Here Come the Land Yachts: Newport’s Audrain Museum Celebrates the Postwar Turnpike Cruisers



“Land Yachts: Cruising the Interstate Highways” exhibit starts on June 4

By Jim Motavalli – June 6, 2022

The exhibit’s Hudson Commodore has just 27,000 miles on the odometer, and it is a first-place show winner. (Audrain Automobile Museum)

Mercury had a perfect name for the new full-sized car it introduced in mid-1957—Turnpike Cruiser. The huge chrome-laden car was perfect for purring along the new national highway system that had recently been opened by President Dwight Eisenhower. It had lots of company on the American market then—the high point of fins was probably reached with the 1959 Cadillac, but excess was all around. A V8 engine was an essential point of entry.

The Audrain Automobile Museum in Newport, Rhode Island is opening a new exhibit, “Land Yachts: Cruising the Interstate Highways” on June 4; it runs through September 4. Some 14 cars of the postwar era (1948 to 1970) will be featured at the storefront museum. The highlights include:

1948 Hudson Commodore. The race was on after the war to produce truly new cars. The Commodore was the flagship of the “Step Down” Hudsons first shown in late 1947 at the Masonic Temple in Detroit—ahead of the Big Three. The name referred to the fact that occupants stepped down into the car, increasing head room and enabling a lower profile. The Commodore on exhibit has just 27,000 miles on the odometer, and it is a first-place show winner. The Step Downs made it through 1954.

The 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz was the epitome of Cadillac style. (Audrain Automobile Museum)

1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. This Biarritz convertible was the epitome of Cadillac style and prestige for ’57. Power came from a 365-cubic-inch, 325-horsepower V8, mated to a column-shifted four-speed automatic. The styling was all-new, and (as with Buick’s Skylark) featured a unique rear-end treatment that included stainless-steel panels. The Biarritz came with a long list of standard features.  Only 1,800 were built. The price for the nearly 5,000-pound car was a huge $7,286. The exhibit car is black on black, and is a concours-quality restoration.

The 1961 Chrysler 300G was the end of the line for the Chrysler “letter cars. (Audrain Automobile Museum)

1961 Chrysler 300G. This was the end of the line for the Chrysler “letter cars,” a proud procession that started in 1955. The first cars featured Chrysler’s legendary 331-cubic-inch Hemi V8, and were renowned for their performance. The 300G, which cost $5,800, was drama personified, with angled quad headlamps and sweeping fins. Motive power came from a 400-horsepower, 413 cubic-inch V8. Sales were 1,280 that year, with 337 of them convertibles. The exhibit car was extensively restored, and was an AACA National First Prize in 2002. It was acquired for the Audrain Collections in 2021. 

The Superbird is instantly recognizable with its gigantic rear wing and air-cheating nose cone. (Audrain Automobile Museum)

1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. The Superbird and its Dodge Charger Daytona sibling, are important cars in NASCAR history. Together, they won 33 out of 48 races entered during the 1970 season, but they were essentially outlawed for 1971. The Superbird is instantly recognizable with its gigantic rear wing and air-cheating nose cone. A Superbird was the first NASCAR entrant to exceed 200 mph. On the production cars, power came from a 426 cubic-inch V8 producing 390 horsepower.

The 1965 Chrysler Imperial was a gift from Spencer Tracy to Katharine Hepburn. (Audrain Automobile Museum)

1965 Chrysler Imperial Crown convertible. This was Chrysler’s prestige car, so it’s not surprising it was a hit in Hollywood. Styling was relatively subdued, and was the work of Elwood Engel. This example was a gift from Spencer Tracy to Katharine Hepburn. The 413-cubic-inch V8 offered 340 horsepower. The car was fully optioned, and includes power windows, brakes, steering, seats, convertible top and door locks. It’s air-conditioned, too, though that might not be strictly necessary in a convertible.

Also in the exhibit are: 1958 Edsel Citation,;1966 Oldsmobile 4-4-2, with four-speed manual; 1957 Thunderbird E-Code, 1956 Desoto Fireflite convertible; 1957 Lincoln Premiere; 1955 Packard Caribbean convertible; 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible, and 1950 Chrysler Windsor Newport. The latter is appropriate for the setting.

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