Cars with breasts, as narrated by Tom Wolfe (set-up lines for Dagmar by Frank Sinatra)

The American family car was a 425-horsepower, twenty-two-foot-long Buick Electra with tail fins in back and two black rubber breasts on the bumper in front.

Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House

Except when they were chromed-steel breasts…

They were called “Dagmars” or “Dagmar bumpers” after the show-biz star Virginia Ruth Egnor Lewis, who went by Jennie Lewis during her early work on Broadway. When she was cast in NBC’s “Broadway Open House,” an early effort at late-night television programming, the host, Jerry Lester, nicknamed her Dagmar after Dagmar Hansen, a character on another show.

(Dagmar is of course an ancient Scandinavian name that has also enjoyed popularity in Slavic and northern-European countries.)

Automotive Dagmars flourished during the early and mid-1950s, as we see in the Merkle Subatom MC2 Sport. While the Merkle had an atomic propulsion system, it was otherwise conventional in styling, so Dagmars were essential.

Tom Wolfe makes a point about the life of plenty that we enjoyed: “The way Americans lived made the rest of mankind stare with envy or disgust but always with awe.”

True, that. But his call is off just slightly.

The Buick Electra 225 was introduced, post-Dagmar, in 1959. It was 225 inches long–18.75 feet. And the engine was a 401-cubic-inch V-8 that generated 325 horsepower. By 1964, a 425-cubic-inch V-8 with dual carbs was available, and it made 360 horsepower.

Leave a Reply