Tuesday, April 1, 2014

TDP Cars

Although a Lab is not required....

What are TDP (and the overlapping preppy) cars?  As with so many questions, the best answer may be to show as much as tell.  Here is a gallery of cars (all photos are from TDP archives, unless otherwise noted), along with a few cars that might be up for debate.

Quotes from the comment section were added after this entry was posted.


Volvos - Wagons and Sedans

When I married, my husband and I always had Volvo 240's. Our last wagon, with 350k miles, left on a flatbed with me taking pictures while crying. Later that day, I called our local dealer to see if any 240's had come in. He told me one had, but regrettably was a 5 speed. I was there in thirty minutes with my check book. That car also lasted over 350k miles and taught 3 children to drive.  From Comments  

In 1989, when I finally had a little money in my pocket, I ran into a happy Volvo dealership and drove out an hour later in a gray 240DL sedan like the one in the photos. I still own it today, and the car has been true to its name and rolled along the roads for 183,000 delightful miles. This past year I decided to give it a needed mechanical and cosmetic facelift. I replaced the huge cloudy headlight covers with crystal clear ones (what a difference it makes), and did brake, exhaust and engine component work. I have no intention of ever getting rid of it -- too many memories.  I never thought of this Volvo as being a Preppy car (even though it’s driven me to Brooks Brothers more times than you can count), but just liked the sturdy styling. I’d visited Sweden for the first time that year and had ridden around in Volvo taxis so I was somewhat familiar with them. Buying this car was one of the few decisions in my life that actually turned out better than I thought.   From Comments  

I have a 1990 dark blue Volvo 240, purely functional and nearly indestructible. My mechanic said to me recently, “do you know what you’ve spent for maintenance over the past eighteen years?”  “Yes”, I answered, “about one-third the cost of buying a new car every six years.”  From Comments 

 Drove a Volvo 240 GL station wagon for 27 years until it passed on. Hated to lose that car! It was such an old friend, full of beach sand, Basset hound fur and wonderful memories. Picked it up at the factory in Sweden with 2 miles on it and it had over 340,000 miles when it sputtered its last. No suspension left.  From Comments 

Drove my old Volvo wagon until it literally died on the side of the road! 250,000 miles. From Comments 
I've driven Volvo's since I was able to drive, including when I lived in the UK. Mostly wagons, some sedans. A great diesel stick-shift one. They're great cars, and I worry about what I am going to do when they're no longer in production. From Comments   



Photo sent by reader

I've owned both sedans and wagons and much prefer the wagon. From Comments  

Will wagons always be preppier than their sedan counterparts?



Volvo wagon says "family first." Older Volvo sedan says "single and available to crew." The more disreputable looking, the better their prep school." From Comments











Land Rovers/ Range Rovers

OLD Land Rover means youthful outlook, high capacity for major discomfort, genuine personality.  NEW Range Rover means "yuppies who think they get it, but don't." What they DO get are really high repair bills . . . From Comments   
Range Rovers are only getting worse and worse. Unfortunately, old Land Rovers are, too, a huge yuppie status symbol, particularly when bought from Classic Car Gallery in Southport. Blame J. Crew, which seems to regularly feature them in catalogs. From Comments  




I'd kill for the cash to be able to keep one of those old land rovers alive on the road. From Comments  











 Subaru Wagons

Subaru wagon is the next-gen's Volvo. Again, beat-up and dirty is key. It has to look like you've USED it, no matter the make or model. Extra points for mud spatter! From Comments  
The Subaru Wagon - The Unofficial Car of New England?
The closest car in the market to what I need is indeed an Outback. And at least they are made in the US in Lafayette, Indiana. From Comments 


We drive Subaru Outbacks. They represent our Yankee frugality, durability, practicality! Perfect for trips to the farmers market. Room for sails, tote bags, dogs, etc. Plows through snow to get to the best snow skiing locations.  Some cars (especially newer) BMW, Mercedes, Land Rovers are a bit too flashy. Understatement is key in my "preppy world."  From Comments   
While modern cars leave much to be desired, I have to agree that Subaru will probably be carrying the torch for preppy wagons from here on out.  From Comments   
A Subaru does what a Volvo used to do, but in a way that is somewhat less satisfying to me. From Comments    


Mercedes

The new Mercedes wagons just look too...well I grasp for the word...counter-prep! Ditto for Land Rover.  From Comments  
My father owned a 1959 pearl gray Mercedes 190 sedan back when there were only two mechanics in New England certified from Germany. Not a wise choice of cars. From Comments  
 1985 Mercedes 300D - is there anything else? From Comments 
Audi, BMW and Mercedes have long since abandoned their once characteristic Teutonic design restraint. Mercedes, in particular, is now bling on wheels (and for reasons that Paul Fussel commented upon in his 1983 book Class, was always suspect in the first place). Much the same with Range Rover and Jaguar. All of these manufacturers are clearly pursuing some other potential buyer who, among other details, wouldn’t evidently be a regular reader of this blog. From Comments 

Their cut in quality as a direct attempt to get the price down since Lexus was eating their lunch in terms of sales figures by the late 1990's.From Comments  
My dream car is however a late 1980's Mercedes SL280 and up (to a 500 V8) in the cream color with both hard and soft tops intact. From Comments 









Preppy?  Or just expensive?

Audis

Audi? Right up there with Tory Burch logo bags as the mark du jour of the Émigré from the Bronx. 3-year lease also applies.  From Comments 

Audi Wagons - Is Older Better?

What About Sedans?

Saabs

Anything pre-GM gets extra cool points. GM period gets no cool points, but will occasionally run, unlike their older counterparts.   From Comments   
Preppiest car prior to 1993: Tie between Saab 900 and Volvo 240. From Comments  
I find Saabs to be for the preppies who don't want to be preppies, but they are anyway. (If that makes any sense.)  From Comments  
The SAAB 900 was the best car I ever owned. Trustworthy in the most inclement of weather. Huge carrying capacity, really comfortable with heated front seats, and always elegant in an understated sort of way. What's more preppy than that! Unfortunately SAAB went back to what it does best: build fighter planes. Too bad for us! From Comments 
For me, the ultimate prep car is a Saab 900turbo in that Saab Green color way. Any Saab up through the early 2000's (2005 or prior) speaks volumes about the driver. I personally drive a black 330i with Cape Cod and Islands plates from 01', I love it.  From Comments 

The Swedish Staple, Now Gone

BMWs

European cars more often than not carry some cutoff year - it varies from make to make, although generally located in the first half of the 2000s - where before said year they were the quintessence of prep, and after, not so much. Brand loyalty means that a good many who cut their teeth on the best examples will still buy the brand, but the heyday is gone. From Comments 
BMW's if over 15 years old; just like Old, Disreputable Volvo Sedans above, but they must have been owned, loved, beaten on, and given "character" by a generation or two. New Beemers, not at all, if only because _everyone_ knows they're mostly acquired via 3-year lease. Ditto the Benz; too often driven as company cars by Realtors with shiny suits!  From Comments   


In the place I summer in Maine, the rich people drive BMW's, but the really rich people drive old Hondas... New England thrift is something that must be seen to be believed..   From Comments    


What about SUVs if they are small enough?

Others?

Where do sports cars, SUVs, and antique cars fit in? And others?
SUVs--No, unless you have a genuine need for extra ground clearance (living up on a hill in the woods, getting an oversand permit, etc.). But even then, we're talking Grand Cherokees or Tahoes or something; luxury German or Japanese SUVs are nothing more than empty symbols of suburban decadence.   From Comments    
Sports cars work best when they are treated in a similar way to silver - that is, ideally not purchased directly. Buying oneself a brand new Mercedes SL might be gauche. Inheriting a pagoda top is welcome, however. From Comments   




When younger, I had a series of MGs--MGAs and MGBs. They were fun cars. There were two problems I encountered with the Morse Garage vehicles, though, and both involved rain. The first was parking the car and leaving the top down as I went into a restaurant or party. Inevitably, there would be a thunderstorm. My British friend summed it up nicely. "Ah, yes, MGs. And another night of wet-ass!"  The other problem involved the last MG I owned: a B. It couldn't be driven in the rain at night. It would short out. That happened late one night on the way back to New Haven from Newport just as we crossed from RI into Conn. That was the end of my MGs.   From Comments  

Try an old (1970s) V8 Morgan; two buckled-up leather straps holding the long bonnet down, a black lab and picnic hamper (F&M will do) stuffed in the back. No other car snakes round tight country lanes quite like a Moggy nor looks more at home spattered in mud.  From Comments







The Precursor to the Classic Preppy Ford Country Squire of the Seventies?


What a preppy wagon of the Early 1960s might have looked like waiting for the Block Island Ferry.









Preppy Cars will congregate naturally in the wild.



These photos were sent to TDP after the entry was posted.

Marblehead's F.L. Woods' Isetta

Isetta

Ferrari also from F.L. Woods

Mercedes; Reader Photo


152 comments:

DT Chase said...

Glad to see an International Harvester in there!

The preppiest vehicles I have ever known were always function over form.

Greenfield said...

Hmmm . . . some quick thoughts:

Volvo wagon says "family first." Older Volvo sedan says "single and available to crew." ; ) The more disreputable looking, the better their prep school. Small, tasteful Dead-Head sticker & ski rack are key. NO kayaks!

OLD Land Rover means youthful outlook, high capacity for major discomfort, genuine personality.
NEW Range Rover means "yuppies who think they get it, but don't." What they DO get are really high repair bills . . .

American cars and SUV's are currently an under-the-radar kind of Prep, turning up with regularity in front of PYC. Saabs, regrettably now becoming rare, always qualify.

BMW's if over 15 years old; just like Old, Disreputable Volvo Sedans above, but they must have been owned, loved, beaten on, and given "character" by a generation or two. New Beemers, not at all, if only because _everyone_ knows they're mostly acquired via 3-year lease. Ditto the Benz; too often driven as company cars by Realtors with shiny suits!

Audi? Right up there with Tory Burch logo bags as the mark du jour of the Émigré from the Bronx. 3-year lease also applies.

Muffy's right on that the Subaru wagon is the next-gen's Volvo.
Again, beat-up and dirty is key.
It has to look like you've USED it, no matter the make or model.
Extra points for mud spatter!


Colt said...

The "preppy car" with the University of Wyoming window decal has my Mountain West sensibilities all confused.

WRJ said...

Mercedes, BMW, and Audis--yes, if in wagon form or from back when they were available in dark green (which no manufacturer seems to offer as an option anymore, to my annoyance).

