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Elegante Concept Car Featured at the 1955 New York International Auto Show

Automobile enthusiasts often think about what their own custom car would look like if they were able to construct one. In the early-1950s, Harry Birdsall and Joe Mascari were able to afford to have their own concept car constructed with plans to later build and sell a limited number of the vehicles.

The project began after commissioning noted industrial and automotive designer, Albrecht Graf von Goertz, of Germany to turn their dream into a reality. After Goertz finished with the design process of the “Elegante,” Carrozzeria Motto of Turin, Italy was selected to turn the drawings and the 1953 Cadillac chassis chosen as a base for the car into a complete and finished vehicle.

Two and a half years later the coachbuilder finished the construction of the “Elegante,” fitted with custom aluminum coachwork for the reported cost of thirty-thousand dollars. The machine featured a unique two-piece retractable aluminum hardtop and the body was finished in pearlescent white. All of the cast bronze exterior components are gold plated and the aluminum pieces including the top, hubcaps and side trim are gold anodized, the interior was trimmed in red leather.

After completion, the “Elegante” was shown on a revolving platform at the 1955 International Auto Show at the Cross County Plaza in Yonkers, New York, where this enlargable press photograph (below) courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia was shot.

The concept car’s limited production did not follow, although the vehicle has survived and is now owned by Dick Birdsall, Harry Birdsall’s son. The “Elegante” was shown at the 2014 Amelia Island Concours where it won the “Peoples Choice” award after a difficult sixteen-year long restoration by Dick Birdsall.

28 responses to “Elegante Concept Car Featured at the 1955 New York International Auto Show

  1. I miss New York City from the Fifties. A nice 1954 Olds Holiday hardtop in the background, along with a 1955 Chevy, and a Plymouth Suburban . The Elegante quater panels predict the 1957 Cadillac. Love the 1855 Bel Air Pedal car

  2. There is some kind of photo effect that makes that Chevy looked like it’s on the deck of the Elegante and even casts a shadow on the car.

  3. This is one concept / custom car I’ve never seen before. As a totally obsessed 13 year old car nut back in 1955, and until today, i personally find that imteresting.

  4. Harry Birdsall and Joe Mascari’s children and relatives are still alive today so if you have something reasonable or positive to say about and use common courtesy please do leave as a comment about the Elegante.

    We are repeating the text of an earlier policy published earlier (below) on The Old Motor about readers posting negative comments that was made in 2015 so that newer readers will know where we stand on this issue:

    “A change that is being made is because of a problem that is common when readers are allowed to leave comments on a website. Ninety-eight percent of our readers are pleasant, willing to help, are APPRECIATED, and leave comments that benefit everyone.”

    “Unfortunately the other two percent do not have any common courtesy and feel that they can leave negative and at times unbelievably rude comments about anything they feel like. Starting today, the following types of comments are going be deleted.”

    “At times, we post photos showing a vehicle, or a facility, museum or images by one of the many photographers we are fortunate to work with. The rule of thumb here is do not say anything that you would not say about the vehicle, facility or photograph in person with the owner or surviving relatives or whoever created it. Just because you don’t like a vehicle, its styling, color, tires or top is not a reason to leave a negative comment. Be polite because negative, rude and nasty comments are a waste of your time, and will be deleted.”

  5. David, thank you for the site, glad you patrol it. I see several areas of this car that are way ahead of it’s time, ’60 Buick tail lights, dual head lights that have a ’59 Plymouth look to them are two. I would really like to see it in person.

  6. Patrolling a site is just de rigeuer these days. I used to visit a US Ducati site and it was informative and very friendly. a great help to a neophyte Ducatisti. Then the food fights started and it tore the site up, finally being the cause of its demise. Far too many similar stories out there. Nice to have this kind of place to relax in.

  7. Thanks David for the pictures and stories of the most unique one-off cars. I googled ‘Elegante Concept Car’ and discovered a wealth of information and color photos of this now restored car along with its fascinating backstory . At 67 years of age I thought I had seen them all but the Elegante had escaped me. Until now!

