Showing posts with label 1950s Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1950s Cars. Show all posts

Fiat 500

Fiat 500 1950s Italian classic car

In '57 - when the Fiat 500 was released - motorcycles ruled Italian roads. Whether solo - or attached to a side-car - they were the way most people got from A to B. The Fiat 500 was set to change that. It was convenient and economical. Okay, so were motorbikes. But, the '500' came with a roof ... and a sun-roof, at that! By '77 - twenty years later - Fiat had sold over 4,000,000 of them.

The 500's stats were not shattering! It had a twin-cylinder, 499cc motor - producing 18bhp, in standard trim. Top speed was 60mph. Enter Carlo Abarth! His 695cc SS model pushed 90mph. The 'Abarth' featured flared wheel arches, oil cooler, and raised rear engine cover. They were there to prevent over-heating, and increase stability. A pleasant side-effect was that the Abarth acquitted itself well at the racetracks. The roadster, too, handled well. Complete with rear-mounted motor, it delivered a desirable 52mpg. It cruised at 55mph. It was best not to ask too much of it, though - due to the drum brakes, and non-synchromesh gearbox. A modification made to later models was the move from rear to front hinges for the doors. That was especially good news for those still on two wheels!

So far as comfort was concerned, the little Fiat was 'utilitarian'. That said, '68's '500L' came with reclining seats, and carpets. Not exactly 'Rolls-Royce' ... but then a Rolls-Royce did not do 52mpg! The Fiat 500's mission was to provide stress-free motoring, to as many people as possible. That mission, it accomplished ... with petite, but impressive aplomb!

Citroën DS

Citroen DS 1950s French classic car

From an engineering perspective, the Citroën DS must be one of the most exciting roadsters ever built. Its 4-cylinder engine powered a hydraulic system - which found its way into just about every part of the car. The motor itself was straightforward - dating back to the '34 'Traction-avant'. But, the hydraulic set-up it sparked into life was revolutionary. Most notable was the suspension. Instead of springs, the 'DS' was fitted with 'self-levelling hydropneumatic struts'. As a result, the car was able to raise and lower itself in a way that had never been seen - or felt - before. Potholes and bumps were easy pickings for the DS. When stationary - with the engine switched off - the Citroën sank serenely down. The power steering, disc brakes, and 'clutchless' gearbox were all hydraulically-operated. In each case, performance was substantially improved.

At its Paris début - in '55 - the DS' avant-garde styling went down a storm! The fluid lines of the bodywork were - and are - unique. They were functional, too - cleaving cleanly through French air. Front-wheel-drive, the DS handled well. But, to custom coach-builders - like Henri Chapron - the standard car was just a jumping-off point. They created coupés and stretched limos - taking DS aesthetics to the next level.

The DS set a trend for Citroëns. The ID19, and D Super became stalwarts of the Paris taxi scene. Sprawling Safari Estates ferried many from 'A to B'. The convertible version looked stunning - and had a price tag to match. The last of the high-end derivatives was the DS23. With a 5-speed 'box - and fuel injection - it delivered 117mph. In the end, almost 1.5m DSs were sold ... a fittingly high figure for a fine product.

Vauxhall Cresta PA

Vauxhall Cresta PA 1960s British classic car

The Vauxhall Cresta PA appeared in '57. At the time, Vauxhall - a mainstay of British car manufacturing - was under the aegis of GM, in Detroit. Unsurprisingly, then, the new Cresta PA picked up several US styling motifs. The rear fins, for example, were pure Americana ... though suitably reined in for British tastes! Likewise, the PA's wraparound windscreen clearly originated on the other side of the 'pond'. Stateside-style two-tone paint - and whitewall tyres - were optional extras. The Cresta was Vauxhall's answer to the Ford Zodiac. It was there in every larger-than-life line of the British-made car. The PA's cabin continued the 'Britmobile' theme. Bench seats, white steering wheel and column shift all came courtesy of the American Dream.

Mechanically, the Cresta harked back to the E Series. Its pushrod straight-six engine produced 78bhp. That gave it a top speed of 90mph. Capacity was 2,262cc. Power was delivered in relaxed fashion. The gearbox was a 3-speed synchromesh set-up. Soft suspension was via a leaf-spring rear axle, wishbones and coil springs. Many of these components derived from the Vauxhall Velox - the Cresta's slightly less sophisticated predecessor.

