Iconic European Classics of the 1950s

3w ago


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Jaguar XK120

After not having a proper sports car for eight years, Jaguar returned with the mighty XK120 which became insanely popular upon launch. The production version was unmatched for style by any other car that came before it and was powered by a 3.4 litre straight six producing 180 horsepower.

It became even more popular in the 1950s (which is why the XK120 made it to the list) when Jaguar entered it for rallying and racing with even more power. Without modification, it completed the flying mile with a maximum speed of 126 miles per hour. Incredible for a simple sports model that came about in only 1948.

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Alfa Romeo Giulietta

This pretty little Alfa started out in 1954 as a 2+2 coupe, the Giulietta Sprint. By 1965, the model range had expanded to include a saloon, 2-seater coupe and roadster variant. It became hugely successful down to the many models available and exotic Italian styling.

Both the Giulietta and its successor, the Giulia used a 1.3 litre twin-cam straight four. On the 1954 model, the power was rated at 52 horsepower. But it was not the power or the speed that mattered; here, it was all about the car.

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Fiat 500

When the 'Nuova' Fiat 500 was introduced in 1957 as a replacement for the similar 'Topolino', people began to go crazy over this wondrous piece of automotive art. Around 3.9 million units were produced in its eighteen year original run. It made good use of its tiny 22 horsepower, 500cc two-cylinder engine by putting it in the back.

The Fiat 500 was able to go through the city with an impressive fuel consumption, even with all four seats occupied. A rear-engine placement gave it more space for luggage, making it more practical than even the front-engined Mini that came later. In Britain, the Mini was one of the biggest sellers, but in Italy that achievement went to the Fiat 500.

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Citroen DS

The quirky-looking DS that we all love was first built in 1955 and featured innovative technology as well as a futuristic style. Notable innovations include disk brakes, hydraulic suspension, directional headlights, power steering, semi-automatic gear shifting and much more.

Due to the automatic levelling system and variable ground clearance, it was perfect for the poor road surfaces of post-war France, and also made it good for rallying. Worldwide, almost 1.5 million DSs were sold, which had a huge impact on Citroen and the rest of France.

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Mercedes-Benz 300SL

How can we have a list of 1950s cars without including the 300SL, with a elegant gullwing coupe and a stunning roadster. Just 3,258 were made over nine years; 1,400 coupes and 1,858 roadsters. This was THE sports car of the 1950s - the XK120 has to settle for 2nd best. In 1999 it was voted as the best sports car of the century - worthy of its title - and prices rose dramatically.

Either a coupe or a roadster will set you back just over a million quid. It was also fast, with a 3 litre straight six producing a massive 220 horsepower, with a top speed higher than any other at the time: 162 miles per hour. An impressive feat even by today's standards, and it deserves to be called the best sports car of the 20th century.

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