In the novel, Cold Morning Shadow, three cars are prominent players. It doesn’t really matter what makes and models I might have chosen to include; many others could have filled those roles. But these are the automobiles I chose for their character.
Not the first to appear in the novel but the first I want to discuss is a 1954 Buick Roadmaster. The Comosh family has dubbed her Bayleine, although no one in the story gets the credit for naming her. When one compares Bayleine’s grill to the mouth on a baleen whale, though, the name makes sense.
The automobile that is featured most prominently in the book is a 1941 Packard. This car doesn’t have a name — (Should it?) — but, like Bayleine, it figures into many scenes and events. It is warmy appreciated and well preserved throughout the story.
Most cars worldwide reached their peak of elegance in automotive design in the 1930s. In the 1940s American cars began their decline into ugliness, a misfortune reaching its nadir in the 1950s. Most American automakers suspended manufacture of civilian automobiles during World War II in order to produce equipment for the war effort, which means that generally you will see 1942 models and then 1946 models, but none for the years in between.
While Duesenberg, Auburn, and Cadillac produced cars in the 1930s that were uniformly beautiful, other makers, such as Chrysler, Lincoln, and Packard, went both ways. Throughout the 1930s each of the latter three (and others) offered gracefully-designed, luxuriously-appointed models as well as more plebeian models, and, with the custom coachwork available, some were quite exquisite.
Twelve-cylinder engines were offered by Packard, Lincoln, Cadillac, Auburn, and others, and Cadillac also produced a long run of V16 motors. Lincoln turned the Ford flat-head V8 into a V12 by adding extra cylinders, but it remained really just a lackluster, over-sized V8. Packard, though, which had a long history of building V12s (twin sixes) as well as reliable motors for boats and airplanes during the war years, produced what may have been the most reliable V12 automobile engines through the 1930s.
The Packard of 1940 was the last to have the suspended headlights — tapered round pots that rested above the fenders on each side of the grill. In 1941, as on Wilton’s car, the headlights were incorporated into the front fenders. For my taste, if we set aside the impossibly unattainable cars of Duesenberg and Bugatti, the Packards of the 1930s, especially 1931 to 1939, are the fairest beauties of them all. Subtle flaws in the lines of the body and grillwork spoiled the 1940 model. But something came back together just right in 1941, especially in the 1941 Packard Super Eight One Sixty, which is the eye-catcher in this story.
The Packard of 1942 messed up the lines of the grill, along with a couple of other undesirable modifications, but otherwise retained the dignity of its design roots.
A Counterfeit Packard
And that brings us to the somewhat mysterious, somewhat legendary ZIS-110 that makes an appearance in Chapter 48. The ZIS-110 was built in the Soviet Union as an undisguised replica of a 1942 Packard sedan. Over 2000 of them were produced between 1946-1958. It even preserved the flare at the top of the grill, a Packard distinction that went back to 1904.
My own first car was a 1939 Chrysler New Yorker with a straight-eight engine, in excellent original condition, which I bought in Lima, Ohio, for $395 in 1966, three months before my 16th birthday. (See my article about Johnny Monroe’s junkyard.) I regret parting with the car in the 1980s, but I had a growing family and a mortgage and no indoor storage for it.
That car left me with the enduring experience of owning, working on, and driving a grand automobile of that era. When my parents moved the family from Ohio to Maine in 1967, a year after I bought the car, Dad drove the box truck with all our possessions, Mom drove the family station wagon with four of my siblings, and one other sister, Heidi, rode the entire journey with me as I drove the Chrysler. I could have written that car into the novel instead, but there was just something about the 1941 Packard that made it a bit more conducive.
The cover photo for Cold Morning Shadow depicts a 1941 Packard custom coupe which exists today in the collection of Norman’s Garage. In Chapter 49 Lionel suggests that their newly-hired worker, Hien Van Tu, is welcome to customize a ’41 coupe in the shop’s collection. Norman’s coupe is the one that I, as the author, had in mind.
So what’s left? A 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix coupe, originally in Mandalay red, which Lionel, n the story, paid to have re-painted in a darker garnet red. Here is a fair depiction of that car.
On the subject of the Pontiac, when I was in the Army Security Agency myself (as was Wilton in the story) and traveling between cryptanalysis classes at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and my parents’ home in Farmington, Maine, on weekends, (winter of 1971-1972), I drove a 1965 Pontiac Tempest with a 326-cubic-inch automatic, very much like Lionel’s Grand Prix only not as high-powered. It was a rear-wheel-drive dream, though. I once sailed down Interstate 495 in it, in a snowstorm, and found myself unexpectedly going sideways at around 70 mph, my headlights illuminating the driver of the car I was passing. His look of astonishment (this was around February 1972) is still bright in my memory. I completed the pass, though, and steered into the skid to resume facing in the direction I intended to go.
That ’65 Tempest had a “primal mutilation” in the front bumper on the driver’s side, which is barely visible in the blurry snapshot here — the only photo of the car that I ever took. The bumper had an upward bend in it when I bought it that gave it a slight snarl. This was the inspiration for the scar in Cyleine’s upper lip in Cold Morning Shadow, a subtle feature that one can grow fond of.
Here is one vehicle from the book that deserves honorable mention: Henry Clay’s 1959 Chevrolet Apache 31 Deluxe four-wheel-drive pickup. This is a photo of the truck I had in mind.
Final mention goes to a 1954 Indian Roadmaster Chief — a motorcycle. They didn’t make Indian motorcycles in 1954, you say? Well, read the book and see how it might have actually happened — after all, that’s the liberty an author of fiction can take. Here’s a fair representation of the motorcycle in the story. This image comes from RadRodBikes.com.
Now when you’re reading the book you’ll be able to picture the vehicles of Cold Morning Shadow.