In the United States
, a personal luxury car
was a car classification
, a specific automobile
market segment. The originator of the classification is generally considered to be the 1958 four-seat Ford Thunderbird, which had no close competitor until its success led other manufacturers into this market niche.
A 'personal luxury car' is considered a luxurious automobile designed primarily for the pleasure of its driver and owner, rather than the comfort of its passengers. A full-size luxury car places the comfort of its passengers (both front and rear seat) at least as highly as the driver's.
Most personal luxury cars had only two doors, showing that carrying rear seat passengers was not a priority and the car was not chosen by or for them. While not a true performance car, a personal luxury car has power and speed. Part of its market were those who couldn't afford a full-size luxury car, but another part of its market were people looking for something more enjoyable to drive. The personal luxury car's forté was highway and freeway cruising. The suspension was tuned for comfortable high-speed driving on the highway, being rather too soft for negotiating winding roads at speed, and the steering was generally lazy, slow-turning and fingertip-easy in the manner of a Cadillac rather than a Corvette
. Top speeds were high, thanks to the high gearing used to give smoothness at lower speed, and the large engines fitted for the same reason. Engines were generally big, often V8, towards the top end of the manufacturer's size range, though not performance-tuned models. Transmission choices were few and automatic transmission de rigueur
Internally, these cars were well-appointed, offering nearly the appointments of a luxury car. Exterior styling was often dramatic and even extravagant; this class of car did much to popularize such items as hidden headlights, opera windows
, and the vinyl roof
The era of the true American personal luxury car lasted until around 1985, though many of the models continued in much shrunken form for quite a while. Today, this market segment is nearly dead among domestic cars, but similar imports from Japanese manufacturers like Lexus and Infiniti and European marques like BMW
and Mercedes sell well.
Cars that can be included in the Personal Luxury Car sector include the following. Note that not all model years with cars bearing these names count, since automobile manufacturers often re-use names, sometimes on very different types of car:
- Ford Thunderbird - the original personal luxury car, and always one of the best sellers
- Ford Elite - the company's first intermediate PLC, obsoleted when the T-Bird shrank in '77
- Oldsmobile Starfire - until the arrival of the Toronado in 1966
- Oldsmobile Toronado - the first modern American front wheel drive car
- Buick Riviera - considered one of the most beautiful American cars of the 1960s
- Buick Regal - born personal luxury, learned performance, finished as sedan
- Pontiac Grand Prix - Introduced in 1962, early models are similar to the Pontiac Catalina in looks but they were always more luxurious. From '69 through '73, it shared a chassis with the Pontiac GTO. A revolutionary top seller.
- Chrysler Cordoba - Late to market in 1975, but for several years phenomenally successful
- Mercury Cougar - the pony car that grew up
- Chevrolet Monte Carlo - Introduced in 1970, and related to the Chevrolet Chevelle; again, a much more luxurious car than its stablemate, but considerably smaller and cheaper than the following cars from luxury car brands, which fitted in at the very top end of the personal luxury car market:
- Cadillac Eldorado - from the late 60s sharing the front wheel drive and other characteristics of the Oldsmobile Toronado
- Lincoln Continental Mark Series - from 1969 usually sharing the chassis, drivetrain and other parts of the Ford Thunderbird
- Chrysler Imperial - in the early 80's this venerable name was briefly an Eldo-wannabe