Subarus--no. They're ugly. They're decorated with plastic wood. They're highly likely to contain bicycling-spandex-clad occupants. Subarus are for Boomers who have really given up, and, well--that other demographic they're associated with.

Range Rovers are only getting worse and worse. Unfortunately, old Land Rovers are, too, a huge yuppie status symbol, particularly when bought from Classic Car Gallery in Southport. Blame J. Crew, which seems to regularly feature them in catalogs. Though I'd still take one, if anyone's offering.

Volvos, of course. Though their designs are on a precipitous decline. Saab--well, I'm biased. Anything pre-GM gets extra cool points. Post-GM gets no cool points, but will occasionally run, unlike their older counterparts.

SUVs--No, unless you have a genuine need for extra ground clearance (living up on a hill in the woods, getting an oversand permit, etc.). But even then, we're talking Grand Cherokees or Tahoes or something; luxury German or Japanese SUVs are nothing more than empty symbols of suburban decadence.

Though I find both sports cars and antique cars interesting, actually driving them around borders on the type of attention-seeking behavior for which I don't have a lot of patience.

Anonymous said...

What about vehicles for those blessed with four kids? Does the utility of the mini-van beat out larger SUVs?

Flo said...

Nothing says preppy to me more than a Volvo station wagon. Roomy, functional and durable.

Some which used to be old standbys I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole these days because they have such lousy repair records. BMW is a perfect example of this. I had a recent model Mini Cooper (made by BMW) and while it had some wonderful features and ideas, it was junk. While I was having it serviced I was looking at some of the cars on the lot--seriously, a BMW SUV for over $70,000??? I don't know of ANY car that I would spend that much money on. Especially one that spends most of it's life in the service bay.

Matthew said...

What a lovely gallery of photos. Thank you!

As always, it depends on how we define "preppy." I'll simply say that I know a few people from very old money New England, and their cars are completely inconspicuous: older but meticulous Toyotas, Cadillacs, perhaps a high-mileage Jeep Wagoneer or Mercedes sedan, etc.

I once tried to explain to a friend from Houston, TX that, in the place I summer in Maine, the rich people drive BMW's, but the really rich people drive old Hondas. He didn't get it. New England thrift is something that must be seen to be believed. Subarus and Volvos are probably fine for this portion of the upper crust. But a Range Rover? Never.

RCW said...

Most enjoyable seeing some fine older cars.
I lament the fact that Volvo is now owned by a Chinese company.

We drive Subaru Outbacks. They represent our Yankee frugality, durability, practicality! Perfect for trips to the farmers market. Room for sails, tote bags, dogs, etc. Plows through snow to get to the best snow skiing locations.
Some cars (especially newer) BMW, Mercedes, Land Rovers are a bit too flashy. Understatement is key in my "preppy world."

binker said...

I never thought of the Subaru Outback as preppy (always think Volvo and Saab)..but, I need mine for driving around New England..especially the more mountainous terrain. Feels very sturdy and safe, too.

Ann Poldark said...

Drove my old Volvo wagon until it literally died on the side of the road! 250,000 miles. The new Mercedes wagons just look too...well I grasp for the word...counter-prep! Ditto for Land Rover. An old LR Defender, now that is a classic.
The closest car in the market to what I need is indeed an Outback. And at least they are made in the US in Lafayette, Indiana.

Anonymous said...

My father always drove Ford Country Squires with the wood panels. For the past 31 years, we drove Volvo wagons - the old DL and the V70 - and loved them. Now, we drive an Acura TL and an Audi Q5 and love them both - not sure if we'll ever go back to Volvos. In our old age we are enjoying the luxury!

Lawrence DeVore said...

Epic post. I'd kill for the cash to be able to keep one of those old land rovers alive on the road.

Anonymous said...

My father owned a 1959 pearl gray Mercedes 190 sedan back when there were only two mechanics in New England certified from Germany. Not a wise choice of cars.

My cousin’s son, who spent half his trust fund following the Grateful Dead all over the United States for a decade (yes, you heard that right) drove a Volkswagen bus. I think it must have been the hundred stickers that kept that wretched beast from falling apart.

I have a 1990 dark blue Volvo 240, purely functional and nearly indestructible. My mechanic said to me recently, “do you know what you’ve spent for maintenance over the past eighteen years?”

“Yes”, I answered, “about one-third the cost of buying a new car every six years.”

Back in my early twenties, I had a 1965 Porsche 912 painted in Irish Green. How I loved that car, almost as much as my girlfriend, until the engine seized one night on the way home from Boothbay. I can still hear the horrifying scream as it threw a piston rod. To this day, I stand by my original statement that the oil gauge failed.

MGC

Anonymous said...

I traded in my white volvo wagon which was just a few years old for a white Ford Flex, which i would like to propose for the list. Its perfect. It adjusts to my husband's 6' 3 after my 5'4 and is comfortable for both of us (and anyone in the second and row) and our children and goldens. The visibility is terrific and it seats 7 comfortably and gets terrific gas mileage (still fitting in the garqge as its not uber tall) But we bought it because to me it looks totally American, clean, respectable and happy. It doesnt look gangsterish but rather like an old woody. So for looks. But, hey, we live in Newport Beach.

Tabby said...

Drove a Volvo 240 GL station wagon for 27 years until it passed on. Hated to lose that car! It was such an old friend, full of beach sand, Basset hound fur and wonderful memories. Picked it up at the factory in Sweden with 2 miles on it and it had over 340,000 miles when it sputtered its last. No suspension left.

Anonymous said...

Mom drove an old Volvo like the white one pictured and Dad had a black 1952 MG - ah, the memories.

I have a Volvo wagon which has enough room for whatever the load may be - kids with sticks, furniture found at the thrift, ski equipment, or the dogs.

The folks in my area who drive Subarus seem to those from the 1960s who still have not cut their hair.

A man in our neighborhood who has the Mercedes that you cited as possibly too expensive, prompted my great aunt to ask if he was Hermann Goring. What can I say - she is 90 and has an acerbic tongue.

Best,
Allegra

Anonymous said...

Agree on all fronts with some additions:

For those of us in the South, I would add the following:

Tahoes/Yukons, Older Suburbans, 4Runners and Tacomas (older than '04), Land Cruisers (older than '04), Jeep Cherokee (84-01), Jeep Grand Cherokee (98-04), Any Jeep older than '86

Like so many of the other cars, just because you own one, doesn't make you preppy. What makes them preppy will be if they're used for (hunting/beach/hauling boat) and need the following: School decal (no state schools unless they're SEC, UVA, or UNC); DU decal, beach decal (note sandals, or other tacky decals don't count, neither to beaches perceived as trashy)

Of course we also have to walk the tight rope of whether you're a Good Ole Boy or a Redneck, just like the line between Yuppie and Preppy more commonly seen up North.

I myself have owned the following: '83 MB 240D, '84 MB 300D, '98 Cherokee, '02 MB E430, '99 Cherokee (current), '03 Tacoma (current- beach 4x4)

Best Regards, MTC

Reggie Darling said...

When I graduated from Saint Grottlesex in 1974, five of my classmates received BMW 2002s as graduation gifts. I will always consider the 2002 to be the quintesstential preppy car for those of us of a certain age, followed by Volvos, Saabs, and Mercedes. More recently Land and Range Rovers have come to primacy. I am guilty as charged!

Anonymous said...

In Maine, where I live, Subaru wagons and old Saab 900s(the old style, often with an extra one in convertible form in the garage for summer) are the preppy norm. I have never seen so many Saabs in any other state. Cars bought new, especially with luxury brands, are always the mid-range model and then handed down to diminish any hint of flashiness. The truly rich preps I know often have a Mercedes E350 wagon, full of dog hair, covered in school and membership stickers various and sundry, and at least 8 years old(again, handed down) as well as a new Honda or Subaru. All cars tend to be all wheel drive and capable of hauling dogs and sporting equipment.

Main Line Sportsman said...

How could you leave out the jeep Wagoneer…the ultra prep vehicle!

Fred Johnson said...

I too vote for Subaru; I am on my fourth Forester. Around CT, especially New Haven/Fairfield County, these are the cars to drive, good reliable transportation in all kinds of weather.

Mayes Hall said...

Saab to me was always the definitive prep car.

I long for Saab's return.

Anonymous said...

Audi, BMW and Mercedes have long since abandoned their once characteristic Teutonic design restraint. Mercedes, in particular, is now bling on wheels (and for reasons that Paul Fussel commented upon in his 1983 book Class, was always suspect in the first place). Much the same with Range Rover and Jaguar. All of these manufacturers are clearly pursuing some other potential buyer who, among other details, wouldn’t evidently be a regular reader of this blog. I recognize the status that Subaru now has as a potential prep replacement for Volvo and dear departed Saab, but there is still something slightly clumsy about their appearance.

I am a little disheartened by the grief that current model Volvos get on this blog as I think their present offerings, while more swoop-y than the refrigerator boxes of yore, are still nevertheless tasteful and comparatively restrained measured against other cars.

And when was Porsche ever preppy?

Anonymous said...

It is really sad what has been done to the Scandinavian boxy but good cars (Volvo and Saab.) And sadly there there are fewer of even the old ones on the road today (that is what I have noticed on 2 trips there to see family.)

--EM

Lancer RIUSA said...

Where is the Woody Grand Wagoneer? A beautiful rusting hulk for skiing and oversand. Crash tests poorly.

I disagree on the SUV not being preppy for those of us who ski, sail, and go work in any and all weather. A used Rover does this well. In RI we have a foot snow or two feet of water on the road, sometime in the same week.

Lancer RIUSA said...

Echoing Mathews comments. I have seen no better example of New England thrift than that exhibited by the residents on Hanover, NH. Judging by their clothes and cars, an elderly resident could be either on social security or a billionaire.
Nothing flashy but also lacking the sense of fun enjoyed by Southern Preps. Although my birth place I felt the culture was dominated by the fear "that it would lead to dancing." This is seen in local cars plenty of Subarus few Saab convertibles or old rovers.

BlueTrain said...

Our first Volvo lasted eighteen years, hardly a record, and we still have three at home. Unfortunately, none have been as reliable as the first one. On the other hand, they all have an average of over 100,000 miles. But my Rover 2000-TC of many years ago did that.

I don't think preppy when I think of cars, only that all the interesting ones (Not necessary the GOOD ones) are no longer around. No MGs, Triumphs, Austins, Renaults, Peugeots, Citroens, or Checkers. Not at all preppy but a Checker was the ultimate anti-status car. I didn't see any in the photos but I'm surprised there were no Peugeots or Morgans in any of the photos.

