The legendary women of film and their extraordinary cars

The legendary women known from cinema’s Classical Hollywood period are generally not affiliated with the cars they drove, collected, and were often chauffeured in. Instead, scandals, career downfalls, and in some cases their tragic deaths, usually take precedence and leave no room for real car talk. However, from Diana Dors’ 1949 Delahaye Roadster to Greta Garbo’s 1933 Duesenberg Model J Victoria to Ingrid Bergman’s 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe, these movie stars’ cars indicate they shared not only a passion for their careers but for some memorable automobiles.

The vintage photographs presented here of movie star cars feel like a precursor to the burgeoning number of female car aficionados in more recent years, and remind me of the Lady-Owned and Driven project I previously reported. It’s fun to speculate that these cars were not just vehicles female film stars bought as trophies to parade about town or to sit motionless in driveways. Instead, it’s easy to imagine women genuinely cared for cars—not solely on grandeur, but as outlets to decompress from all of the pressures of being a famous movie star. In this two-part feature, we take a look at some of the best examples; come back next Monday, April 27, for part two.

1933 Duesenberg Model J Victoria

Every one of us lives this life just once. If we are honest, to live once is enough. -Greta Garbo

When Greta Garbo said she wanted to be left alone, she meant as in people staying out of her business, not to be left all by her lonely self.

Garbo began to establish herself as an actress in silent films between 1925-29, giving her bona fide status. Later in 1929, she starred in her first talkie in the film “Anna Christie.” For the better part of her film career, Garbo was known for portraying tragic characters through her melancholy persona. Her starring role in “Camille” (1936) earned Garbo one of her three Academy Award nominations. After moving away from making movies, Garbo became a serious art collector and accumulated an art collection worth millions of dollars.

Along with working in cinema and collecting artwork, Garbo delighted in driving the finest cars her earnings could afford, and that included a highly sophisticated 1933 Duesenberg J Victoria by Fernandez and Darrin. The custom-bodied Duesenberg was built on a long-wheelbase Model J chassis and first shown in 1932 at the Paris Salon in France, and only two examples of this kind exist. For the entirety of her life, though, Garbo denied being the owner of the two-tone blue and black Duesenberg Model J.

Given that Garbo led an incredibly private life, perhaps her disassociation from her Duesenberg was due to not wanting to be recognized on public roads. In 1972 the Model J Victoria hit the market and sold for $90,000. Fifteen years later, Texas millionaire and notable Duesenberg collector Jerry Moore paid $1.4 million for the ex-Garbo Duesy.  

1955 Ford Thunderbird Convertible

I never dreamt of being in the movies. I was from a very average, I would say, a rather poor family, so my big treat was to work hard all week. I mowed lawns and babysat and washed dishes and washed cars—to go to the movies. -Debbie Reynolds

This American beauty was a great representation of the movie-star car lover, and regularly drove her vibrant red Ford T-Bird convertible to Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, California, and had an impressive career that lasted almost 70 years. In 1948 at the age of 16, Reynolds won the Miss Burbank beauty contest at her high school, and in 1957 she earned a gold record and landed the best-selling single by a female vocalist.

Reynolds’ most widely publicized performance was opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in the 1952 film “Singin’ in the Rain.” Demonstrated by the numerous cars Reynolds owned, among them a 1962 Facel Vega Facel II that sold at an auction in early 2019, this leading lady invested her hard-earned money in the cars her heart desired.

1935 Buick Series 66C Convertible

Famous people feel that they must perpetually be on the crest of the wave, not realizing that it is against all the rules of life. You can’t be on top all the time; it isn’t natural. -Olivia de Havilland

In this photograph, Olivia de Havilland was thrilled about her new Buick Series 66C Convertible; she even tested the rumble seat in back. De Havilland did not win the Academy Award for her supporting role in 1940’s “Gone with the Wind,” but two leading roles in later films garnered her two Best Actress awards.

In 1943, the “To Each His Own” actress sued Warner Bros. Studios with whom she had a contract; she won a landmark decision that became known as the “De Havilland Law.” President George W. Bush awarded de Havilland the National Medal of Arts in 2008.

1941 Lincoln Continental Coupe

I have always felt that one of the secrets of real beauty is simplicity. -Rita Hayworth

An accomplished flamenco dancer since childhood, Rita Hayworth, born Margarita Carmen Cansino in Brooklyn, New York, on October 17, 1918, embodied the definition of woman. Three of her best known films were “Gilda” (1946), “You Were Never Lovelier” (1942), and “Only Angels Have Wings” (1939). The American Film Institute named her one of the 50 greatest American screen legends on its “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Stars,” a list consisting of both men and women film actors.

Hayworth’s gracious smile and the way she is gently leaning on her Lincoln Continental coupe is an indication that cars filled a void where other things failed. Hayworth was also the owner of a 1953 Cadillac Ghia, one of two produced, which now belongs to the Petersen Automotive Museum’s permanent collection. Hayworth, it seemed, had a penchant for Cadillacs, as noted by the 1956 Cadillac Eldorado she once owned and gifted to three-time Purple Heart recipient and Hollywood stuntman Curly Bunhill after her death in 1987.

1949 Delahaye Type 175 S Roadster

What is bad about luxury as long as you can afford it? -Diana Dors

When British film actress and singer Diana Dors acquired her Delahaye Type 175 S Roadster, she was only 17 and did not have a driver’s license. Dors actively worked in her native country and also appeared in American films; her role in the 1956’s “Yield to the Night” earned the best reviews of her motion picture career.

This aqua blue Delahaye two-seat roadster was one of only 51 produced by French coachbuilder Saoutchik. From what we gather, it last sold for $3.3 million at a 2010 auction in California. Other cars the glamorous actress drove included a Rolls-Royce and Cadillac Series 62 Convertible.

1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Transformal Phaeton

Duties are what make life most worth living. Lacking them, you are not necessary to anyone. -Marlene Dietrich

German-born Marlene Dietrich did not give a damn about what her critics thought of her as she continually transformed her appearance. “The Blue Angel” propelled Dietrich into stardom; other notable films of her 65-year movie career include “Morocco” (1930), Shanghai Express (1932), and “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957).

Although the studios kept Dietrich preoccupied, the exceptional film star made time for humanitarian projects during the war. When she arrived in Hollywood in 1930, she was given an immaculate green Rolls-Royce from Paramount Studios director Josef von Sternberg; it is one of only two Transformal Phaetons ever made. To her credit, Dietrich had an aura that exuded confidence, and when accompanied by her luxuriant cars, people surely knew who was in charge.

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