CREATING U.S. AUTOMOTIVE STYLE IN THE 1950'S
Sales hadn't been very good for Ford Motor Company (FoMoCo) and General Motors (G.M.) from 1945 to 1948. Combined, they both produced 5.1 million cars for all divisions over the 3 years. By comparison, they had produced 2.6 million in 1941 alone. Even though the country had just come out of a world war, both knew they needed to do something different. Each of them had been selling variants of their pre WW2 designs since the end of the war. A change in grills and trim had been the only “new” things that had been done, styling wise, in the last 3 years. This would set the stage for one of the greatest automotive leaps forward, in both styling & engineering, since the late 1920’s. Before the war, both car companies would release models that were just enough different from the previous year to cause interest in what the next model would look like and what new mechanical modifications they might introduce. But none of those previous changes were anything like what was about to come. Lets take a look at 8 of them.
Above: (Left) 1948 Ford (Right) 1949 Ford. Pictures from Hemmings Motor News
The 1949 line up at Ford would be completely different from anything that had ever come before it. Engineers had created a car that had much more interior room than any previous model. They would introduce independent front suspensions & open drive shafts. They would move the engine forward, giving extra room in the car & lower the engine in the frame rails increasing stability. In fact the only thing not all new for ’49 was the power plant. It was still the flathead V8 that Ford had used since 1932. The upside was, it would have 239 cubic inches of displacement & 100 horsepower, the most of any previous Ford engine.
Above: (Left) 1948 Chevrolet (Right) 1949 Chevrolet. Pictures from Hemmings Motor News
The 1950's would be a new decade of style & Chevrolet would benefit from this the most. From 1949 to 1953 Chevrolet would have forward thinking designs, but they would almost always be eclipsed by their G.M. counterparts. That is until 1955.
Above: (Left) 1948 Oldsmobile (Right) 1949 Oldsmobile. Pictures from Hemmings Motor News
G.M. had already done things like add Independent front suspensions to their lineup of cars before the war, so their mechanical department was free to concentrate on another problem. Since 1929 G.M. had been using the same in-line 6 cylinder motor. They set about updating & increasing horsepower. What they would design, an overhead valve V8 engine, would change the U.S. automotive scene forever. The first ones were sent to Oldsmobile & installed in the ’49 line up of Rocket 88’s. Yes, as Ford was introducing their largest most powerful Flathead ever, G.M. was releasing something on a completely different level.
Above: (Left) 1948 Mercury (Right) 1949 Mercury. Pictures from Hemmings Motor News
Not to be out done by Ford, Mercury would release one of the most iconic body designs of the early 1950's. It would be admired in it's stock form & it would be cut up a million different ways by countless customizers.
Buick & Pontiac (G.M.)
Above: (First) 1948 Buick (Second) 1949 Buick (Third) 1948 Pontiac (Fourth) 1949 Pontiac. Pictures from Hemmings Motor News.
The middle level G.M. cars would go on to become some of the most beautiful cars ever created by U.S. automakers in the 1950's. Pontiac, due in large part to Harley Earl, would produce some of its best looking cars during this decade and would go on to start the U.S. Muscle car era, with the 1964 GTO. Buick would fire the final shot in the Muscle car wars, with the 1970 GSX 455 Stage 1.
Lincoln (FoMoCo) & Cadillac (G.M.)
Above: (First) 1948 Lincoln (Second) 1949 Lincoln (Third) 1947 Cadillac (Fourth) 1948 Cadillac. Pictures from Hemmings Motor News
Lincoln & Cadillac, the top of the line for both companies, would also introduce new styles, its just that Cadillac would beat everyone by a year. Lincoln would have it's best design decade in the 1960's. Cadillac would start a 20 year run of some of the best designs in U.S. luxury car history.
Other U.S. car makers
FoMoCo & G.M. were the firsts to develop new post war line ups. It would take the competition a few more years. I believe that the other U.S. automakers like Packard, Hudson, Nash, Studebaker & most notably Chrysler Corp waited for FoMoCo & G.M. to put out their new designs so they would not have to take on the risk. They could put the expense & risk taking of producing the new post war auto look onto the big 2. The problem with this is that they spent much of the 1950s playing catch-up. This would lead to a lot of them (all of them besides Chrysler) failing in the coming years.
The take away from all of this?
1949 was a big deal in the U.S. automotive market. Never before, or since, have so many completely new styled and produced models came out. Here we have only looked at 8 different examples, but the total for new models was over twice that. I'm sure the local dealership was an exciting place to be in 1949!
Keep on Cruisin'!
Art by: Chris Breeden
About the Author:
"Chris Breeden is a Social Media content creator for Custom & Hot Rod Life on DRIVETRIBE, YouTube and Facebook. After spending 5 years in Southern California, a.k.a. Hot Rod Heaven, while serving as a jet engine mechanic in the United States Marine Corps, he moved back home to Tennessee with an even greater love for Hot Rodded Vintage Tin. Since then he has worked in retail sales and the transportation and logistics industry. In 2018, seeing a gap in Hot Rod and Custom Car coverage on DRIVETRIBE, Chris began advocating for their inclusion on the platform. During the summer months, he can be found all over the Tennessee region covering car shows, meets, and cruise-ins. During the winter months, he can be found in the garage working on his custom 1949 Ford two-door sedan and 1954 F100 truck."