I owned a Land-Rover in college and there were two others on campus, too. I sort of got that out of my system early. Incredibly, the company I work for owns two Range Rovers. I do regret not having owned a Discovery (or "Disco") but you can't drive on those old strip mines anymore.

R. Rafael said...

Preppiest car you can buy new today: Volvo S60.
Preppiest car prior to 1993: Tie between Saab 900 and Volvo 240.
Preppiest car of the 70s: BMW Bavaria that you bought from Max Hoffman.

BlueTrain said...

It's probably bad form to make a comment so soon after having just make one but my mind is going. Probably time for a 100,000 mile maintenance. But cars bring back so many memories, mostly good.

A dear college professor who taught humanities drove a Volkswagen Fastback. It struck me as a very practical sort of thing to have. But for style, if you were a college professor, you had to have a Karmann Ghia. Totally impractical, not particularly sporty but ever so appropriate in a way I can't even begin to explain. I have no idea what they would drive these days.

I realize that preppy isn't the same as Greek, as in fraternaties, but there is an association just the same. I went to a school with a strong Greek presence. One fraternity owned an old fire truck, which would be driven around town on home football weekends. Can a fire truck be preppy.

Finally, one old friend from my single days was proud that her father had owned a Delahaye. Not preppy but she wasn't an American anyway.

cpd said...

Definitely something with some miles on it. You probably also are on a first name basis with your mechanic.

Early Broncos and Woodie Jeeps?

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad others mentioned the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. We had one for years, and never fixed the broken gas gauge. Many, many times we'd run out of fuel (always on the way home from the beach, no less) and would spend a good hour or two on the side of the road with all the windows down (I don't think the a/c worked either, and my parents were too New England to get it fixed). It was such a glorious car, perfect for the drive-in when you could open the boot and completely lie down with room for two or three others with you.

Brian said...

This was a great post. As a dyed-in-the-wool 240 fanatic, I was happy to see an identical version of my white 245 (known in my home as the Daddy Wagon). I've owned both sedans and wagons and much prefer the wagon.

While modern cars leave much to be desired, I have to agree that Subaru will probably be carrying the torch for preppy wagons from here on out.

As for cars that I think should've made the list, definitely Jeep Wagoneers but also the Cherokee (XJ). Much like other cars on the list, the styling remained relatively unchanged for almost 20 years and it continues to be one of the longest lasting vehicles on the road.

Full-size American sedans and wagons like the Chevy Caprice, Buick Roadmaster, Ford Crown Victoria etc. should also get a nod.

Anonymous said...

My family has always driven Olds and Buicks, and a utilitarian-but-clean pick up truck of sort. Definitely not preppy, but American made, which is key. --Holly in PA

RWK said...

"Subarus--no. They're ugly. They're decorated with plastic wood. They're highly likely to contain bicycling-spandex-clad occupants. Subarus are for Boomers who have really given up, and, well--that other demographic they're associated with." - WJR

Couldn't agree more. Subaru's are not preppy for the same reason that J. Crew isn't preppy. Also, they are a P.O.S.

Anonymous said...

I always swore by Volvo wagons, but when the XC changed in 2001 it came with a rash of notorious reliability problems and we switched to Subaru because they embody what Volvo once did. The cars are rugged, reliable, unpretentious and easy to work on. Yes, the "leather" is not real, and the wood is fake as well, but the seats are still heated and so is the windshield. I also own an E36 M3, so I guess I qualify for "old" BMW to some degree.

Great stuff, as usual.

Zach said...

I'm currently driving a forest green Volvo S80 after having to part ways with my forest green LR Disco when it was beyond repair. Both are great cars in the New England winter, and the Volvo, while old, is still going, but I sorely miss the Disco.

-Zach

CPC said...

I've got two Audi's, both over 14 years old. Use them regularly and they've been reliable over time. A good mechanic is key. 14 New England winters later and we've still yet to be stuck in the snow, thank you Quattro!

Anonymous said...

Love my Jeep CJ. Have owned a Volvo wagon and a BMW, but the jeep is my favorite! Complete with a Westie decal. A must for living in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Loved the photos of all the vintage cars!

Anonymous said...

Our 1990 Volvo 740 Wagon was undoubtedly the worst car I ever owned. Well maintained, but with well under 100k, the radiator failed, the AC never ran properly, the locks on 3 of 4 doors had to be replaced, it would never hold the alignment and pulled right, and the turbo failed. Other than that, it was great.
RW

Anonymous said...

Sorry this may be a bit off subject but I am moving into a house with no appliances...the first comment "function over form" in relation to vehicles may also pertain to my task of buying appliances. I would love to get some help here as Muffy and all the wonderful comments have steared me in the right direction on many other purchases. A recent trip to Sears has me even more confussed as the appliances are now all so high tech. and do not look like they are made to last. Help...

Anonymous said...

Does it get any cooler than the old Volvo wagon with a Lab poking his head out of the window in front of Granite Hall Store in Round Pond, ME? Would love to find one of those wagons in mint condition. Until then my '98 dark green Volvo XC will do nicely.
Chuck R.

Anonymous said...

When younger, I had a series of MGs--MGAs and MGBs. They were fun cars. There were two problems I encountered with the Morse Garage vehicles, though, and both involved rain. The first was parking the car and leaving the top down as I went into a restaurant or party. Inevitably, there would be a thunderstorm. My British friend summed it up nicely. "Ah, yes, MGs. And another night of wet-ass!"

The other problem involved the last MG I owned: a B. It couldn't be driven in the rain at night. It would short out. That happened late one night on the way back to New Haven from Newport just as we crossed from RI into Conn. That was the end of my MGs.

I now drive a 1996 Audi A4. It will be 19 years old in the fall. When I first bought it I asked the mechanic how long they could go. He said they are built to run 3-400,000 miles. I'm at 260,000 now. Still runs like a charm.

Cheers,
Gary

Anonymous said...

Just bought a 1994 volvo 940 sedan (non-turbo) with ~13k miles on it. Known as "The Swedish Brick" according to my friend who helped me inspect the car, I think it's a great first car. It might not be as utilitarian as the wagon, but hopefully I won't be needing that extra space any time soon. I'd like a 1993 240 (passenger side airbags were introduced in '93), but that is a hard find

Anonymous said...

Everyone has different tastes on all things prep! The obvious demographics are an interesting part of this discussion.

My Subaru maybe "ugly" to some, but it is made in the USA, it will last and last, and holds its value.
It does not even whisper "look at me", which in my preppy mind is a desirable trait.
LOL... spandex has never touched it's real leather seats but then I don't know anyone who would wear spandex. It hauls our dogs, our sailing gear, etc. Economical gas mileage as well.
Where I live and the activities we enjoy, all point to a Subaru Outback as being a good choice of a vehicle. I really don't care whether or not it is the epitome of preppy, for impressing another is not why I enjoy mine.
One maybe critical of someone else's yacht club, church, politics, hairstyle or whatever, but not someone's car! : )

Thanks Muffy for another enlightening post!

mary anne said...

I currently drive a 12 year old Audi Allroad wagon, dark green. It has this amazing button that lifts the car up and over snow when needed. BTW,there is no lease involved here, or financing of any sort. The heated steering wheel is also great for our cold Idaho winters. So, perhaps too many creature comforts for Yankee sensibilities, but I really enjoy this car.

We have also had Volvos, Jerps, Subarus and an ancient Land Rover that was so much fun.

I don't think it's the brand of car necessarily, but it's practicality that counts.

Anonymous said...

SUVs are very popular among preppy Southerners, particularly Chevy/GMC Suburbans and Yukons/Tahoes, for their cargo room and better driving on rough terrain. Those with more frugal sensibilities opt for Toyota Sequoias, which are much more reliable and will outlive anything ever slapped together by GM, and aren't shamelessly showy like their Lexus counterparts.

A note about Jeeps: when I was in high school, many of my preppy classmates had Jeep Cherokees as their first cars, but over time, they and their parents figured out just how far downhill Jeep's reliability had slid since the Grand Wagoneer days of yore, and nowadays no preppy person buys a Jeep unless it's 30 years old and intended for occasional recreational use only.

Down South, we have frugal preps like my parents and myself, and then we have peacock preps, who like to show off and draw attention to themselves. That's just how some of us are down here. So you have some who buy modest, reliable SUVs or Volvos and drive them until they fall apart, and others who buy flashy, expensive SUVs and sedans every 3-5 years. Take a drive through the parking lot at an exclusive Southern country club and you'll find Lexus LX400s, Audis, Land/Range Rovers, Jaguar sedans, and Mercedes mixing company with humble Suburbans, Sequoias, Expeditions, Highlanders, and Volvos.

Hardly any preppy person buys American sedans (except Lincolns and Cadillacs for preppy car buyers over the age of 70), economy Japanese sedans, or small SUVs such as RAV-4 or Escape, which don't have enough room for that nice chest of drawers you found at the flea market.

Any purely aesthetic "customization" to the exterior after it leaves the factory renders a car un-preppy, with the exception of adding darker tint to the windows of an SUV behind the front row and a limited number of bumper stickers of non-political, non-humorous, and non-commercial nature. Religious imagery is acceptable only on stickers from parochial schools or a local church, provided they do not bear any scripture or commentary. CB antennas, gun racks, brush guards/push bars, and fishing pole racks are not preppy.

Anonymous said...

I love the pictures of the beautiful cars. However, my number one priority for a car is reliability. I have a Subaru Forester. It is practical and reliable. I take it canoeing, haul dogs, and groceries. It's a great little car. I have never been stuck in the snow. I remember once having to avoid a Porsche which was sliding around. I wonder if the driver still thought his car was cool. The money I save on gas and repair bills I can bank for retirement. I've had it for 8 years, and at this rate will probably have it for another 15.

suzi lazear said...

My dad brought his Subaru when I was four, and had it for over 400,000 miles--most of which was trekking through the mountains for camping, fishing, and visits to the snow. Later he bought a small 4-wheel drive SUV, which I inherited and still drive. Recently we brought it in to be repaired and the mechanic was surprised that there was actual dirt on it. We live in SoCal and a lot of the "off road" cars never see more adventure than the 405 at rush hour. Hubs has a Jeep CJ5, which is older than me, and has no roof. (Why bother, it doesn't rain much, besides, driving in the rain/cold builds character.) I just want a reliable car that can go where I need it to. I don't care much about it being new or expensive. Cyannes, Escalades, and the like pepper my daughter's school's parking lot. But I don't have to go "can we take your car camping? I don't want to get mine dirty."

John B said...