In '59, the Cresta got a face-lift. Its three-piece rear screen became one-piece. Up front, the 'egg-crate' grille was revised. Coachbuilders Friary built an estate car version. The Queen gave it her personal seal of approval ... she drove one for years. 1960 brought further Cresta updates. Its motor was taken out to 2.6 litres. That upped output to 96bhp. The PA was given larger wheels and fins. The gearbox was now a two-pedal Hydramatic auto. Or, alternatively, a dual overdrive manual. Front disc brakes were servo-assisted. British motorists gave the improvements a thumbs up. The PA sold soundly, right up to '62. By then, though, its fins - whilst the 'in thing' in the Fifties - were starting to show their age. Its production run now over, the Vauxhall Cresta PA was put out to well-earned pasture. British cars would seldom look as American again!

Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz 1950s American classic car

The Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz was one outrageous roadster. Launched in '59, it looked like a Saturn space-rocket. Certainly, you could have seen it coming from a mile away. Not that it would have arrived as quickly as a rocket - its top speed being 115mph. It would have helped, too, had said mile been a smooth stretch of freeway. The Biarritz's springy suspension might have got the jitters, otherwise. But - given the right road - the Biarritz was a car like no other. The epitome of OTT styling, it took Fifties sci-fi mania to another level. Rear fins had never been higher - up to a skyscraper-like 42″. Jutting out of them was a ray-gun of indicators and brake-lights. And - were they tail-lights or after-burners? A cosmetic rear grille inspired further flights of spaced-out fancy.

Powering the plot was a 6.3-litre V8. It made a more than respectable 345bhp. Much of that, though, was soaked up by the Biarritz's two-ton weight problem. It did not do the fuel economy any favours, either. A measly 8mpg were available. There again, petrol in '50s America was cheap as chips. Holding it all together was a perimeter frame chassis. Drum brakes were fitted all round. Not exactly space-age, technically. But, then, that had been sorted by the design department!

The Biarritz was off-the-clock comfortable. Zero-gravity, you might say! That was due, mainly, to its super-soft suspension settings. All six seats were power-adjustable. The boot-lid opened electrically. Headlight-dipping was automatic. Of course, there was power-steering. The hood and windows were also electrically-operated. Transmission was via a 3-speed auto. The car was named after a mythical city, made out of gold - and a sophisticated French seaside resort. Cadillac's Eldorado Biarritz was everything you would expect from a machine so dubbed. Oh - space-walks were an extra!

BMW 507

BMW 507 1950s German classic sports car

The BMW 507 was styled by Albrecht von Goertz. He was a German aristocrat - who owned an American industrial design agency. Goertz took the big box-section chassis of the BMW saloon car - and shortened it. The result was a more than tidy 2-seater. The 507 was an unabashed attempt to crack the American glamour market. Post-war, BMW had watched their brand-image slide into mediocrity. It was high time the great German manufacturer raised its profile again. The 507 was supposed to do just that. It was not to be. Only 253 BMW 507s were sold. To all intents and purposes, the 507 was automotive haute couture. But - as in the fashion industry - it costs gargantuan amounts to produce. The Second World War was not long gone. For most motorists, the 507 simply was not affordable.

The 507 got its well-heeled occupants from A to B with a minimum of fuss. Not that it could not push on, if required. Should you have been a tad late for the opera, for instance, a firm brogue on the go pedal would definitely get you there for curtain up. The 3-litre V8 engine gave 160bhp. That translated to 140mph, flat out. 0-60 came up in 9s. The sounds emitted from the 507's twin rear pipes were music to the ears. Even at speed, its ride was unflustered. Front and rear torsion-bar suspension saw to that.

The 507's detailing was exquisite. And not just the beautiful BMW badge. The cross-hatched heat-vents were a notable touch. They were matched by the car's kidney-shaped grille - a trademark BMW feature. The 507's front-end was almost shark-like - courtesy of its stylishly protruding nose. The long, flowing bonnet-line was complemented by a cute stub-tail. The 507 stayed in production for just four years. Consummately-crafted, it mated motoring and fine art. Ultimately, the 507 cost BMW more than it recouped. But then, what price do you put on perfection?

Pegaso Z-102

Pegaso Z-102 1950s Spanish classic car

In the Fifties, the Spanish firm Pegaso made some of the most glamorous cars in the world. Among them was the Pegaso Z-102. Designed by Touring, the Z-102's alloy bodywork combined beauty with light weight. For whatever reason, though, the car suffered in the showrooms. Its replacement - the Z-103 - was a toned-down version of the Z-102. Its engine, for example, came with a single-overhead-camshaft. Not surprisingly, Pegaso intended that the Z-103 sell better than its predecessor. Between the pair of them, however, only around 100 units were shifted. Thankfully, Pegaso's bread and butter sales were in trucks and coaches. Their foray into sports car manufacturing was something of a sideline.

