Vintage Cars of ‘The Great Gatsby’ – National Sextet, Series BB

What Cars Would Jay Gatsby Have Really Bought?

The Great Gatsby - Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby. Will Daisy keep on being a 'beautiful fool'?

The Great Gatsby – Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby. Will Daisy keep on being a ‘beautiful fool’?

A 1919-1921 Shopping List by Igor Spajic


Had Gatsby moved quickly to buy a fine car in 1919, he could have bought the last year’s worth of the excellent Highway Twelve, perhaps the sportiest V12-engined car then made by an American automaker.

National was another pioneer company which quickly progressed to fine 4-cylinder touring cars by 1904 and by 1906 was among the first to market with large, powerful six-cylinder models. But National won its fame and fortunes through a series of highly developed 4-cylinder models that were known for their competition prowess at Indianapolis and various other hillclimbs and races.

National quickly introduced a V12 model shortly after Packard in 1915. The Highway Twelve was smaller than a Packard but sportier, with 77 bhp. Revised in 1917, the second series Highway Twelve was a better engine with accessible side-valves and removable heads, with 81 honest horses.

1919 National Highway Twelve

An excellent buy before 1920 – 1919 National Highway Twelve.

But National was a small company and during a period of war production was unable to compete for the increasingly scarce and expensive materials needed for continuing car manufacture. Forced to raise their asking prices to counteract the effects of wartime inflation, National ended up in a higher, uncompetitive price range.

1921 National Sextet limousine.

1921 National Sextet limousine. A formal body style from a maker more associated with fine performance cars.



For 1920, National dropped their Highway Sixes and Twelves and issued a new model – the Sextet. The Sextet used a Continental side-valve six-cylinder, modified by National engineers with an overhead valve head. Good for 71 bhp, the new Sextet did not lose much in power output, but the new body designs were taller and bulkier and now more expensive. Less sporty – and less sporty looking, National had abandoned its former clientele but was unable to gain a newer one.

National was wound up in 1924, partially through being associated with a failing auto empire involving Shad-Wyck and Dixie Flyer.

Gatsby might have bought a Highway Twelve in 1919 or a Sextet in 1920 or 1921, but may well have passed over the struggling Indianapolis automaker.

National Motor Car & Vehicle Corporation

National Sextet

1921 prices – $3,750 – $4,950

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