I grew up in rural Texas where 'preppy' was non existant. There was one guy in my high school that I would have considered preppy and we were friends. In a a school where everyone wore blue jeans and t-shirts or western shirts he wore polos and khaki's. He did not even own any blue jeans.

When he was 16, his dad told him he had to get a job and make the payments on his first car. He preferred to spend his money on tennis gear and girls. For the amount of two car payments he bought a surplus Post office Jeep and had it painted green. He drove it from age 16 to 24.

I will always associate that green post office jeep as preppy. The only problem with it was it was so light weight that 4 football players could pick it up and turn it sideways in a parking space making it impossible to leave school until the people next to you did....

Joyce North said...

I love the sweet lab in the car and the little white house in the upper right of the first picture.

Katahdin said...

@Gary APRIL 2, 2014 AT 11:38 AM

*Morris

Anonymous said...

I think the list is SUV-light. Despite their recent unpopularity, born of relative fuel inefficiency, a number of SUV's are quintessentially preppy to my mind. Notable are: Toyota Land Cruisers (which I drive), especially the FJ-70 series - the boxy ones from the 1980's. Also, especially in the South: Chevy Tahoe's, Suburbans, and Yukons, and even pickup trucks. (Pickup trucks may seem indefensible to some, but they connote a close association with the land (a preppy virtue) - and potentially farm or (here in Texas) ranch ownership.)

To me, though, the preppiest vehicle ever made was the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. A close second would be a mercedes station wagon with a diesel engine.

Anonymous said...

The biggest factor my family has always considered is reliability. This includes long-term use (ride until it dies). It also has to look aesthetically pleasing.

We have had bought Volvo, Jeep, and Audi in recent years. Our last Volvo was driven for 14 years and than passed onto our oldest child for his car when he got his license. And then he inherited our old Jeep.

BMW, Mercedes, Range Rover work as well. It key is not to buy American for the most part and usually not Japanese.

Katahdin said...

Here in the land of out-sized SUV's driven by self-entitled soccer moms (Marin County), the fun question to ask is "What kind of horses?", as in no one would own such a resource-squandering vehicle absent the need to tow a heavy trailer...

Anonymous said...

G-wagons are too blingy

Anonymous said...

Katahdin,

Good catch. I had Inspector Morse on the brain.

Cheers,
Gary

BlueTrain said...

If I might inquire, what does "self-entitled" mean? The proper thing to tow your trailer is the biggest pickup truck you can afford. The fact that you then have to drive it everywhere, even when your trailer (horse, boat or house) is in storage, can be seen as a bonus.

While a Chevy Suburban may or may not be preppy, they have acquired a certain image, at least if it's black. I imagine people get Ford Expeditions because they're Ford people and found an Explorer too small.

Now for having to choose between spending your money on a car or on girl(s), that is a problem. You first need the car, no question.

Patsy said...

Love the International! We had that stupid MB turbo diesel wagon, 1995, I think. It leaked through the sunroof and got all moldy. Ick. We gave it to my stepson, since it only went about 40 mph and you could hear the diesel coming home from 3 blocks away.

Love my Subaru wagons - not sure why cars have to be dirty to be preppy, though....here in New England, if you want your car to last, you better keep it clean, or it will rot away. Must be peeps from the South?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the older model Honda Accords could be considered preppy?

Laurie Ann said...

My late father instilled a love of cars in me at an early age. As we drove down the road, he would always share info on all the vehicles we passed. I especially loved it when he got excited at seeing a rare car. I so miss his great stories.

When I married, my husband and I always had Volvo 240's. Our last wagon, with 350k miles, left on a flatbed with me taking pictures while crying. Later that day, I called our local dealer to see if any 240's had come in. He told me one had, but regrettably was a 5 speed. I was there in thirty minutes with my check book. That car also lasted over 350k miles and taught 3 children to drive.

We also had a Suburban, necessary for towing shells along the eastern seaboard and trips to the nursery, pick up trucks, for same purpose and most recently, a Honda CRV. I have to say this little car has been great in the worst of conditions. Only problem is that it just doesn't have enough room for my trips to the nursery.

As for classics, SL's prior to 1980, MG's with luggage racks and Morgans from England.

@ John B. I drove my mother's VW Fastback into a snow bank late one evening (won't say how) and four guys from the local tavern (hint) lifted it up and turned me around. Ah, chivalry.

Katahdin said...

@Blue Train

Perhaps not according to Hoyle, but as the term is commonly used in the Bay Area - Self-entitled: To furnish oneself with a right or claim to something (from Entitled: To furnish with a right or claim to something)

Linda said...

Being married to a guy who loves his cars, I have had the Volvo, Audi, and now 2 MB's. He has a Porsche, for us buying and selling cars is much better then playing the stock market. My children had the BMW's, older and indeed vintage. Both of them are not preppy since neither drive euro imports these days. Honestly, not one was ever leased - we do not grasp the concept of a lease, sorry. I am a realtor, but do not own any shiny suits, nor is my car a write off . . . our accountant avoids anything that might wake up the IRS agent. Anyway . . . I adore all these cars, thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I can get some opinions on those custom monogrammed car window decals I see offered by so many self-styled "preppy" online merchants. It seems like I only see two kinds of people putting them on their cars: high school and college girls from preppy backgrounds, and non-preppy adult women who think they're being "classy" when they stick them on their decade-old Honda Pilots.

Pigtown*Design said...

I've driven Volvo's since I was able to drive, including when I lived in the UK. Mostly wagons, some sedans. A great diesel stick-shift one. They're great cars, and I worry about what I am going to do when they're no longer in production.

Where I live, Subaru wagons say middle-age lesbians with two kids.

Chesapeake said...

Grew up in Annapolis with an old 240 sedan (manual) with wooden roof racks and a back seat full of lacrosse equipment.

BlueTrain said...

These are some of the best comments of any thread, at least of the ones I can relate to. It is a pity, though, when cars were something to be loved and adored, no matter how much you cursed them, how often they broke down or how quickly they rusted out. There were cars that seemed unattainable, something you could only read about in an English car magazine, like Autocar, until you chanced to see one for sale in a small town on the near side of nowhere. Cars like Bristols, Triumph Stags, Alfas (any Alpha), or Lancias. Porches are almost in that category; AC Cobras barely (unfortunate association with racing). For those who now drive Volvos (Subaru owners still have a motorbike), those are only dreams these days.

This remains, too: is it proper to have vanity tags on one's car?

Katahdin said...

As a young trainee, I was transferred by my firm from New York to Los Angeles where I was given the office Volvo beater to drive (the director was a public school Brit). Beverly Hills' restaurant parking valets would barely deign to touch it. Occasionaly, I would leave the car in neutral when I pulled up: the imminent threat to Bentleys, Benz's and large Bimmers always got their attention.

Unknown said...

Seeing lot of pictures of Damariscotta, Round Pond, Rock Port. Makes me anxious to leave Illinois and return to New Harbor in my black Suburban.Preppy or not.....nothing helps the Maine economy like an antique lover packing up her beloved Suburban !!! Jinny

Alexandra said...

I had a Volvo wagon all through my college years (1970s) and loved that car so much. Friends and I drove it cross-country and back 3 times during summers! It was the era of the cross-country road trips so popular with college kids back then although many others were traveling in Volkswagon vans. That Volvo wagon (painted in what was known at the time as California White) was eventually replaced by another great Volvo wagon that was a weird turquoise color but I loved it. Later I moved to Saab my favorite being the 900 series. To this day I am sorry that I sold that car and replaced it with a Volvo Cross Country wagon. That Cross Country wagon was a lemon! I poured so much money into getting it fixed all the time that I finally just had to get rid of it. As much as I had, up until that car, loved Volvos I decided I was swearing off them. I wish Saab as we once knew it, was still around. They were durable, classic and sturdy. My husband has always been partial to Mercedes Benz diesels and that's kind of where we remain today. One of our cars is a 25 year old MB diesel sedan...it's going strong. Agree that the preppy element used to mean being low-key about one's vehicle and wanting to own something that was well-made and dependable. Now it seems many choose cars that are all about looking flashy and that represent conspicuous consumption.

Anonymous said...

This is really reaffirming that that I'm really prep :-). I've been driving Volvos, Saabs, Suburu's (wearing a Barbour) forever even though I live in the mid-west and have no connection to New England culture.

James said...

After several cars, including VW Beetle, Jensen-Healy, Volvo, Porsche, and Subaru to name a few, the Subaru's are the most practical and reliable (preppy!), with perhaps a tie for reliability with Chevrolet Corvette (unpreppy but forgiven!). I also miss the way-back machine of my Land Rover "tribute" by Isuzu, the Trooper II. It only knew "practical" as comfort was a missing element. :) Cheers.

WendyBee said...

Being very much a sentimentalist, I am smitten with the older cars. Decades ago, when my grandparents had the base lodge concession at Sugarloaf (the Schuss Café), she drove a Mercedes and he drove an International Scout. They were quite a pair, and could always rely on the Mercedes diesel engine to start in the cold, and the Scout could handle the rugged terrain (Grampa liked to go to secluded fishing spots off-road, or take us fiddleheading or berry picking in remote locations in the mountains. With such great memories, who can blame me for being attached to the old cars?

Stephanie said...

Pigtown@2:40

Shhh....Don't let my husband know he is a middle-aged lesbian with two kids!

Tom Conroy said...

Volvo is probably the old trad answer. I confess though I have been in love with American cars (and British two seaters) since childhood in the 1960s. Today I drive a Buick, the brand that a very long time ago was called 'The Doctor's car'.

Anonymous said...

At 16 I took my driver's test in my family's slate blue diesel Mercedes wagon. I drove it through high school, college, grad school, and crossed the country in it several times. It was the preppy-ist and best car I ever had. That was almost 25 years ago.
I hope she's out there somewhere, filled with bio-diesel, making some hipster family very happy.

Max said...


This comment is more in regards to car interiors, and I don't know how ''properly preppy'' it is considered to be; I just love Sheepskin Seat Covers! They add a comfort and texture to the car interior, that makes it feel like a second living room to me. The car as your home away from home.
I might be considered to be an ''Alpine Prep'' because I spent more of my summers and winters in the mountains (and I am actually currently living on the western foothills of the Rocky Mountains) and around fresh water/lakes/rivers than on the seaside, and for an Alpine Prep like me, Sheepskin seat covers are just fantastic (Sheepskin covered steering wheels might be considered a tad extreme and funky looking, but they are very useful in cold temperatures). I think Sheepskin seat covers can work great for Coastal/Country/City Preps too. I only have the covers on the two front seats at the moment. I could not imagine driving without them anymore and for me personally Sheepskin seat covers have become quintessentially preppy and make every car a little preppier(at least on the inside).
They can be bought in an universal size, which is the more economic option, or for fancier cars, they can be custom-fitted. And they easily last 10+ years. So I think it is a good investment on many levels. For animal/sheep lovers, they can also be bought as an imitation sheepskin, but I don't know how comfortable, insulating and long-lasting those are. I personally only buy the real sheepskin covers.
As you can tell, I am slightly obsessed with Sheepskin Seat Covers :-)
Here is a link with some more information: http://www.shearcomfort.com/Sheepskin-Seat-Covers.asp

DT Chase said...