At the race-tracks, too, the Z-102 under-achieved. It started out with a 2.8-litre V8 engine. Baseline power was 175bhp. Bolting on a supercharger substantially upped that number - to 280bhp. Taking the 2.8-litre motor out to 3.2 upped it still further - to 360bhp. That should have been enough to be competitive. Especially, given that at lower speeds, the Z-102 handled well. Despite its light alloy body, however, in overall terms, the Z-102 was heavy. That could make it recalcitrant through higher-speed corners. Its top speed of 160mph did redress the balance somewhat - but not enough. At least it sounded great - courtesy of its gear-driven camshafts!

It felt almost as if the Z-102 had been built on a whim. Dominant though they were in the commercial vehicle world, Pegaso were less than savvy about the sports car business. The Z-102 stayed in production for seven years. The last cars left the factory in '58. As a money-maker, it had been pretty futile. On the bright side, Pegaso had demonstrated that it could make stunning-looking automobiles - on top of its more monolithic stock-in-trade. Ultimately, insufficient attention had been paid to the Z-102's bottom line. The Z-103 had tried to make amends - with its more prosaic approach. But, the financial damage was done - and a line had, eventually, to be drawn. The marque of Pegaso - based in Barcelona - will probably never be spoken of in the same breath as Ferrari or Lamborghini. But, for a while, the Pegaso Z-102 showed that Spanish sports cars could be every bit as exotic as their Italian counterparts!

Edsel

Edsel 1950s American classic car

In brand-name terms, the Edsel and Mercury were peas from the same pod. In reality, the Edsel was made by Ford. Technically, though, Edsel was a marque in its own right. Certainly, it was sold as such - from '58 to '60. Ford forecast that - in the first year alone - it would sell 200,000 Edsels. As it turned out, a mere 62,000 shunted through the showrooms - in the whole of its two-year run. The Edsel had cost Ford $250,000,000 to develop - so, the mediocre sales figures were not good! To say the Edsel was a white elephant would be an understatement. Which was a shame, actually - because it was a car that could have had a lot going for it. Sadly, though, Ford's timing was out. Not that it was really the Blue Oval's fault. Ford's sales team had targeted lower-middle demographics - lodged somewhere between their up-market models and the cut-price Mercury. When the Edsel went into production, however, the automotive industry was depressed. Customers were looking to buy cheap. The Edsel was stuck in marketing no man's land.

As with the Mercury, there were echoes of the Ferrari Dino in the Edsel. At least, insofar as both were presented as stand-alone marques. Both, too, were named after prematurely deceased sons. Dino Ferrari - and Edsel Ford - passed before their time. The cars were fathers' tributes - from Enzo and Henry, respectively. It was especially sad, then, that in the case of the Edsel, sales were so poor. A front-end feature that definitely did not help was the vertically-shaped grille. American buyers simply did not take to it. Ironically, the rest of the car was quite conservatively styled. As compared with its Fifties rivals, at any rate. The Edsel 'brand' comprised 15 models - including saloons, convertibles and station-wagons. The one part they had in common was the floor-pan!

The Edsel's engine came in one of two flavours - straight-six or V8. Peak power was 350bhp. Top speed, 108mph. Manual and auto 'boxes were both 3-speed. Biggest capacity was 6,719cc. Edsels are now highly sought-after. In different economic circumstances, the Edsel may well have been a success. As it is, it has to settle for an impressively high 'one that got away' rating!

Jaguar MKII

Jaguar MKII 1950s British classic car

The Jaguar MKII was one of the great all-rounders. Pretty much anything you wanted from a car, it could do. So versatile was the 'MKII Jag' that both cops and robbers fell in love with it! That was understandable. The top-spec 3.8 version - with manual overdrive - was good for 125mph. And, with no speed limit on British roads at the time, you could make the most of that number - whichever side of the law you were on. Not that observing speed limits would have been top of the robbers' list of priorities, of course! For all that, the MKII Jag was also the ideal commuter car - for the business class. As refined as you like when it wanted to be, the MKII would transport its well-heeled occupants with ease. The MKII Jaguar, then, was all things to all men. It was also affordably-priced.

It was not long before the movie studios came calling. The MKII played a cameo rĂ´le in Performance - alongside James Fox and Mick Jagger. And starred in Get Carter - in which it was hard on the tail of Michael Caine. On TV, Inspector Morse would not be seen in anything else. Such sashaying across screens did sales figures no harm at all. 83,980 MKIIs were built. At racetracks, too, the Jag played a leading part. In saloon car showdowns, it was highly competitive. Indeed, racing driver Graham Hill - as well as Lotus boss Colin Chapman - both owned MKIIs.

