What Car Does Jay Gatsby Drive? Analyzing His Iconic Rides

June 10, 2024

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In F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby," Jay Gatsby's car is described with rich, vivid detail. Nick Carraway, the narrator, refers to the automobile as a rich cream color adorned with nickel, emphasizing its luxurious and ostentatious nature. The vehicle is noted for its monstrous length, equipped with hat-boxes, supper-boxes, and tool-boxes, and multiple windshields that reflect numerous suns. The interior of the car is likened to a green leather conservatory, enhancing its image as a piece of moving opulence.

Symbolism of Gatsby's Car

Within the novel, Gatsby's car transcends its status as a mere vehicle, symbolizing Gatsby's pursuit of wealth and the American Dream. Other characters in the book often describe the car as “yellow,” which ties back to the theme of his relentless quest for gold and material success to win over Daisy Buchanan.

Car Models Across Different Adaptations

1925 Novel

In Fitzgerald’s original 1925 novel, Gatsby's car is likely a 1922 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. It is described as an “omnibus,” serving as a luxurious mode of transportation for Gatsby's extravagant city parties.

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Film Adaptations

1949 Movie (Alan Ladd)

In the 1949 film adaptation starring Alan Ladd, Gatsby is depicted driving a Duesenberg. The specific year and model of the car remain unspecified in this version.

1974 Movie (Robert Redford)

Contrary to the novel's setting in 1922, the 1974 movie with Robert Redford features Gatsby driving a 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom. Although this car is historically inaccurate, it still conveys the intended sense of wealth and luxury.

2013 Movie (Leonardo DiCaprio)

The most recent adaptation, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, presents Gatsby with a 1929 Duesenberg Model J. This choice is another anachronism but aligns with the grandiose image that the filmmakers aimed to portray.

Expert Opinions on Gatsby’s Car Choices

Jerry Garrett, an expert on the subject, provides insight into the purpose behind Gatsby’s luxurious choices. In the novel, the combination of the Rolls-Royce and a wardrobe full of clothes from England was designed to enhance Gatsby’s façade of having attended Oxford, impressing Daisy Buchanan. The Duesenberg, manufactured in Indiana, might not have held the same appeal for Daisy, a woman deeply embedded in high society from Louisville, Kentucky.

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Cultural Significance and Audience Impression

The yellow Duesenberg in the latest "The Great Gatsby" movie adaptation is visually arresting and captures the audience's attention immediately. Even viewers who are not familiar with cars can appreciate the luxury and excellence that the Duesenberg symbolizes.

Historical Inaccuracy

Despite its magnificence, the inclusion of the 1929 Duesenberg J Sport Phaeton in the film set in 1922 is a historical inaccuracy. The choice of this specific model, which did not exist until 1929, contrasts sharply with the novel’s timeline.

Economic and Technical Aspects

The Duesenberg was a remarkably expensive vehicle, with an initial cost of $19,000 at its debut, dwarfing the $1,200 price for a high-end Ford Model A of the time. This price point reflects its luxurious status. From a technical perspective, the Duesenberg J Sport Phaeton had an inline eight-cylinder engine that produced over 265 horsepower, allowing it to achieve a top speed of 120 mph, which was impressive for its era.

Production Decline and Legacy

The Duesenberg's high price, coupled with the economic conditions of the time, likely contributed to its eventual decline. Duesenberg ceased production in 1937, and by the onset of World War II, these once-coveted cars could be bought for a fraction of their original cost.

Metaphorical Significance

The decline of the Duesenberg mirrors the melancholy narrative of "The Great Gatsby." Just as the Duesenberg fell from grace, Gatsby’s story is one of a tragic fall from his self-made grandeur. This parallel enhances the thematic exploration of wealth, ambition, and the ultimate decline within the novel and its film adaptations.

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