How could I forget that Jackie O, when staying at her place in Gay Head, drove around in a pleasantly non-polished Oldsmobile station wagon. Patricia Neal would also be squired about in her Olds wagon.

One could always tell the old guard from the arriviste on MV from the newness of their vehicle!

Anonymous said...

I almost forgot my Mercedes 190 (bought used) from the mid 1960’s, a tank if there ever was one. I drove it from Boston to Acapulco, stopping along the way to visit friends.

On the way home, driving on the highway that runs from the foothills of the Sierra Madre to Nuevo Laredo, I hit a rather large pig that had escaped from his pen and emerged from the bushes, too late for me to apply the brakes. I was traveling at 85mph when I made contact, sending the pig flying across the road and into a ditch.

Now granted, that Mercedes was a beast; it took three people to push it out of a snow bank whenever it got stuck, but the damage from the pig collision was minimal, just a dent on the driver-side bumper. In those days, I don’t believe there was a safer car on the road.

As for preppy, who cares. I’m certain the pig didn’t.

MGC

Laurie Ann said...

@ MGC
When pigs fly!

Charlie said...

The variability in experience fascinates me. In my direct experience, Saabs (rebadged GM cars) have been utter garbage for some time. Although many obviously have good luck with Subarus, two that we owned needed their head gaskets replaced by 100,000 miles- a well-known, if inconsistent defect from years.

I can't believe that I am the first to suggest modern Volkswagens. I know that statistically they have patchy reliability, but we have had great luck. And from a style standpoint, I think they are the preppiest vehicle going- conservative without being trite or old-fashioned, and they have established a clear design lineage. They also are available with wonderful vinyl interiors that feel relatively upscale but are hard-wearing and practical. I drive a Jetta Sportwagen- amazingly capable on snow tires.

Max said...


''American literature author John Steinbeck was told by his professor that he would be an author when pigs flew. When he eventually became a novelist, he started to print every book he wrote with the insignia "Ad astra per alas porci" (to the stars on the wings of a pig).''

''Johann Adolf Großsteinbeck, Steinbeck's paternal grandfather, had shortened the family name to Steinbeck when he emigrated to the United States. The family farm in Heiligenhaus, Mettmann, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, is still today named "Großsteinbeck."''

I actually grew up not far from the ''Großsteinbeck'' farm, and the golf club/course I was a me member of, bordered on the family farm.

Small world, six or less degrees of separation :-)

It is not the ''Butterfly Effect'' anymore, from now on it shall be known as the ''Flying Pig Effect'' :-)

Matt said...

I would move any diesel wagon (A+ for a manual tranny) to the top of the prep list. Pre 2011 VW Passat wagons deserve a mention as well as Toyota 4-Runners. I own the official vehicle of NE (Subaru Outback) and would venture that it has nearly as much fake wood trim as my parents 20-year old Volvo.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @2:37:
Thank you for acknowledging those silly car monogram stickers. I sat in traffic the other day staring at the back of a Toyota Rav 4. Its black spare tire cover was decorated with an excessively large pink monogram. My first thought: monograms have officially jumped the shark.

Anonymous said...

No Honda here? I want to cry... No, I'm just kidding. Thanks for such great pictures as always.

Bitsy said...

I agree with Max about the comfort and durability of sheepskin seat covers. Mine are over 10 years old and still in excellent condition. They are comfortable year round but I especially appreciate them in winter.

RDR said...

In 1989, when I finally had a little money in my pocket, I ran into a happy Volvo dealership and drove out an hour later in a gray 240DL sedan like the one in the photos.

I still own it today, and the car has been true to its name and rolled along the roads for 183,000 delightful miles. This past year I decided to give it a needed mechanical and cosmetic facelift. I replaced the huge cloudy headlight covers with crystal clear ones (what a difference it makes), and did brake, exhaust and engine component work. I have no intention of ever getting rid of it -- too many memories.

I never thought of this Volvo as being a Preppy car (even though it’s driven me to Brooks Brothers more times than you can count), but just liked the sturdy styling. I’d visited Sweden for the first time that year and had ridden around in Volvo taxis so I was somewhat familiar with them.

Buying this car was one of the few decisions in my life that actually turned out better than I thought.

The Silver Bunny said...

The Saab will never ever be replaced; next best thing is the Volvo of course ...

Minimalist Trad said...

I was brought up to believe, and still do, that being unobtrusive was an essential part of the preppy ethic. In my book, the only inconspicuous car was, and still is, the old VW beetle.

Robert H said...

Some fun choices there, Muffy!

Among other vehicles you depicted, I had an International Travel-All of the same model you show (albeit in "appliance white"); it was a perfect vehicle for camping, shopping, antiquing and hauling dirty boat bits here and there. It had all of the styling and flash of a recumbent refrigerator.

One thing that many of the cars you show have in common -- and I'm sure this isn't accidental -- is that the more "generic" a vehicle looks, the preppier it probably is. Truly preppy cars blend into the background, like 1970s Volvos and one car you didn't show: the squarest, most boring-looking big Ford sedan available. An older Crown Victoria is the ideal car for a headmaster, or for carrying ones retired grandparents from their home in South Hadley to the country club, or up to the cottage in Ogunquit.

Very few German cars qualify; they have to either be the most sedate and boxy models from the '70s-'80s, or the little BMW 2002s from the mid-'60s through mid-'70s. Still fewer British cars qualify; Jaguar is right out -- too flashy. No car that looks like a midlife-crisis-mobile could ever be preppy, so there go all Porsches and anything flashy and/or convertible. (The only exception might be a beat-up old Morgan.)

I was a little surprised to not see the older Jeep Wagoneer in your line-up (or better yet, a '63-70 Kaiser Wagoneer); I've always thought they were just about the ultimate prepmobile, but best without the fake wood paneling. *Some* other SUVs may qualify (particularly the '60s-'70s Ford Bronco and I-H Scout) but only when they stick to the basics; flashy wheels, brush-bars, extra lights, etc., kill any cred. The Euro-spec Mercedes G-Wagens are tremendously capable vehicles but it's impossible to take any American seriously who drives one of the ridiculous chromed versions over here. And while early (pre-2002) Range Rovers and Land Rovers just squeak by, newer models are tainted by all the wrong sorts of people owning them.

BlueTrain said...

It is disappointing to have our experience with late model Volvos (that is, those less than 20 years old) confirmed by other contributors here. Yet we continue to keep ours on the road in spite of everything. I have found an excellent and very accomodating Volvo mechanic within walking distance of where I work. But we are not on a first name basis. He calls me Mister and I call him often.

Regarding vanity license plates, I must admit to having seen some very clever ones. Easily the most striking was one that said "BLIND." But the best so far was "ILIAD" on the back of a Honda Odyssey.

It's probably not surprising that no one has mentioned Saturn, which seemed to have a very high owner loyalty, unfortunately not returned by GM. It almost seems like American car manufacturers aren't willing to seriously compete. It was sad when DeSotas went out of production but the end of Oldsmobile was just heartbreaking.

Anonymous said...

This is a truly fascinating post and reflects how regional the issue of cars is. Many of the cars mentioned as "great" ive never heard of. The cars referred to as "flashy" are non descript and blend right in elsewhere. Some of the beaters stand out to the point of looking insane (not just eccentric) if you put them in another setting ( worst car i ever owned was a volvo wagon - worse than my audi) Of course all the antique/vintage cars are works of art. Gorgeous beyond anything. Thank you for sharing those pictures - better than an art gallery.

Anonymous said...

The late Senator Pell (probably the preppiest person in Rhode Island, ever) was famous for his frugality. Who else would jog in old suits?!

At his funeral, his grandson commented on his choice of car...

"He drove a Chrysler LeBaron convertible, which was outfitted with tattered red upholstery, a roof held together with duct tape...when it finally fell apart, he replaced it with a Dodge Spirit, which he had purchased used from Thrifty Rental Cars."

I give you the preppiest preppy car ever.

Anonymous said...

The smartest decision I've made in a long time was to trade in my gas guzzler, oil sucker Yukon XL for a Honda CRV. Made in USA, AWD, averages 30mpg, plows through rain and snow. Thrifty, unpretentious, reliable.

Anonymous said...

1985 Mercedes 300D - is there anything else?

Anonymous said...


Volvo? BMW? Good heavens! No!

Try an old (1970s) V8 Morgan; two buckled-up leather straps holding the long bonnet down, a black lab and picnic hamper (F&M will do) stuffed in the back. No other car snakes round tight country lanes quite like a Moggy nor looks more at home spattered in mud.
For carting horses and other family members it's got to be a battered old land Rover naturally.

Wasp Decor said...

I loved driving the Jeep Wagoneer. Mine was a tank and would go anywhere. It plowed through snow, was great on ice, and could haul lots of mulch without budging the springs. Sadly, it's gone.
I've driven rovers(D-90, Range, and Discos) and all were great for getting my family where I needed to go with lot's of gear in tow. I just think the "new" "improved" rovers are, well...I 'll leave it alone. I would drive *anything* refurbished by the folks at East Coast Rover in Rockland Maine. Those gents know what they're doing and they know how to refurbish good machinery.
I currently drive an american made SUV. Yes, I felt sorry for our american workers during the recession and I caved. It does the job. It hauls mulch, dogs, and gets up my very muddy Maine driveway; I'm happy.
I have an old Mercedes I drive around town and a passenger van to haul large groups of family and friends to and from the airport.
Fun Fact: Kate Hepburn only drove Fords.

Wasp Decor said...

Oh, I forgot, as for kids getting their brand new cars? That doesn't, nor did it ever happen in our family. Always, always: hand-me-downs; mum's station wagon ( we actually called it a beach wagon ), an old volvo, saab etc.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have experience yet with the new Volvo V60?

R. Rafael said...

To anonymous at 8:12 re Sen. Pell: My father went the same route (retired Wall St. lawyer). He bought a used rental car - forest green Chevrolet Prizm with roll up windows. Turns out to be one of the most reliable and least expensive to run used cars according to Consumer Reports. He drives it to this day.

