Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Preppy Cars

A Lab is not required.
When the community was asked, "what are preppy cars?", these were the responses.  Photographs are from the archives, unless otherwise noted.   This entry also includes a few cars that might be up for debate.

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.  (Laurie Ann)

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.   (RDR)

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.”  (MGC)

 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.  (Tabby)

Drove my old Volvo wagon until it literally died on the side of the road! 250,000 miles. (Ann Poldark)
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. (Brian)

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I've owned both sedans and wagons and much prefer the wagon. (Brian)

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." (Greenfield)

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 . . . (Greenfield)  
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. (WRJ)  

I'd kill for the cash to be able to keep one of those old land rovers alive on the road. (Lawrence DeVore)

 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! (Greenfield)  

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. (Ann Poldark)

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."  (RCW)
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.  (Brian)
A Subaru does what a Volvo used to do, but in a way that is somewhat less satisfying to me. 


The new Mercedes wagons just look too...well I grasp for the word...counter-prep! Ditto for Land Rover.  (Ann Poldark)
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. (MGC)
 1985 Mercedes 300D - is there anything else? 
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. 

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. 
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. (9PM)


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. (Greenfield)
Audi Wagons - Is Older Better?

What About Sedans?


Anything pre-GM gets extra cool points. GM period gets no cool points, but will occasionally run, unlike their older counterparts. ((WRJ)  
Preppiest car prior to 1993: Tie between Saab 900 and Volvo 240. (R. Rafael)
I find Saabs to be for the preppies who don't want to be preppies, but they are anyway. (If that makes any sense.) (John)
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! (Andres Berman)
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.
The Swedish Staple, Now Gone


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. 
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!  (Greenfield)

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..   (Matthew)

What about SUVs if they are small enough?


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.   (WRJ)
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. 

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.   (Gary)

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.  (2014)

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.