Certainly, the car was beautiful to behold. Designer William Lyons - or, Mr. Jaguar, as he was affectionately known - had seen to that. And that, really, was the reason for its popularity. Stock-broker or law-breaker - in a MKII, you looked like $1,000,000, either way! The car had Sir William's styling stamped all over it. Inside, the leather seats, wooden dash and door cappings all displayed Lyons' keen eye for design detail. As did the dial- and switch-encrusted facia. On the engineering front, the MKII used tried and tested Jaguar technology. Its straight-six 3.8-litre XK engine delivered 220bhp. For a while, that made the MKII the quickest saloon car around. Technically, it was released in '59 - though it will always be synonymous with the '60s. As was the Mini - that other Sixties automotive icon. Instantly recognisable, the MKII helped define its times. In other words, the Jaguar MKII was as cast-iron a classic as cars come!

Lancia Aurelia B20

Lancia Aurelia B20 1950s Italian classic car

The Lancia Aurelia B20 was the first GT - or, Gran Turismo car. It passed through six production phases - from 1950 to '58. F1 stars Juan Manuel Fangio and Mike Hawthorn both drove B20s - when off-duty, of course! That would suggest they were on the speedy side - and they were. Styling-wise, too, B20s were ahead of the field. After all, they had been designed by Pininfarina. Credit, though, must also go to Vittorio Jano. He it was who conceived the Aurelia B10 saloon - in 1950. The B20 was based on that model.

The Aurelia was powered by a V6 motor. Again, this was the first time that that layout had been used in series production. Output was 112bhp. Co-incidentally, that was the same figure as the B20's top speed. The V6's alloy block was rubber-mounted - to reduce engine vibration. A single camshaft operated on light alloy push-rods. Hemispherical combustion chambers housed in-line valves. A double-choke Weber 40 carburettor squeezed through the juice. Transmission was via a 4-speed 'box - and column-shift. Later versions of the B20 were fitted with DeDion rear suspension. That improved the car's wet weather handling. Front suspension, too, was beefed up - to counteract brake judder and steering shimmy. On the fifth and sixth versions of the B20, handling and braking were helped by increased torque stats. That was achieved by de-tuning the motor - with a 'softer' cam profile.

To produce the B20 series, Lancia supplied a a rolling chassis to a succession of coachbuilders. Chief amongst them was Vignale. None of them, though, topped the simple sophistication of Pininfarina's original. Rarely has coupé bodywork looked as good. You could almost say Lancia broke the GT mould with the Aurelia B20 - at the first time of asking!

Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud

Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud 1950s British classic car

The most elegant car ever built? Several possible answers ... most of them made by the same company! No prizes for that one, then - Rolls-Royce. So the question resolves to, 'What's the most elegant Rolls-Royce of all time?' A clear contender for that crown has to be the Silver Cloud. Launched in '55, it as good as epitomised the marque.

No offence at all to Crewe, England - but it is not always thought of as a source of suave sophistication. The products, though, which rolled out of one of its factory's gates were possessed of pedigree, without parallel. Back in the day, no other car had the cachet of a Rolls-Royce.

There are few drawbacks associated with ownership of a Rolls-Royce. For 'high rollers' of a nervous disposition, however, not knowing if the motor is running could obviously be a source of stress. The 'culprits', in that regard, were the Rolls-Royce engineers. So meticulous were they, that by the time they reluctantly signed their charges off, the cars were virtually silent! Rolls-Royce and Silver Cloud, then, were by-words for automotive excellence. To say, 'They don't make 'em like that anymore', would be almost sinful understatement!

Mercedes-Benz 300SL

Mercedes-Benz 300SL 1950s German classic sports car

Whilst car doors have their uses, they are seldom the focal point of the overall design. In the case of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, though, that is exactly what they were. Dubbed the Gullwing, its dexterously hinged doors 'flew' upwards. And if the seagull might not be considered the height of elegance, the 300SL certainly was. Especially with those doors flung high to the sky, the Mercedes was a magnificent sight. Not when perched on its roof, however ... following an accident, say. prising the doors open would then have proved difficult!

But, even with the SL's 'rubber side down', things were far from glitch-free. For starters, its handling was below par. Mainly, because the rear suspension was way too soft. Comfort-wise, too, it was not the best. In the event of rain, let us just say the 300SL's bodywork was not as 'well-sealed' as it might have been! The SL's 'SuperLight' space-frame was sweetly engineered. That said, it was literally a pain in the neck for mechanics. And the SL's engine was inclined 45° - to accommodate a lower bonnet line. Again - while designers doubtless cheered that to the echo - mechanics were not quite so appreciative!

