If you like cars, especially vintage cars, then The Great Gatsby has something of interest for you. Even for those who see cars as a means of transportation and nothing more, the symbolism of the cars in this novel is also appealing.
The truth is that today’s cars are much more reliable, more comfortable, and easier to drive than cars from the 1920s. However, when it comes to style, let’s face it, nothing beats the old “gangster” cars from this era.
Author F. Scott Fitzgerald had a fascination with automobiles, as did most Americans at the time, despite the fact that most Americans could not afford one.
One of the great things about The Great Gatsby is that the cars mentioned were luxury vehicles that hold a place in history.
You won’t find any Ford Fiestas or Chevy Citations, so let’s take a look at the cars that Fitzgerald dreamed of owning.
- Related Topic: Why Did Fitzgerald Write The Great Gatsby?
What Cars Are Mentioned in The Great Gatsby?
If you’ve read the novel, you know that the cars in this book play a huge role. Without a car, it would be very difficult for the characters to go from place to place. Although there was a train, it’s not nearly as fun or luxurious. Besides, Myrtle missing a train doesn’t have the same impact to the storyline as her death by Gatsby’s car.
By name, Fitzgerald only mentions two vehicles:
- Gatsby’s yellow Rolls Royce
- Nick’s “old Dodge”
He talks about other vehicles but gives no manufacturer name. Other vehicles in The Great Gatsby are:
- Tom’s blue coupe could have been an Auburn speedster, a popular sportster at the time, but no manufacturer is named.
- A hearse. When Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby drive over the bridge into New York, he sees a hearse. No name is given to the type of vehicle that has been made into a hearse, but back in the Jazz Age, it was Cadillac that was often made into a hearse.
- A limousine. Also when Nick and Gatsby were driving over the Queensboro bridge, right behind the hearse, Nick spots a limousine. Again, no manufacturer was named, but it was most likely an Armbruster, a brand specializing in limos for the wealthy and stars or famous bands.
When Daisy comes to visit Nick (and ends up meeting Gatsby), Fitzgerald talks about her chauffer, but doesn’t mention even the color of the vehicle.
It appears that the author wanted the reader to really focus on only two cars, Tom Buchanan’s car (a blue coupe) and Jay Gatsby’s yellow or cream Rolls-Royce.
What Do The Cars Represent in The Great Gatsby?
Cars in this novel represent two things: freedom and wealth.
Daisy is driven to Nick’s house by a chauffeur. We don’t know what type of car it was, but one thing is clear: Daisy has the freedom to go almost anywhere. She also has money enough to hire someone to drive her.
Jordan Baker also drives, but again, no mention is made of her car, only that Nick believes she is a poor driver. Jordan also has the freedom to go where she pleases and the money to do so.
The type of cars that are mentioned in The Great Gatsby – Tom’s blue coupe and Gatsby’s Rolls Royce, were luxury vehicles even in this era. Both men have enough cash to buy top-of-the-line vehicles that were both sporty and luxurious.
With the wealth to buy a vehicle comes the freedom to travel as you please.
Note that George Wilson and Myrtle do not own a vehicle, despite owning a garage and gas station. No money equals no freedom, which is why George will beg Tom to give him an old car so that he can sell it and move West.
What Does Gatsby’s Yellow Car Symbolize in The Great Gatsby?
Gatsby’s yellow Rolls-Royce is a symbol of his wealth, status, and desire to impress Daisy Buchanan. The car also symbolizes Gatsby’s dreams and his pursuit of the American Dream.
As Nick Carraway describes the car:
It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and toolboxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns.
The color yellow is often associated with wealth and opulence, and Gatsby’s car is no exception. The car is a luxurious Rolls-Royce, and its bright yellow color makes it stand out from the other cars on the road. This is a deliberate choice on Gatsby’s part, as he wants to make a statement with his car. He wants people to know that he is wealthy and successful.
The car that Jay Gatsby drove is also a symbol of Gatsby’s desire to impress Daisy. Daisy is a wealthy socialite, and she is used to being around luxury. Gatsby knows that if he wants to win her over, he needs to show her that he can match her lifestyle. The yellow Rolls-Royce is a way for him to do that.
The Symbolic Importance of the Yellow Rolls-Royce
Finally, the car is a symbol of Gatsby’s dreams and his pursuit of the American Dream. The American Dream says that anyone can achieve success in America, regardless of their background. Gatsby is a self-made man, and he has achieved great wealth through his own hard work. The yellow Rolls-Royce is a symbol of Gatsby’s success, and it is a statement that indeed he has achieved the American Dream.
While the car is described by Nick Carraway as being “a rich cream color”, for the remainder of the novel, the car is always described as yellow.
For some imagery, picture a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost convertible. That is one impressive vehicle!
What Car Did Tom Buchanan Drive in The Great Gatsby?
Tom Buchanan drives a blue coupe in The Great Gatsby. The coupe is a luxury vehicle, similar to a Cadillac, and in fact, it may even have been a Cadillac.
Many scholars speculate that Scott Fitzgerald’s choice of blue here represents Tom’s belief in his own superiority as a blue blood or member of the aristocracy.
Daisy refers to Tom as “a hulking physical specimen” with a great disgust for the middle class. He is also a racist and a misogynist. The blue coupe is a reflection of Tom’s personality and his views on the world. It is a symbol of his wealth, power, and sense of entitlement.
The actual manufacturer of the car, however, is up for speculation. While it could have been a Cadillac, it might also have been the powerful Auburn 8-77 or a Duesenberg Model A touring car.