Frank H said...

WHAT ?? No Morgan+Fours .

Katahdin said...

Re: Audi Wagons - Is Older Better?

If they are the 1995.5 S6 Quattro Avant like the one pictured (sigh).

C.S. Mitchell said...

I think old Volvos certainly qualify, but any model since they've gone Chinese doesn't qualify. I'd vote for the Subaru Forester or Outback, modestly priced, frugal mpg, the best AWD system, and plenty of room for dogs, golf clubs, skis, etc.

Anonymous said...

Honda Element with roof racks. Compact but roomy and perfect for carrying paddleboards, surfboards, ski equipment, sailing stuff,lacrosse sticks and tailgaiting at Maryland, Hopkins and Loyola lax games--what we do in Maryland.

Katahdin said...

@ R. Rafael APRIL 3, 2014 AT 11:27 AM

One doesn't need much of a car to drive the 1/2 mile from the house to the beach club...

LG said...

In terms of reliability, I have to speak up for Honda. I just replaced the original brakes on my 2004 Accord. It holds nearly as much stuff as our Jeep except the dog can't go in the trunk. And I much prefer driving it around town. Some of the other cars mentioned just feel so small to me. Whenever I'm in a Subaru I feel like a giant. I do secretly covet the station wagon Audi but don't think I could bring myself (or my husband) to spend that kind of money on a car. And, again, I guess it would feel too small. Ill probably end up with a Honda minivan next. Kind of lame but oh well.

Anonymous said...

My 1999 Saab 9-3 runs beautifully. I grew up in MA and now live in FL where vintage Saabs are rarely seen. My husband wants me to get a new vehicle, but in five years I can get antique plates!

Elizabeth said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa...WHERE is the Toyota Land Cruiser? For those who doubt, consult your handbooks. There is no car with more prep cred. Btw, I have been a BMW owner my entire life from my '72 2002tii right up to my 335 diesel with nary a lease in the bunch. You get extra points for diesel. Always fun to have someone at a gas station come running over to me yelling that I'm putting the wrong fuel in my car :P

JSL said...

Anon 10:22: WRT appliances, it is quite challenging right now to find a good large kitchen appliance that is not finished in stainless steel and designed to look like the Starship Enterprise. This is a trend in home decor that will not last forever, and has probably already crested in popularity, meaning that these appliances will look quite dated in 10 years. Happily, or rather, unhappily, none of these appliances will still be functional in 10 years. Ask any reputable tradesperson and they will confirm that household appliances like refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, and laundry pairs are engineered to need replacing in 5-8 years. They are also designed so that any needed repairs would cost almost as much as replacing the unit outright, which is what you the consumer are expected to do.

This is part of a movement in product design called "Planned Obsolescence" that ensures that any given market will never become saturated as products will constantly need replacement. It is possible in many cases to build consumer items that never need to be replaced: the first nylons were indestructible, and early incandescent bulbs burned for years before needing to be replaced. However, there is a very limited profit to be made in producing and selling truly durable goods because every consumer will only ever purchase one of your product. If you design the product to fail after a shorter amount of time, you'll have a customer for life. Why build a dishwasher that lasts 25 years when the average buyer can be cowed into replacing his every 5?

This is the case for appliances, clothes, furniture, technology, cars, even, I would argue, certain kinds of education or training. One sure way to guarantee a steady stream of students competing for places at your school is to work with professional regulatory bodies to ensure that positions require ever greater amounts of training. My father-in-law manages a lab that requires its new technicians to have PhDs. A doctorate degree to operate an electron microscope, when a well-trained high school graduate is really all that the position should require. I've come to believe that the only degree that can't be taken away from you or devalued is a liberal arts degree. It doesn't prepare you for any particular job because it's an education rather than training, therefore it cannot be made obsolete.

BlueTrain said...

There was a Toyota Land Cruiser (TLC?) among the photos. The Land Cruiser was probably what brought an end to Land-Rover imports to this country around 1971. It didn't hurt that Toyota had a better dealer network, not to mention a six-cylinder engine. Some long wheel-base Land-Rovers were imported with straight-sixes and I have seen one with a V-8. But I don't know how it got here, although I'm not sure if I asked the owner about it. There was also a Nissan 4X4 for a while but I don't even remember the name.

The only BMW I've ever driven was a 2002tii when I was still in school. It belonged to a bus driver who sold Hodakas as a sideline. At the time, a BMW was sort of a grown up's sport car. Don't know about preppy.

Anyone ever have or even heard of a Jeepster? And doesn't anyone here have a Lexus?

JSL said...

My dad just recently sold the Triumph Stag that he'd been coddling for several years. Happily, someone local bought the car, so he still gets to see it driving around Peterborough. He kept a tiny little Autobianchi years ago that was not street legal in the US but the Registrar at the DMV registered it anyway, not knowing the difference. That car was so small that he had to install a roll-cage in case it was struck by any of the rogue Prepmobiles careening around Amherst MA. There were two Volvo 240 wagons, both at least 15 years and 200k miles on them, that came home with him from the salvage auction, which I drove out to the farm in the summer and he sold to profs in the fall.

For day to day cars though, my parents have always been quite practical, relying on small Honda SUVs, Subarus, and American pickup trucks for my dad's side business towing BMW motorcycles. Dad worked at a Saab dealer before I was born, and went to work for himself as a contract buyer in auto salvage, commuting 1,000 miles a week around southern New England in his truck. He found that if he took good care of his trucks, he could sell them or trade them in within 2 or 3 years of purchasing them for exactly what he paid, allowing him to drive new trucks essentially just for the cost of gas. Considering the mileage he put on his vehicles, he would have exhausted his warranties very quickly had he stuck with a single truck. These kinds of decisions are different when it's a business vehicle, I suppose.

Since I've moved somewhere quite remote and outdoorsy, my husband and I have started thinking of what kind of car to get, and Subarus keep coming up to the top of the list for practicality, safety, and relatively good price here in Ontario. We do plan on keeping a Silverado or a Tahoe for doing the heavy work and for highway driving when the moose come out of the bush and onto the roads. This is a matter of practicality more so than a matter of aesthetics or preppy loyalty: there is a Chevy dealer here in town, and my in-laws have already been burned by the Ford dealer. Trying to keep business local is a prep value, no?

A final thought to wrap up this long-winded, incoherent ramble: most of the makes of car mentioned above are currently spitting out very sleek, anonymous, unattractive vehicles. I understand that manufacturers are trying to squeeze every last MPG out of their designs in any way that they can, and thus aerodynamics are important, but what does it say when a Benz body looks indistinguishable from a Camry? I admire the stark, architectural lines of many of the older Prepmobiles shown above in Muffy's excellent photo spread. These are classic vehicle designs that will continue to look good indefinitely. Most current designs are already worth forgetting, no matter how nice everything is under the hood.

Anonymous said...

Blue Train
I've had two jeepsters, a 1947 Jeepster and a 1969 Jeepster Commando.
If I were to drive a Volvo it would be an 1800ES.
If I were to drive a BMW it would be a Bavaria.
If I were to drive a Mercedes it would be a 300TD.
If I were to drive a Saab I'd walk.
When I was in college most of the guys who had been to traditional Prep schools drove Datsun 240Zs.

BlueTrain said...

Just when I think nothing here would surprise or impress me again....

I am amazed someone here had ever heard of a Jeepster, much less that they were made in two different decades. Next someone will tell me they used to have a Jeep station wagon from the mid-1950s that their father used to take them to school with in the fall. Jeepers!

I've been burned so much lately with car repair bills that I'd hesitate to own something like a BMW or Mercedes but I'd love to own another Rover sedan, preferably a 1971 or 1972. They were lovely cars, if somewhat unreliable. The British Embassy here ran a number of them for a while in the 1970s. Grace Kelly was killed while driving one.

And finally, to JSL, I spent the summer of 1964 working in Amherst, actually working on a farm outside of town. That was almost 50 years ago!

Semi Elite Status said...

Sean Connery as James Bond in Dr. No driving the Chevy Bel Air convertible... perhaps not directly preppy, but it perfectly captured the carefree prep zeitgeist of the early 60's, before the JFK assassination and the tumultuous years that were to follow.

Meg said...

From an Audi/Volvo family here - Mom drove the Volvo wagon, Dad drove the Audi sedan (they both still do) and my sister and I got the hand-me-downs - I got the station wagon and have since disposed of it since I live in the city; my sister is STILL driving my father's 2000 audi a8

Mayes Hall said...

One year ago today I traded in my Jaguar for a Honda Accord.

Superior gas mileage. Regular unleaded.

But most importantly, I can plug my iPhone in and hear what want to from pandora or iTunes.

Priceless!

BlueTrain said...

Maybe I need to clarify a few things here. I'm not a preppy at all, although I'm eccentric enough to pass for one sometimes. If one can be a preppy without ever having attended a prep school, then it can only be by osmosis.

All my comments have been as a (former) car enthusiast. But I know and am related to a few preppies. Judging from those I know, there is no such thing as a preppy car, which is not to say there is such a thing as a non-preppy car.

My wife's grandfather graduated from a prep school in Alexandria, Virginia, and later became the treasurer of another prep school. The only car he ever owned was a 1929 Ford, the only car he ever owned. It sat in my father-in-law's garage until my father-in-law passed away.

All the others have or had the most non-descript cars you could think of. None had Volvos, Saabs, Jags, or Mercedes. One (the preppiest of them all and the best man at our wedding) had an Alpha, then a Rover, followed by a Ford Grenada. That was a few years ago. Among the others, late model Toyotas seem to predominate. The lesbian couples we know also have Toyotas but they don't have kids.

Yet another prep school graduate, the one who also operated a summer camp for girls, did not have a Toyota but we was past 70 and in fact probably did drive a large American car. Except for the one who owned the Rover, none were car enthusiasts. I owned a Rover at the time and when I noticed his Rover parked on the street, which happened to the same street I lived on, I just had to meet him. I started knocking on doors until I found him. That's how I met him. I haven't seen any interesting cars in years but I see meet interesting people.

MOLLIE'S MOM said...

I want one of each!

Growing up, we always had a very odd collection of cars at any given time. My father went through a phase where he bartered for cars through his businesses. We had Jags, Mercedes, Volvo and once, we ended up with a Limo until my mother threw a fit and demanded that it be sold immediately. My father was such a prankster sometimes. The strangest car he ever purchased/bartered for was called a Bricklin ( I refer to it as his midlife crisis car)and thanks again to mum, we didn't have that car for very long either!

