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Classic Driver Motor Show 1954: The most important cars of the year

With some of history’s most memorable cars launched in 1954, that year’s motor shows offered a spectacle like no other. Combining the best of New York, Geneva, Turin, Paris and London, we imagine the Classic Driver Motor Show ’54…

That year, the New York motor show was one of the first events of the automotive calendar – and it didn’t disappoint fans of European metal. Thanks to importer Max Hoffman, the revolutionary Mercedes 300 SL was launched to the world in front of an American backdrop, one that also included pretty showgirls (to demonstrate its unorthodox gullwing doors), and a prototype 190 SL roadster. The Touring-bodied Hudson Italia was another example of a Euro-American collaboration; meanwhile, Luigi Chinetti oversaw the debut of the Ferrari 250 Europa crafted by Vignale. A 225S and 375MM Pinin Farina Spider were also on hand to remind show-goers of the striking Vignale coupé’s competition-derived underpinnings.

New York to London, via Geneva, Turin and Paris

Later that year, Jaguar employed the same tactic at the Earls Court show by stationing its new XK140, one of the fastest cars of its generation and much improved over the XK120, alongside the new D-type. An example of the latter had not long returned from an impressive performance at Le Mans in the hands of Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt.

Between New York and London were the Geneva, Turin and Paris shows to provide a platform for continental manufacturers – and indeed, to give Bentley the chance to market its updated R-Type Continental. March saw the reveal of the Ferrari 375 America in Geneva, while compatriot Alfa Romeo dominated its domestic show in Turin by presenting not only the B.A.T. 7 concept car, but also the Giulietta Sprint sports coupé. Both memorable for their own reasons, they were the work of Bertone designer Franco Scaglione; perhaps he was in competition with fellow Italian pensmith Giovanni Michelotti, who was said to have had no fewer than 30 cars bearing his influence on display in Turin that year.

From B.A.T to Bergman

In Paris, Ferrari was active as ever. As well as showing the 250 Europa GT – the marque’s first road car to employ the legendary Colombo V12 – another coachbuilt one-off was shown. Probably one of the most famous, this particular 375MM became known as the ‘Bergman Ferrari’, with movie director Roberto Rossellini buying it for wife Ingrid, on the spot, following a joint inspection on the Paris show stand.

With so many would-be exhibits at our theoretical Classic Driver Motor Show, 1954 was clearly a vintage year in the automotive world – its influence is still felt today.

Photos: Getty, Rex Features, Mercedes-Benz, Bonhams, Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, Alfa Romeo Automobilismo Storico, Centro Documentazione (Arese, Milano) 

Plenty of 1954 cars can be found for sale in the Classic Driver Market.