Fitzgerald didn’t tell us the car manufacturer for good reason. He didn’t want to take away from the big yellow Gatsby car that would take a life by the end of the novel.
What Car Did Nick Carraway Drive in The Great Gatsby?
Nick describes his car as an “old Dodge” and if you notice, he doesn’t seem to drive it very much.
Since this novel is set in 1922 and cars had only been mass-produced for less than 10 years, an “old” Dodge might have been a 1915 Dodge 30-35 or a Dodge touring car.
While today these cars are considered classic antiques that bring a lot of money at auctions, in the Prohibition era, an 8-year-old Dodge might be more akin to driving a Ford Pinto today.
Unfortunately, we don’t get any mention of color, but it was most likely black. An old saying goes, “Ford will sell you any color you like as long as it’s black.” This ,wasn’t really true, but colors cost more, so it makes sense that Nick would drive a very basic, black vehicle.
What Is the Significance of Tom Driving Gatsby’s Car?
Tom fully expected Daisy to sit with him, and asking to drive Gatsby’s car is akin to Tom saying, “Anything he has I can have, but he can’t have my wife.” Tom wants to show his assertiveness and dominance over Gatsby.
Tom also knew that having Gatsby drive his car would be “distasteful” to him. When you truly dislike someone, you don’t want anything to do with them, including driving their car.
Although Tom’s car was surely at least as luxurious as Gatsby’s Rolls Royce, driving the car of the man you despise isn’t pleasant.
In the end, however, Daisy goes with Gatsby, as if she were saying, “Gatsby is taking everything from you, Tom- your wife, your car, everything!”
I think that would have been a great line in this novel.
Why Did Gatsby Drive a Rolls-Royce?
In 1908, a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost cost around $8,250 in the United States. This was considered a luxury car of its time and was one of the most expensive cars on the market. In the 1920s, the cost of a Rolls-Royce increased to around $12,750.
However, it is important to note that the cost of a car in the 1920s was not adjusted for inflation, so this amount would be equivalent to around $170,000 in today’s money.
Other luxury cars that were available in the United States during the 1920s include the Packard, the Duesenberg, and the Pierce-Arrow. These cars were also very expensive, with prices ranging from around $5,000 to $10,000 (equivalent to around $70,000 to $140,000 in today’s money).
Fitzgerald most likely chose the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost as Gatsby’s car because it was the most expensive at the time. Even a Bentley couldn’t touch what a Rolls-Royce cost.
By the way, that $12,000 price tag? That was for the bare-bones car. Every customization after that cost extra, such as hat boxes, tool boxes, camping boxes, colors, even seat colors, all cost extra. Gatsby mentions that his vehicle is a “custom job” with a souped-up motor.
Camping Boxes in a Car? What Are Those?
Before cars were mass-produced in 1913, people didn’t travel nearly as often as they did later on. To travel, one would need a horse and buggy or take a horse and buggy to the train station, only to take another horse and buggy to another location if it was far from the train.
With an automobile, someone could travel to another town or see several towns in a matter of days, if the roads permitted. Camping became a huge fad in the 1920s.
Towns might be miles apart, and small towns may not have hotels. No problem! Simply open up your “camping box” and remove your tent, blankets, and any other supplies you might need for the night, and sleep by the road!
Oh yes, one more thing about those roads- they were not the best. Designed for horses or buggies, roads were often nothing more than mud or dirt. It was the demand for cars that led to cities, counties, and states making gravel or other types of roads.
Between 1919 and 1929, the number of passenger cars in the U.S. ballooned from 6.5 million to 23 million, quickly overwhelming local road infrastructure. In 1922 alone, the federal government completed over 10,000 miles of roadway improvement projects.
Manufacturers tried to compete with one another by adding conveniences for drivers and passengers, including hat boxes for the ladies, camping boxes to store camping equipment and not take up any space in the trunk, as well as heaters and higher tires to avoid road debris, such as horse apples and rocks.
Final Thoughts on Cars from the Great Gatsby
The Roaring Twenties was a time of great economic prosperity and social change. Cars were a symbol of this time period. They represented the new wealth and freedom that people were experiencing. Cars also represented the new culture of the Jazz Age, which was characterized by jazz, flappers, and speakeasies.
Cars are an important part of the story in The Great Gatsby because they represent wealth, status, freedom, mobility, the American Dream, and the Roaring Twenties. They are a symbol of the time period and the lives that people lived in this era.
1. How much does Gatsby’s car cost?
Back in the early 1920s, a Rolls-Royce Ghost base price was $12,000. Remember that the average salary was a little more than $3,000/year in 1920. Some Rolls-Royces from this time period sold at auction for half a million dollars.
2. Was Gatsby’s car yellow or cream?
Nick describes the car as a “rich cream color”. When Myrtle is killed, the car is said to be yellow over and over again. Rich cream could mean a light yellow, or it could be that at night, the car appears more yellow than cream.
3. What cars are in the 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby?
You gotta love these cars in the movie adaptation! While not historically accurate, Tom’s blue coupe is a 1933 Auburn, and Gatsby drives a 1929 Duesenberg. It’s interesting to note that the Auburn is all original, while the Duesenberg was a clone. You’ll also see a 1930 Buick, a couple of Packards, not to mention a Ford Model A. All these cars were made after the novel, which takes place in 1922, but dang, these are super beautiful cars!
Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby, a former teacher with a BA in English, is the founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com. With a passion for all things 1920s, including The Great Gatsby novel, her website is the ultimate source for Roaring Twenties fashion, history, and party ideas. Read more about Kerry here.