’s downfall – at least for me personally. If I had to stick with Mercedes-Benz, I would rather have its predecessor, the 300SEL 6.3 (W109). But even that – stunning and beautiful as it is – hardly oozes sex.

If I had my choice – money no object – my ultimate choice of SuperSaloon would probably fall between two contestants. The obvious choice would be the Maserati Quattroporte (Tipo 107). Built between 1963 and 1969, the elegant Italian was designed by Frua, while the construction was undertaken by Vignale. Those are both some rather significant names in the world of Italian carrozzeria, and the result is fittingly fabulous. It’s sober and restrained yet still seduces you with its perfectly balanced lines. The interior as well, is equally Italian subdued elegance at its very best and most luxurious. And then there’s the mechanical aspect, where the Quattroporte was given the honour of being the car that launched Maserati’s new and thoroughly delicious quad-cam all-aluminium V8 engine. Breathing through four down-draught Weber carburettors, it initially pushed out 260hp in 4.1-litre format. Towards the end of its lifespan, that increased to 290hp when the engine was enlarged to 4.7-litres. Drive could be through either a 5-speed manual ZF transmission or a 3-speed Borg Warner automatic, while the sporting heritage was kept in check with an optional limited slip differential. With only 776 series 1 Quattroportes produced, exclusivity is guaranteed.

My slightly more obscure choice would be the Lagonda Rapide which was built between 1961 and 1964. David Brown had bought Lagonda in 1948, but not used the name since 1958 when the 3-litre ceased production. The Rapide was an attempt to revive the proud marque. It was of course based on their period Aston Martin DB4, but every one of the Rapides were handbuilt to order with their preferred Superleggera method – aluminium skin over a tubular steel frame. Even if there are a few proportions here and there which are perhaps ever so slightly off when viewed from certain angles, it’s still a handsome design which has real character and even more presence. Nowhere will ever be too upmarket for you to arrive in a Rapide. The straight-6 all-aluminium engine was also based on the DB4’s, but enlarged to 4.0-litres and thus producing a healthy 236hp. This engine of course was later used for the DB5. Most of the Rapides came with a 3-speed Borg Warner transmission though a manual 4-speed was also available. And if exclusivity has anything to do with this, the Rapide has even the Quattroporte well and truly beaten as a mere 55 examples ever left the Aston Martin factory in Newport Pagnell.

As a bit of a left-wing joker, I’ll nominate my third choice for the ultimate SuperSaloon. Granted, if it really came down to the crunch, I probably wouldn’t be able to convince myself to choose the outlandish Bristol 405 over the Quattroporte or the Rapide. But there’s a strange little portion of me that wants to, and if the decision was being made on top of suitable amounts of Islay Single Malt, who knows what might happen…

To be honest, I’m not really a huge fan of Bristols in general, and especially the later models just don’t sit right with me. But the whole design of the 405 is simply wonderfully bonkers, and has always had a massive appeal to me. From the jet-engine aping grill, over that massively stretched bonnet which seemingly goes on and on, to the beautifully shaped teardrop cabin, into the three-piece rear window and then those stylish little fins – it’s certainly different, that’s for sure. The Bristol 405 was manufactured between 1955 and 1958. It was based on the 404 which had been introduced two years earlier, only the wheelbase was now extended a quite significant 46cm to 2.9 meters. A steel and ash frame was clad with aluminium panels and mounted on a vast horseshoe shaped chassis. It may have been the first Bristol to abandon the BMW-style radiator grill, but under the bonnet you still found the brilliant pre-war BMW derived 2-litre straight-6. Admitted, those 125hp will never be able to match the performance of the Quattroporte or the Rapide, but it’s also an older concept and for 1955 those were still very respectable figures. The 405 was also equipped with a Rack and Pinion steering and the handling won multiple accolades from the press. Apart from the very first cars, they also had disc brakes on the front axle. This stylish and very aeronautically inspired SuperSaloon was only produced in 265 examples placing it roughly between the Rapide and the Quattroporte on the rarity scale.

Hmmm. Decisions, decisions…
But what say our knowledgeable readers? Which would you choose? And why? Or have I perhaps left out any major contenders for the prize? I’m sure there must be further options in this niche class of big, fast, luxurious and beautiful SuperSaloons…

 

10 Responses

  1. Ralph Ziegersson
    How about a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, Facel Vega Excellence,
    Mercedes 600 or a 1972 ser. 1 XJ 12?
    The first 3 are seriously rare and outlandish…..the last is possibly the best driving classic saloon ever…and super-stylish too…
    Reply
  2. Tony Wawryk
    Good call on the FV Excellence, Ralph, that was in my thoughts too.
    The Jaguar XJ12 is a great – and affordable – choice, and I also like the look of the De Tomaso Deauville, introduced in 1970, which has exclusivity on it’s side.
    If we’re defining these as being rapid, 4 door saloons, there aren’t that many alternatives until you hit the early 80’s, it seems to me. Then you’re beginning to get more modern classics like the Rover Vitesse, the original BMW M5 and later still, the seriously fast Vauxhall Lotus Carlton.
    However, these fail the exclusivity test for me – mainly because they look so like the cooking versions of the cars they’re based on, so I’ll go to Switzerland for my nomination – the Monterverdi High Speed 375/4, introduced in 1970, looks like it was designed as a 4-door, and rare as hen’s teeth.
    Reply
  3. Claus Ebberfeld
    I agree that the rarity factor must be up there to define a real supersaloon. The Monteverdi 375 that Tony nominated will probably be at the absolute top of my list, but that’s probably because I have a weak spot for hybrid car – in my definition meaning Euro-exotics with a big loaner of an American engine.

    In the real world I have just settled with something with a much more familiar face but of no less superness or brilliance – not least regarding the engine: This Saturday I received my Jaguar XJ12 Sovereign, a 1987 Series 3. What a car! More on that later, of course.

    Brilliant subject, Anders: May I suggest a toast to the supersaloons?

    Reply
  4. Tony Wawryk
    Congratulations on your new acquisition, which is most definitely a super-saloon! I hope you enjoy many trouble-free kilometers with it!
    Reply
  5. Tony Wawryk
    Jewer, you know, I looked at that, but the styling from the C-post rearwards just seems, well, awkward, to my eyes, anyway. For sure it meets all the requirements of a super-saloon, I just wish it looked more coherent.
    Reply
  6. Jewer
    I agree, Tony. Awkward rear. I see one from time to time here in Copenhagen. Live it’s still a very impressive car – hence worth mentioning :>).
    Reply
  7. Anders Bilidt
    Some great additions to my Quattroporte, Lagonda and Bristol.
    , the Facel Vega Excellence is a particularly stunning suggestion. So much presence! So much style! But @tony-wawryk, so is the Monteverdi High Speed 375/4 and for that matter the Deauville. And I thoroughly agree with @jewer on the Iso Fidia. I too have drooled over the dark blue one in Copenhagen on several occasions, and I too feel that it looks much better in the flesh than it does on pictures. Any one of these would be more than welcome in my dream garage…

    Not least , a massive congrats with your newly acquired XJ12! Such a brilliant car, and no doubt a SuperSaloon in its own right. It perhaps lacks the rarity of the other contenders, but then it makes up for some of that by being the only one to offer a V12 up front. The lack of rarity is of course also a contributing factor to keeping prices at a level where enthusiasts don’t need to remortgage the house in order to purchase one, which is of course a good thing. Claus, I look forward to hearing more about your Jag in an article here on ViaRETRO some time soon… ;-)

    Reply

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