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This Excalibur Is Ready To Wear - Designer Peter Nygård Says Car Expresses Philosophy

Toronto Star Logo







HOLY GRAIL: "Most of the cars you see today look like

Mercedes. You need to be more like Excalibur."

Peter Nygård, chairman of Nygård International fashion house, tells a rags-to-riches story. Born in Finland, he became a Canadian citizen in 1956 when his family moved to Winnipeg and his dad set up a shop as a baker. Today, Nygård controls a women's ready-to-wear operation with annual sales approaching $600 million. Nygård loves his car.


Q. What cars do you drive?

A. I've worn the same look for the last 30 years, and have driven the same car for the last 25 years. I fell in love with a car named Excalibur at a Montreal car show in 1976. Specially made by Excalibur Motor Cars, this was a unique, customized automobile modelled after the 1928 Mercedes. They made 100 a year. It's a classic from a vintage year, with big separate fenders, convertible or hardtop. It was very hard to ever find a car that was better or more mighty looking than that automobile. I still have it today.


Q. What appealed to you about the Excalibur?

A. It looked like an original; a car with some history. I love history, and this felt like a 1928 car in mint condition. Upon further investigation, I found that it was really a replica reproduction of the car and it was actually made in 1976. It's still one of the most beautiful cars I've ever seen.


Q. Do you get sentimental about cars?

A. I guess I do. I had a love affair with the Excalibur, and I never could buy another car for a long time. I ended up, at one time owning as many as seven of them, making me the largest owner of Excalibur motorcars. It wasn't until the Hummer came on the scene that I bought another car for myself.


The Excalibur in the Bahamas is on the blocks, and I've replaced that with a 1997 Hummer, painted in fatigue green. And I bought a second one for the Bahamas in 1999, also in green.


Q. Do you seek to make a fashion statement with your cars?

A. I like to be unique with the cars that I drive. I've always sort of pushed the envelope a little bit. I think that's the whole essence of my success.


When I grew up, Cadillac was the ultimate success symbol. But that's the last thing I wanted. My standards for success were Excalibur, not Cadillac. That made me different.


Q. What was your first car, and what were your memories with it?

A. My very car was a red four-banger Austin Healey with two overdrives. It was a 1956, and I bought it when I just got out of school. I have wonderful memories of that car. Here I was, a poor boy and I could scrape up the $1,400 to buy it (my dad helped me with half of it). It was one of the happiest days in my life. Even bigger than the thrill of owning the Excalibur.


Q. Do you have different cars for different occasions?

A. In Los Angeles, I have an Excalibur and a company Mercedes. In my early years, when I was breaking in, I used to take the Excalibur, because it was more showbiz. When you pulled up in it, it looked like you fit in because that's what Hollywood is all about. But recently, I went to a major function for Muhammad Ali with Billy Crystal hosting, and I just drove one of the old Mercedes there, I guess I've changed. I don't care anymore.


Q. What makes one car more fashionable than another?

A. Its design. Most of the cars you see today are very conforming. They all look like Mercedes. You need to be more like Excalibur.


Q. Do you go through drive-throughs in your Excalibur?

A. Sure, and heads turn all the time.

Q. What do you remember of Finnish cars?

A. We didn't have a car growing up. We were very poor. The first time we had a car was when I turned 16, and my dad bought a used car, a huge big tank of a Buick. At $600, it was way over our budget, but he bought it basically for me. That's where I first learned my driving.


Q. How does it make you feel to have so many cars yourself?

A. It tells me how great North America really is. To be able to sit here now with the luxury, to buy seven cars at a time, when my dad didn't know if we could have our next meal. All my dad's life savings went to get us that one car