My mother purchased classic cars for my brother and I when we began driving. I absolutelyloved my old 62 Rambler convertible even though I could barely afford the fuel ( that's what friends are for, right?).

After college I drove an old white 1970 Suburban for field work. It had loads of room but it was the worst vehicle as it lacked traction and I was stranded on wet grass a few times. Maybe I should have checked the tires?

I love the older paneled Jeeps and the very old Land Rovers as utility vehicles. Which reminds me, I like vehicles with a lot of glass and head room and it seems that the windows on cars are getting smaller and smaller. Through the years I've driven old Mercedes, Volvos, BMW, and Subaru wagons. I love Mercedes for a compact smooth ride and handling. My Subaru wagon was one of the safest vehicles I've ever driven. I was hit by a speeding " Brady Bunch" station wagon - the wagon was totaled and my Subaru only sustained a broken tail light. Another time it accidentally rolled off an embankment into the woods and I was too terrified to even look down for fear that it was completely totaled. There wasn't even a ding or scratch! Ok, well maybe a tiny scratch. That was years ago- perhaps they don't make them like they once did.


Sarah Faragher said...

BlueTrain, you mentioned Saturn. Our mechanic said to me recently, "I've never seen a Saturn with over 300,000 miles on it." When I looked alarmed he said, "Don't worry, I'm not putting a curse on you!" Good thing, since ours is at 286,000 and counting. The next inspection is due in July. We may make it.
;O)

My sister has me beat, however. Her Geo Prizm, bought secondhand when she was working her way through law school, went over 400,000 miles. And then she sold it.

(We're not preppies. Just people. Our stepfather did have a very cool Citroën, though.)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason that SUVs seem to be frowned upon is that these standards were established before seatbelts were a real consideration. I certainly remember sitting in the "way back" of a station wagon as a kid. Today, parents with larger families (or smaller families that like to bring friends) must have a seat, with seatbelt, for everyone, which means a van or SUV that seats more than 5.

snowysailor said...

I still cry myself to sleep when I think about my old Jeep Grand Wagoneer... The Mother of all Prep-Mobiles... the only car to drive around Nantucket or Park City... Why in the world did we end our relationship...?

Sutton said...

I'm in the market for a Jeep Wrangler for beach fun however, I need a little or actually a great deal of guidance.
Any thoughts on years beyond what has already been written - the CJ is very challenging to find without the need for a great number of repairs or just ridiculous condition for the price.
Thanks for sharing -

snowysailor said...

Sutton@6:23 Yes, take your time looking... A great many Wrangler CJs have been out in them thar hills bronco-bustin' or mud-wrestling... And then there are the ones that have just been cruising the burbs, wishing they had been out in the wild. Unfortunately, especially with a CJ, your safest bet might be to visit your friendly Jeep dealer... and pay the price up front, rather than later...

Marie said...

My neighbor had an Isetta years ago-I loved that car

Anonymous said...

From an English perspective, my parents who lived in an old Georgian house in North Yorkshire,England, had, through the years Volvo estates, always a decrepit old Landrover on the go (that stunk of our seven wet gundogs, Springer Spaniels and black labs) and a Citroen Safari, which was just the job to ferry about us six kids, plus a harp, cellos etc as my father drove us up and down dale in the Yorkshire Dales (James Herriot country) to our music lessons. The car could raise its suspension and drive over little rivers which meant whatever the weather we would make it to our music lessons in Gunnerside, Muker or Arkengarthdale.

When we made the annual trip to the Highlands of Scotland every August for the Glorious 12th (father and brothers were into shooting and fishing) both the Landie and the Cit.Safari were used to tranport the whole fam. and gundogs, fishing rods etc.

Us kids all learnt to drive in dad's old green Landrover, on the roads and moors on private army land in nearby Catterick Garrison, and I can still remember almost crying with laughter when my older sister, when learning to drive lost control and almost careered into a huge army tank! The soldiers had to pop up out of the tank and have a laugh too.

I now live between London and the Bay of Islands, New Zealand and in London, we have never had anything fancy, just always had some ramshackle old version of a VW camper van on the go for heading down to Cornwall at the weekends, surfboards in tow, or over on the ferry to France, for traveling adventures all over Europe. We also had an old Citroen H van which we loved with a vengeance and seemingly everyone else did too, as everyone always waved and smiled whenever they saw us tootling along in London town. We always lusted after a Bristol, were so jealous of Paul Smith's supreme collection but we were students at Uni. and so it was a distant dream.

In the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, Subarus seem to rule or any strong 4x4, for coping on farmland and towing a boat. Here in Russell, Bay of Islands, where I live, alongside all the Landies, Subarus, Range Rovers etc, there also seems to be a real love of vintage cars, all in fantastic condition.

Cressida

BlueTrain said...

I recall that once when I was still in school and had a Land-Rover, an young English gentleman stopped and struck up a conversation with me. He asked how I liked my "estate car," although that wasn't how it sounded, exactly. It was five minutes before I finally understood what he was asking. Another young Englishman also attending school there drove a Lotus Elan, the only one I've ever seen. And he also had a Triumph TR3.

I am pleased that someone else has heard of a Bristol, Leonard Setright's favorite car, but a bit disappointed that no one has mentioned Fiat, from when Italian cars were so stylish. Never had one myself. I am embarrassed to admit that the best car I ever owned was a Ford Escort wagon (not an estate car or shooting brake). It had almost 200,000 virtually trouble-free miles when it was destroyed while parked in the driveway by a runaway Lexus SUV, which seems to be one of the more popular cars where I live.

Patsy said...

I was waiting for Wayne's Isetta!!! Great pic of Doug!!

Anonymous said...

Muffy - outstanding array of photos.

Let's face it Volvo Wagons no matter the year scream preppy. Sedans, the old 240's and variants of the 700's also say prep - particularly smattered with college, yacht club and maybe a Phish sticker here or there. Yes I am biased towards Volvo's, have been in my family for 35 years > we currently have 3 and yes we had to go with the XC-90, 3 kids, a dog, and 5 bikes. Have had the occassional Saab and Land Rover on Lease but have always defaulted back to the purchased Volvo.

Barring wagons, BMW's, Audi's, Mercedes (including the $80+ Postal Service truck) seem trendy, yuppie if you will. Agree with you on the Subaru, however the newer models, post LL Bean Edition, have been trending toward robotic looking. :)

At the end of the day, I will still go and live my boring life of practicality, simplistic design and function in the cars I drive and be proud of the Volvo badge epitomizing this New England ideology.

Coastal Mass.

Max said...


My favorite ''preppy'' film (and one of the most authentic in my opinion) is ''Smart People'' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_People , in which the main character, played by Dennis Quaid, drives an older white Saab Sedan.

The Viceroy said...

I am European so not preppy by definition but I love my 15 year old Range Rover P38 - while the Classic nowadays screams "hipster" and the newer models scream "gangsta rapper" or "Russian mafia", the P38 is just not hip enough for any of the in-crowds. If only maintenance wasn't a bottomless pit...

dE

Anonymous said...

audi and bmw are decidedly not preppy at all as they're typically driven by people who want to attract attention

P said...

I'm a native Vermonter and where I grew up, Saabs and Volvos were THE cars of choice for preppy kids like myself. I only graduated from high school in 2001 but the parking lot was usually littered with older, rusty 900s and 240s, with the occasional 740 and 850 (which is what I had) thrown in the mix.

I go up North every summer and wherever I go, especially down the Cape and along the Connecticut and Rhode Island coast, the preppy kids are still driving Saabs and Volvos, only the newer cars.

Here's what I've also observed - I almost never see preppy folks drive Chevy Corvettes in the upper-cruse New England towns. Even in my hometown, there was not a Vette in the school parking lot. If I'm in, say, Newport or Boston, I'll see Vettes but they're usually in lower-class and questionable neighborhoods

John said...

Before I dive into this, I LOVE this thread. Combines my two loves: The preppy culture, and cars.

Personally, I feel there is NO such thing as a preppy car. There are cars that are more preppy than others, so let's discuss that. (I LOVE cars, so this might be quite long...)

Starting off BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz (I drive an '88 300E) are all preppy... once they get about 10 years old or so. No longer flash, it becomes clear the driver owns the car, and is not leasing it. In Druid Hills or parts of Brookhaven in Atlanta, you see these cars with ski racks and private school stickers on them.

The exception to the 10 year old rule is for older preppies. My grandmother upgraded her car (1985 380SE) for a 2009
"C300 luxury". Simply because she feels she's too old to keep up the maintenance on a 30+ year old car. My cousin drives the '85 now.

The same goes for Land Rover, but maybe 15 years old.

There is nothing preppy about a Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, or anything like that. They were made to copy Mercedes and BMW. Think of them as wearing a fake Lacsote shirt. You have it because people will think it's expensive, not because it's made well. (Although Lexus cars are made VERY well.)

Also, no Mercedes "sport" models. Go to their website and you'll what I mean. The "luxury" models have that "classic" look. IF you must have a new Mercedes, get the "luxury" styling. Much more preppy.

As for American cars, no. We'll just leave it at that. Jeeps from 20 years ago, The Branco, Ford Country Squire, International Harvester... That's really about it as far as I can think of.

Speaking of suvs, I feel like the Toyota Land Cruiser and 4Runner (Again, maybe 10 years ago) should be added to this list. The 4Runner might be more on the fratty side of things. My family has a 2001 model with 220k+ miles on it. This being said, Toyota is NOT preppy.

A Tahoe or Suburban (Or Yukon as GMC calls them) is more fratty than preppy. Everyone I know with a Tahoe says "bro" and is wearing Vineyard Vines all of the time. No thanks.

The rule of thumb with suvs is that they MUST look rugged and outdoors-y. No Lexus RX330s here...

I also feel that Porsche is acceptable, but they should be OLD. 25 years or more, again, after the flashiness is gone.

As far as "unusual" cars go, you have : MG, TVR, Triumph, Peugeots, and more of the same along those lines.

Also, I find Subarus to either be preppy or lesbian driven. There's no in between. (There's nothing wrong with being lesbian, it's just what I have noticed...)

Last, but certainly not least, the Volvo and the Saab. These are "preppy" cars if there even is such a thing. New or old, I would consider a Volvo preppy. They're expensive well made cars without looking expensive. Of course, the best of all being the 240 models. I find Saabs to be for the preppies who don't want to be preppies, but they are anyway. (If that makes any sense.)

All this being said, somewhere, there is a Preppy driving a brand new 2014 Mercedes wagon, a Ford Taurus, A Tahoe Z71, or a Lexus IS sedan. (Ok, maybe not that...)

