35 Years On, I think that “Postliberal” sums it up
The reference to the Mercedes as a "dictator's car" is similar to this observation by Paul Fussell in Class: A Guide Through the American Status System. >The automobile, like the all-important domestic façade, is another mechanism for outdoor class display. Or class lack of display we'd have to say, if we focus on the usages of the upper class, who, on the principle of archaism, affect to regard the automobile as very nouveau and underplay it consistently. Class understatement describes the technique: if your money and freedom and carelessness of censure allow you to buy any kind of car, you provide yourself with the meanest and most common to indicate that you're not taking seriously so easily purchasable and thus vulgar a class totem. You have a Chevy, Ford, Plymouth, or Dodge, and in the least interesting style and color. It may be clean, although slightly dirty is best. But it should be boring. The next best thing is to have a "good" car, like a jaguar or BMW, but to be sure it's old and beat-up. You may not have a Rolls, a Cadillac, or a Mercedes. Especially a Mercedes, a car, Joseph Epstein reports in The American Scholar (Winter I981-82), which the intelligent young in West Germany regard, quite correctly, as "a sign of high vulgarity, a car of the kind owned by Beverly Hills dentists or African cabinet ministers." The worst kind of upper-middle-class types own Mercedes, lust as the best own elderly Oldsmobiles, Buicks, and Chryslers, and perhaps jeeps and Land Rovers, the latter conveying the Preppy suggestion that one of your residences is in a place so unpublic that the roads to it are not even paved, indeed are hardly passable by your ordinary vulgar automobile. And the understatement canon determines that the higher your class, the slower you drive. Speeders are either young non-Anglo-Saxon high-school proles hoping to impress girls of a similar sort, or insecure, status-anxious middle-class men who have seen too many movies involving auto chases and as a result think cars romantic, sexy, exciting, etc. The requirements of class dictate that you drive slowly, steadily, and silently, and as near the middle of the road as possible. My brother-in-law, who emigrated from Germany as a child, had a Mercedes. But as he was a salesman- though a highly compensated one, the "vulgar" description might have been seen as fitting.In the 1950s, family friends bought a Mercedes in Germany and shipped it to the US. IIRC, the Mercedes cost them $2000, which at the time was about what you would pay for a new Chevrolet. Ah, those exchange rates.
Yes, the Preppy Handbook https://www.amazon.com/Official-Preppy-Handbook-Lisa-Birnbach/dp/0894801406/, which came out in 1980 recommended the Volvo 240, or even the 140, with similar reasoning.
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