  8. Although Harry Birdsall and Joe Mascari were unable to bring their “Elegante” to limited production, their unique design was actually manufactured and sold by the thousands to children across America, including me. I still have it. Tri Play Toys, of Chicago, offered the Elegante as the Crashmobile Plastic Car Action Toy. In the box were a chassis and 5-piece body, all made of durable high-impact plastic. The child assembled the body onto the chassis, used the crank on the front axle to wind the power spring, and then send the car hurtling off toward a stationary object. Upon impact, the bumper retracted and activated a mechanism that literally blew the body pieces off the chassis. At roughly 1:28th scale, the car’s dimensions are 2-1/2” wide x 7” long. A half-size version (1-1/8″ x 3-1/4”) was also available in a blister pack under the name Crashmobile Jr. Most of the toys were colorful with contrasting chassis, top and body parts. However, my Crashmobile body and top are white and the chassis is red. To see photos of the toys, Google: “PLAY WAY BY TRI PLAY”.

    • I may have had a smaller one. As I recall, the body of mine was split down the middle and it was split mid-cabin…cutting the car into four quarters with the roof on top.

      As a kid, I recognized it as a Cadillac/57 Chevy combo, I didn’t know it was based on an actual car.

      Thanks.

      BTW: Not a bad looking car, it reminds me of several customs of the day…If not for the aluminum body, I’d guess it was a show car/custom of the period done in lead.

      And if you’re like me, a bit too young to have read the magazines of the 50s, but want to learn about them and see some great cars, I recommend both volumes of Pat Granhal’s LOST HOT RODS.

  9. Thanks for patrolling your site to weed out the nay Sayers and knuckleheads that try to spoill things like this great source of automotive history. Your site is my first one I lok at daily. Features like today’s would most likely never be seen again without your continuing relocation and vigilance.

  10. I intended to say “dedication” in my previous comment but once again my all knowing Kindle changed the spelling to what it thinks it should be.

  11. To see something else inspired by this concept car, search for 1956 Eldorado Biarritz survivor.
    Or for gold anodized aluminum Cadillac Sabre wheels. Or for Cadillac Kelsey Hayes #39796.

  12. Maybe David you’ll still allow this, for all those who love miniature cars. See my little history of motorcars 1860-1980 that was just on exhibition at the famous Bugatti Museum of the Schlumpf brothers in Mulhouse (France) for 18 months. Many unique and forgotten early American cars are shown, the Chicago race of 1895… Google: ma petite histoire de l’automobile cite de l’auto and Chateau de Breteuil.

  13. If memory serves, Albrecht Goertz was the body designer of the original Datsun 240Z back in 1970. Mine was S/N 01341.

  14. In the 1950s and 1960s, this is what we used to call a “full custom” rather than a concept (the latter were normally the products of car manufacturers).

    Anyway, while I very much like this nicely executed La Espada clone, I have to wonder why–in all these years–about one thing. Why has neither Cadillac nor car historians and collectors noticed that the Elegante name actually migrated onto a real production Cadillac? Did Cadillac purchase rights to use the name?

    I once owned a Cadillac Seville Elegante. It was one of the early series of Cadillac Sevilles (not to be confused with Eldroado Seville). The Seville Elegante had additional brushed stainless trim near the beltline, illuminated “carriage lights” with Cadillac wreath/crest, additional medallions, names and more. My Seville Elegante also had real wire spoke wheels.

    • Leon, I agree that the Elegante design appears to have been inspired by the La Espada. The La Espada was first shown at the 1954 GM Motorama, while the Elegante debuted in May 1955. The story states the Elegante design and construction took 2-1/2 years, which would put the concept date around late 1952 or early 1953. I wonder when the La Espada was designed…that might determined which car inspired which.

  15. There was a “Billy Birdsall”, an engineer that was involved in the Regal automobile, as well as the Mora and Browniekar in 1905 to 1911 and then the Mora truck in 1914. I wondered if Harry was related.

  16. I saw the Elegante at the 2018 Syracuse Nationals – it was one of the Gene Winfield “Select Six”. The car is breathtaking and tasteful in person.

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