There's also a Hipster running around town in a 1997 Range Rover, a 2001 BMW 525i wagon, and a 2005 Volvo S60.

Basically, the man makes the car, not the other way around.

(Also, as a Realtor, no. We do NOT get free cars, nor do I wear shinny suits. If we did get free cars, I would indeed drive them. Remember, New England frugality. What's better than a car I don't have to pay for? Keep up the good work on the blog, Muffy!)

Anonymous said...

1997 BMW Z3, British racing green with khaki drop top and khaki leather interior--- I love this car even though I barely get to drive it now since I have a four year old daughter. It stays parked in our garage except when one of the grandmothers watches our daughter and my hubby and I have a special date day or night.

Our family car is a 2010 Subaru Forrester and my husband has a 2000 7 series BMW. We like them both, but could do without the insane repair bills on husband's BMW--the Forrester receives regular maintenance, but otherwise has never given us a minute of trouble.

SassyinDC

BlueTrain said...

Not so much about preppy cars but since this thread had been populated by car enthusiasts, I just have to share this. Last week in Santa Monica, on Santa Monica Blvd., I spotted a Morgan three-wheeler. First one I've ever seen and I've seen like half-a-dozen AC sports cars, so that was special. Too old to be preppy, I guess. I don't know why a so-called preppy car needs to be old, however.

Haven't seen a Peugeot in ages. And the two lesbians I had dinner with last night drove a Toyota. Have I told you about the rest of the family?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to think Porsches can be preppy - if they predate the 911.

Anonymous said...

Preppy cars have gone through an interesting shift that parallels generational dynamics. At one point, a European car signaled that one might be part of the smart set, and the stoicism as compared to Detroit Baroque of the 1970's was a welcome shift in the eyes of most baby boomers. Now, the cars have come full circle, as most European makes are flashy, and scream "I've made it!" as loudly as possible.

This creates a few interesting situations:
1. American cars, as said by an earlier commenter, are under the radar, as if to signal that you're not taking the whole car business too seriously. The rationale and frugality behind buying such a non-statement as a Taurus must be noted.

2. European cars more often than not carry some cutoff year - it varies from make to make, although generally located in the first half of the 2000s - where before said year they were the quintessence of prep, and after, not so much. Brand loyalty means that a good many who cut their teeth on the best examples will still buy the brand, but the heyday is gone. Consider members of the GI generation that bought their last Country Squire in 1986 - understandable, sure. But, the glory days of the American wagon were without a doubt in the rear view mirror by that point. So too will go the European makes if something doesn't change.

For example:
BMW - The introduction of the Chris Bangle revisions - the 2001 7 series, the 2003 5 series, 2005 3 series, etc.
Mercedes - Their cut in quality as a direct attempt to get the price down since Lexus was eating their lunch in terms of sales figures by the late 1990's.
Volvo - Still acceptable, but look at a late-model XC70 next to a 245. We've come a long way, baby, and not in a good way.
Saab - the GM 2003 9-3 that was sedan only, completely missing the point about what made Saab tick.

3. Japanese cars were solidly off the radar in the old days, but Subaru seems to carry a lot of the required characteristics that put a car on this list. To my eye, it's a grudging acceptance - a Subaru does what a Volvo used to do, but in a way that is somewhat less satisfying to me.

4. Sports cars work best when they are treated in a similar way to silver - that is, ideally not purchased directly. Buying oneself a brand new Mercedes SL might be gauche. Inheriting a pagoda top is welcome, however.

5. SUV's have made an abrupt 180. A land cruiser or Range Rover was very prep 25 years ago. Even with the increased flashiness that came with each successive generation placed aside, the growing interest in environmental consciousness alone has made the notion of 12mpg highway unpalatable.

Andres Berman said...

The SAAB 900 was the best car I ever owned. Trustworthy in the most inclement of weather. Huge carrying capacity, really comfortable with heated front seats, and always elegant in an understated sort of way. What's more preppy than that! Unfortunately SAAB went back to what it does best: build fighter planes. Too bad for us!

vandy-boy said...

I hate to sound snobbish, but the Hondas and Tahoes are not preppy. American station wagons are considered preppy, but Jeep is the "acceptable" American brand. BMWs, MBs, Land Rovers, Audis, Volvos and Saabs are true prep mobiles, and so are British roadsters. Old preps who are sitting on the motherload can drive big Caddies and Lincolns and crash into things.

Kristin said...

But, Subaru is Chinese owned now. 2 years.

Anonymous said...

I thought Subaru was Japanese owned (Fuji Heavy Industris with Toyota as a minor partner).

Volvo is owned by a Chinese automaker, Zhejiang Geely.

Julia

Anonymous said...

Subaru is most definitely Japanese owned.

Anonymous said...

I spent one year in Sweden at a supplier to Volvo and SAAB. It was 2003, and at the time these companies were owned by Ford and GM, respectively. Although both companies have deep Swedish roots, they had completely opposite philosophies to building cars. At the Volvo plant in Gothenburg, the assembly was almost completely done by robots. If the Volvo was missing a part, it simply moved on to the next station and was fitted later. At the SAAB plant in Trollhattan, the cars were largely hand assembled and the workers would stop the line for missing parts or quality issues.

I learned during my four years living and working in Europe (and two in Japan and China), that national ownership is largely irrelevant to product integrity. All auto companies source parts globally (including the venerable Morgan, who gets V8 engines from Bavaria), and intelligent management takes advantage of good operating ideas, regardless of their country of origin.

Bill Hayden, the British boss of Ford Europe, famously commented upon the purchase of Jaguar Motors that their Brown’s Lane factory in Coventry was the worst he’d seen outside of the Soviet Union. It would be a mistake to extend these types of observations to British made goods as a whole. There are well and poorly managed companies in every country. Well run American companies (and there are many of them) understand they must produce a superior product to succeed, and not just wave the flag.

Jack said...

I've owned BMWs, Audis and Volvos. When it comes to reliability, all fail. As much as I want to like the brands, I can't bring myself to buy a car I know will cost me thousands of dollars in repairs in just 100,000 miles or so. I switched to Acura and Infiniti. We are going on our 3rd MDX and 2nd Q70(M37). These cars have been amazingly reliable, smooth, quiet and sporty. They may not have the pretty cache of a BMW or Audi but mine never looked that pretty on the mechanic's lift anyway.

Rebekah said...

Jack your comment made me smile, you have a very accurate analysis of the aforementioned brands. While BMWs are nice, Audi's are simply a souped up Volkswagen and Porsche is also made from the same parts box. Volvo's have always been known as a very safe vehicle but break the bank when they fail. I also have an Acura MDX and I truly love it! I have 190,000 miles on mine and have only changed tires, timing belt, synthetic oil, and most recently replaced the radiator. This vehicle is very reliable and I plan to travel many more comfortable and safe miles in it.

Infiniti has some nice leather seats in various models but I do not prefer how their dashes and radios (buttons and fuctions) age. Their paint peels on older models the same as in some Volkswagen's on the grab handles on interior door panels and other buttons on the steering wheel and radio buttons. This is very frustrating to me as repair is either replacement of worn parts or interior repair which is always obvious.

Great post Muffy! I enjoy reading your post's so much! My father is originally from Connecticut, we live in Virginia, and after reading several posts I am surprised at how preppy he really is! His penny loafers, Bass shoes, old duck head polos and Lacoste shirts are just some items that come to mind.

BlueTrain said...

We are currently operating three Volvos, all with an average of over 100,000 miles. They have been satisfactory but all have required serious repairs to the tune of "thousands of dollars." But compared with the cost of another car, it seems better to keep fixing them instead of replacing them.

Thinking of all the cars we've have over the years, the ones that required expensive repairs were purchased used, or as they say, "pre-owned." Everything bought new was reliable, no matter what it was. What we have spent on keeping these three Volvos on the road, and it seems like an awful lot, would not pay for what our first Volvo cost 30 years ago. The DL wagon only required a new muffler every other year and that was about all.

John Rosevear said...

Here's a thoroughly prep choice that I didn't see mentioned: An older Mercedes-Benz diesel sedan that is well-preserved but still a bit worn-looking, preferably handed down from a relative with an interesting story or three attached.

Saab 900s used to be Quite The Thing, but that company is effectively gone now. A Chevy Suburban or GMC Yukon XL with a trailer hitch can still qualify, particularly if there are boats or horses sometimes involved. Jeeps still work -- there are plenty of Jeep Wrangler Unlimiteds out on Fishers Island every summer, although that might be more a gauge of New York Money Aping Prep than true prep nowadays.

A worn-looking old Jaguar or Aston Martin or maybe a BMW older than 1990 or so -- again, preferably with an interesting hand-me-down story involving a very interesting relative -- also might work. And there are preppy people driving Fords, too, especially now that Ford is making good solid products again.

Anonymous said...

Recent article said Toyota had more American parts than any other car manufacturer. Was looking at Audi's seriously until my sister-in-law told me she had almost 300,000 miles on her Lexus and the only repair was to replace the catalytic converter. Sounds like Volvos when people got badges for the front that said how many miles the car had. I, quite frankly, no longer care if it's preppy. I think I'll just do the old Yankee thing and look for value.

Anonymous said...

An eleven-year-old Honda Accord...because I'm prep, and that's what I drive.

-Mike

9PM said...

For me, the ultimate prep car is a Saab 900turbo in that Saab Green color way. Any Saab up through the early 2000's (2005 or prior) speaks volumes about the driver. I personally drive a black 330i with Cape Cod and Islands plates from 01', I love it.

My dream car is however a late 1980's Mercedes SL280 and up (to a 500 V8) in the cream color with both hard and soft tops intact... I first started searching for one in reasonable condition 8 years ago... This year alone in Lake Forest, IL I have seen more than 15 distinct SL's including a fabulously restored and rare 190SL... Looks like everyone else had the same feeling come 2014

BlueTrain said...

If I had a dream car, it would be a 1971 Rover 2000TC but the last time I saw one was in 1971. The 3500 (same year) was a much better performer but the American version had a hood scoop. I am hopelessly out of touch with modern cars.

At one time I would have dreamed of owning a Range Rover. They came out around 1970, I think. But now they're way too common to be desirable. Might as well be looking for an Avanti. They're not too common.

sam farrell said...

Although this list is very thorough, I can't help but have my heart a little broken by th email fact that there is no (1950's-1980's) Toyota land cruiser on here. It is, in my opinion, even better then most land Rovers in early production. Despite it's high price tag, is way better than the Land Rover's of today.

sam farrell said...

I cannot believe the typo I left in my last comment. I profusely apologize. I meant to say *"by the mere fact". How embarrassing.