Playboy: a phrase coined in the 20th century to describe a wealthy man with ample time for leisure and who often enjoys the company of women. For this reason, those who follow the playboy lifestyle often surround themselves with expensive, beautiful luxuries, such as cars.
The most famous (or infamous, you decide) playboy is of course Hugh Hefner. One rumour as to how Hefner came up with Playboy magazine’s name is directly linked to the Playboy Automobile Company, which was founded in 1947 in Buffalo, New York. The small automobile manufacturer built a very limited handful of cars before going out of business in 1951. They produced 98 finished serial numbered production cars, plus one prototype and one unfinished car which has survived with 0 miles on the odometer. Only around 43 of them are believed to have survived today.
So the rumour goes, employee of the Playboy Automobile Company suggested to her son’s friend that he name his new men’s magazine after the company. That friend was Hugh Hefner, and the rest is history.
Playboy magazine and cars have always been interwoven. Despite Hefner not being a noted autophile, he of course had to have an impressive collection of classic luxury cars, including a 1959 Mercedes-Benz 300SL and a 1955 Cadillac Series 62 convertible.
One only has to look at Carol ‘Bunny’ Burkett to see how the playboy lifestyle goes hand in hand with expensive and fast cars.
The Playmate of the Year Prize Cars
Playboy magazine began with its first issue in 1953, with the famous cover of Marilyn Monroe. In 1960, Playboy magazine began the Playmate of the Year award, in which the magazine would choose a model to be their Playmate of the Year and they would win a host of fancy prizes. The prizes improved year on year, until in 1964 they started giving away a car. As a side note, it is a shame that June Cochran missed these prizes when she won in 1963, considering she would later become a Hurst girl for a while. The awarding of cars (or motorbikes and boats) is a tradition that has continued up until this day. Let’s take a look at the cars awarded between 1964 and 1975, which are, of course, all pink.
For the first year, it would only be fitting for Donna Marie to win something that was also in its first year: the brand new Ford Mustang. A great promotional gig for both Ford and Playboy, the 1964.5 Mustang was painted in Playmate Pink, which later became a popular colour. It was also powered by a 289ci V8, which was powerful for the little pony car. As well as the Mustang, 19-year-old Donna Marie also won $100,000 cash and a bunch of other prizes.
For 1965, Jo Collins received a Sunbeam Tiger fitted with a Ford 289ci V8. Tigers were only produced for 3 years, with around 7,083 models being produced. Only 663 of the MKII Tigers were produced with the 289ci motor, making it one of the rarest Playmate of the Year cars to be awarded. The pairing of the nimble British sports car with big American V8 muscle is partly owed to the genius of Carroll Shelby, also known for the Shelby Cobras. According to the Sunbeam Tiger registry the car was living in British Columbia back in 2005, however it had been repainted red which is a shame.
In 1966, Allison Parks wanted a car that was roomy and practical to haul her family to swimming practice, so she was awarded the new 1966 Dodge Charger. It was fitted with the 383ci V8, and likely a 4bbl. Unfortunately it is unknown what happened to the car, but it is speculated that like a lot of the Playmate’s cars would have been repainted or eventually scrapped.
In 1967, Lisa Baker received the new shape Plymouth Barracuda: the only Plymouth ever awarded to a Playmate. Now I may be a little biased, but this is my favourite of them all. Allegedly 10 more pink Barracudas were built for the occasion, all from the California plant with the colour code #999, however these have all been lost throughout the years also.
Angela Dorian received an AMC AMX in 1968. This car, and Angela, have a pretty weird backstory. Apparently, Dorian’s friend, none other than Roman Polanski, gave her his personal Walther after his wife and friends were killed in the Charles Manson murders. She kept the gun until in 2010 she shot her husband. As he survived, the Playmate got nine years inside.
The story of the car is a bit of a happier one. Like most of the playmate cars, it was resprayed a more inconspicuous colour (they didn’t enjoy the unwanted attention) and got crashed and repaired time and time again, before getting parked up and left to rust. However, after Dorian went to prison, the car ended up in the hands of Mark Melvin and Allen Tyler in 2010 who completely restored the car, which you can see in this video with Jay Leno.
