"Welcome to the 50's sir, these are your possibilities"
So picture this. You have a position at an average sized company, earning an average sized salary, and having an average sized family, which if my calculations are correct, would be consisting of four people, and maybe a dog. You have a faint idea of who Juan Manuel Fangio is, jet airliners are becoming more and more usual, and the world is heating up to a new big conflict, so in other words it's the 1950's, and you recently got the urge to replace the old Nash 600 or Volvo PV800.
It's post-WWII, Europe and most parts of the world are in the process of rebuilding entire countries from an evil tyrants doings, where most car factories were turned into tank-building factories, so not much have revolutionized since the late 30's, Europe's ressources are mainly focused on rebuilding so automobiles would have to be more economic and built with the concept of preserving as much as possible, but at the other side of the great big pond known as the Atlantic ocean, the Americans are building great huge cars, without many restrictions, and without having to worry about the ressources or economy. The car industry is booming, shapes and sizes are revolutionary and customers are in for a treat because luxury and horsepower is becoming a defining factor for a potential automobile customer.
So let us delve into 5 possibilities of the 50's from an American perspective as well as an European perspective.
1957 Chrysler New Yorker
In 1957 the Chrysler corporation introduced the Americans to a new look on their flagship model, the New Yorker. The New Yorker were large as any flagship model of the time, and in part saved Chrysler from dire economical problems. It was designed by the innovative and now famous car designer Virgil Exner. Cars such as the New Yorker saved the company, and changed the overall perception of Chrysler in the 50's.
The Chrysler corporation consisting of DeSoto, Plymouth, Dodge, Chrysler and Imperial won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award in 1957. Which definitely were a deal breaker for the succes to come for the struggling Chrysler corporation.
The New Yorker featured a 6.4L Hemi V8 producing 325 horsepower, which could carry a small family of four in luxury and style. Chrysler sold around 10.948 New Yorkers which were produced in convertible specification as well, and was by the time considered a success. It's definitely an upper-middle class sort of car, and were placed in-between real luxury cars such as the Cadillacs and above the likes of Ford.
1952 Volkswagen Transporter T2
So, we know it as the "Bus" or "Samba bus" but is actually, conveniently so, called the Transporter or more clinically the Type 2. The van that would take the hippie world by storm just a few years later, were originally built because of a Dutch Volkswagen importer named Ben Pon, he sought to buy a couple of Volkswagen type 1's in the late 1940's to sell in the Netherlands, so he went to Volkswagen in Wolfsburg to order a couple, and saw an improvised transporter built from a Volkswagen type 1. He thought it could be done better, and sketched the idea of the Volkswagen Transporter.
The first generation Volkswagen Transporter were introduced and available for customers in 1950 and it was built in many different specifications, including; Panel-van, Kombi, Bus, Crew Cab, Flat bed, etc. The first generation Transporter produced a whopping 25 horsepower, bigger engines were introduced later in its lifespan, with the biggest being a 1.6L. The first generation Transporter was discontinued in 1967 for the European and American market, and in 1975 for the Brazilian market.
A family of 4 or even more would most likely choose the Bus variant, also known as the Caravelle. It was a Transporter specced as a car on the inside, with more focus on comfort and longevity as a family car. It was, for a lack of a better word, more luxurious than any other variants.
1956 Chevrolet Bel Air
The iconic second-generation Bel Air were introduced in 1955. It was praised by Motor Trend for its tremendous handling, which were a nice addition to the 55' models front grill, which were heavily inspired by Ferrari grills at the time. They later changed the front grill to a more consumer appropriate front grill, which were introduced a year later in 1956. The Bel Air had led a bit of a reputation hit for the first generation, where it was stereotyped as a car driven by dads. This was changed by the new "Motoramic" design language of Chevrolet, and the Bel Air's reputation changed radically, the second generation became known as "The Hot Ones", the image of a "dad-mobile" vanished. Chevrolet themselves called it a new concept, a concept of low cost motoring.
It was fitted with a range of engines, ranging from a 3.5L V6 producing to a 4.6L V8 producing 283 horsepower. The Bel Air came in a number of different specifications including an 2-door estate called the Nomad, which could fit even more family stuff for your annual picnic trip to your favorit park.
The Bel Air changed the reputation of being a dad-mobile to being one of the "Hot Ones". So who doesn't want to buy a seemingly well-priced Chevy Bel Air being part of "The Hot Ones". Well I sure would have.
1957 Opel Rekord P1
We are back in Europe again, and with that comes smaller cars focused on a more economic approach with smaller engines, although the Opel Rekord was an executive car, it was built to attract the wealthy, and the Opel Rekord was their flagship model that was supposed to reel them in. The differences of the European market and the American market is hugely evident when looking at the Rekord, a car classified as bigger than a family car weren't even close of the length of a family saloon in the states, such as the Bel Air. Two markets oddly isolated from each other, creates a car industry with two completely different approaches, and with it the birth of many classics of today.
Well let's talk about the actual Opel Rekord P1. It was built in 4 different specifications, an estate version, a van version, a 2 door, and a 4 door sedan, which is the one pictured. By European sizes it was a rather large saloon car, and could carry the whole family in a rather comfortably manner. It was sold with 3 different engine types, ranging from a 1.2L L4 to a 1.7L L4 engine producing 55 horsepower.
Even though the two industries were rather isolated from each other consumer wise, the design language of the 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air were said to have been a big inspiration for the designer Hans Mersheimer, when he drew the lines for the Opel Rekord. So the Opel Rekord could unofficially be the Europeans Chevy Bel Air. We could call it "The Lukewarm One".
1959 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham
The Cadillac Eldorado were the absolute king of tailfins, and they were considered the largest of the period
Okay, I'll admit it, the Eldorado might not have been exactly in the price range of someone earning an average sized salary in the late 50's but what the hell, I had to include it, so excuse me, but this is my wild card and my wet dream. The Cadillac Eldorado, with its stylish lines and massive tailfins attracted a lot of movie stars, popstars and the like, because of its flamboyant look and its overly vulgar presence. Its the essence of 50's American car design, and is definitely worthy of the titel of being a truly legendary and iconic car that we are going to have a tough time forgetting. Long live the king of car tailfins.
It was fitted with a 6.4L V8 producing 345 horsepower, and came in 3 different variations, including a 4-door hardtop, 2-door hardtop, and a 2-door convertible. It was considered a proper luxury car, and competed with the big European brands, such as Mercedes-Benz. It was considered to be the king of luxury in the states, and had no real competition from other American car manufactures. The 1959 Eldorado Brougham were hand built in Italy by Pninfarina, and the massive tailfins of the other Eldorados such as the 59' Seville, were toned down.
- All my opinions are my own and my own observations, and might not be objectively correct
- All information in this "article" is gathered from around the internet, books, and documentaries and commercials
- Thanks for reading