For a lot of people, this 1969 Playmate of the Year car is the top of the list. Connie Kreski received a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Fastback with a 427ci Cobra Jet and an automatic transmission. It was pastel grey from factory, then painted Playmate Pink after being awarded to Kreski. Like many of the Playmate cars, this one seemingly disappeared almost immediately after the promo photos were taken and isn’t in the Shelby Classic registry.
As if the Shelby GT500 wasn’t enough, she also received a Schwinn Varsity 10-speed bicycle, Harley Davidson M-65, a pair of skis, a fur coat by Alpers Furs and a Peter Kennedy outfit, an Arctic Cat Panther snowmobile with matching riding outfit, a Jantzen swimsuit with scuba equipment from US Divers, a pool cue, jewellery, cosmetics, an AM/FM car radio, champagne and a typewriter.
For 1970, Claudia Jennings was awarded a Mercury Capri. Known as the Queen of B movies, Jennings was also an actress up until her untimely death in a collision in 1979. She is seen posing with her Capri in front of Hef’s DC-9. The Capri was powered by a lowly 70hp 4-cylinder motor; you couldn’t get much further from the cars offered in previous years. Yet again, the whereabouts of the car is unknown.
Okay, so you’re probably thinking ‘hang on a minute, she’s skipped a year’. Quite right, I decided to skip 1971 as Sharon Clark received a Spectra 20 Ski Boat. Yep, a boat, and it wasn’t even painted pink. Sorry, Sharon.
So moving swiftly on to 1972, when lucky Liv Lindeland received a DeTomaso Pantera. The car was originally painted white and then painted pink by Playboy Enterprises after purchasing it in 1972. The car amazingly still survives and was up for sale in 2015, however it was painted red and black with a list of modifications and couldn’t be more different if it tried from when Liv had it.
It was originally powered by a tuned 351ci Cleveland V8 making 330 hp and it could do the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds. At the time the Pantera cost $10,295. Around 2061 Panteras were produced for this model year.
For 1973, Marilyn Cole gives the Barracuda a run for its money after winning my other favourite Playmate of the Year car; a Volvo 1800ES. An interesting choice, but unmatched for coolness, the 1800ES is the wagon version of Volvo’s P1800, which many compare the performance of to an Aston Martin or other expensive cars of the era.
Amazingly, the car is still believed to be in existence after being moved to the Playboy Club in England in November 1973 (Marilyn Cole was the only English Playmate of the Year) and then to the Netherlands in 1990 after being restored. At some point it was painted red (likely pretty soon after it was awarded like the others) and was sadly involved in an accident circa 2005. It is still registered in the Netherlands.
In 1974, Cindi Wood received a Mercedes-Benz 450SL powered by a 222hp rated 4.5L V8 and came with a removable hard top; it was quite a luxurious car at the time it was produced! There’s a real lack of information about Cindi’s car online, and it is debated whether the Merc was even painted pink. It seems that the original photos may have been black and white and that the photos for Playboy may have been colourised, or that the car was white and tinted pink in colour photos. Either way, let’s pretend it’s pink because I hope it was!
For 1975, Marilyn Lange received a Porsche 911S, the first of eight Porsches awarded to subsequent Playmates over the years. The Porsche’s 2.7L flat-six made 173hp and only weighed 2,381 pounds, which is a figure not many of today’s cars can match, and had a top speed of 146mph.
1975 seems like a natural stopping point. This was the last of the succession of pink cars to be awarded to a playmate and the last of what I feel are a good run of classic cars. It is a shame that so many of these cars have been lost over the years, either scrapped, crashed or repainted, but it is understandable why so many Playmates were desperate to respray them. Many were allegedly pulled over by the police for autographs, and it attracted a lot of unwanted attention for the women. I can’t say the same for myself however; I’d love a tacky pink Barracuda!
Written by Niamh Smith.
Photos belong to rightful owners.