To be fair, the SL was trying to span the gap between a Le Mans prototype and a well-appointed roadster. To say the least, different automotive worlds. For sheer sports car style, it had few peers. On the practical side, well - room for improvement. While it did not come cheap, if you could afford one, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL was, in fact, good value for money. Though - with its technical blemishes - deep pockets of patience also came in handy!

Ford Thunderbird

Ford Thunderbird 1950s American classic car

The ultimate classic car? Impossible to say - though the Ford Thunderbird must be right up there! Visually stunning, of course … full-gloss Americana, as it was. But, there was always more to the Thunderbird than met the eye. Its no-nonsense V8 motor made sure of that. In 5.1-litre format, the 'Bird was good for 120mph. The engine was borrowed from the Ford Mercury.

Next to some of its rivals, the visual design of early 'Birds was reserved. There is little that is excessive in the clean, bold lines of the first models. All pedal to the metal sports car styling. That said, it helped if you were travelling in a straight line. 'Birds tended to wade through bends - due to their super-soft suspension set-up.

The Thunderbird was Fifties, through and through. As the decade wore on, though, time took its toll. Like Elvis, it started out in life lithe and agile - with ebullience and looks all its own. In later versions, some of that grace faded. But, nothing can detract from the original. A proud day it was, when the first Thunderbird - pristine and powerful - flew the Ford coop.

Cadillac Eldorado Brougham

Cadillac Eldorado Brougham 1950s American classic car

As '50s cars go, the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was understated. Next to its sibling, the Eldorado Biarritz, for example, the Brougham's tail fins were positively petite. Such delicacies were to be found on other parts of the car, too. The aluminium roof - minus pillars - was a shining example. And the narrow, whitewall tyres were a stylish delight. From a design history point of view, the Brougham was the first car to feature twin headlights. It was based on a 'dream car' prototype - first shown at '54's Motorama. The 'Park Avenue' was a four-door sedan. It made serious waves when exhibited on GM's stand. As a result, Harley Earl - General Motors' head of design - hinted it might go into production. It duly did. The Eldorado Brougham was released in '57.

The Brougham's brand of elegance was more than skin-deep. The interior accessories list was a long one. It comprised items more associated with fashion than automobiles. Female passengers were particularly pampered. How about polarised sun visors, magnetised tumblers - and cigarette and tissue dispensers? Lipstick and cologne, a compact and powder puff, and a mirror and comb were thoughtfully provided. There was even an Arpege atomiser - with Lanvin perfume. And carpeting was in karakul - or lambskin. Hey, any lady who complained about that little lot might be asked to exit at the next set of lights!

But, the Brougham's litany of luxuries did not stop there. It was only right that more masculine tastes be catered to, too. Like a 6.3-litre V8 - dishing up 325bhp. It was hitched up to GM's 'Hydramatic' transmission. The chassis was 'X-frame' - held up by air-assisted suspension. There were both power brakes and steering. Plus, electrically-operated seats and windows. The cabin was wired for pretty much everything - given that this was still the Fifties. Gadgets and gizmos abounded. The Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was one of the most exotic cars ever to have come out of Detroit. A skilfully contrived cocktail of restrained glamour. And on top of all that, it could be customised. With 44 trim combinations available, your dream Caddy was a cinch!

Mini

Mini 1950s British classic car

The BMC Mini was launched in '59. Just in time, then, for the start of the 'Swinging Sixties' - a British cultural highpoint it helped to define. Subsequently, a poll of motoring luminaries went even further - voting it 'Car of the Century'. You did not have to look too hard to find its 'unique selling point' ... its size - or lack of it! Alec Issigonis - the Mini's designer - was obsessive about not wasting an inch of automotive real estate. The Mini was a utility vehicle, par excellence. Yet, it was also one of the coolest cars ever to turn a wheel ... each of which was a less than whopping 10″ in diameter! Issigonis' design process really did include sketches on the backs of envelopes. But, then, they were for the Mini! Anyway, it worked - more than 5,300,000 Minis were built. That made it Britain's best-selling car ... ever!

Space-saving, then, was the Mini's raison d'être. Its front-wheel-drive set-up was key to this ... as was the fact that the gearbox was placed beneath the engine. The Mini was a tour de force, technically. Dr Alex Moulton dreamed up radical rubber-cone suspension for the car. BMC quoted 'penny-a-mile' running costs. Bear in mind that the Mini was conceived in the wake of the '56 Suez Crisis - when fuel prices were at a premium. But, economical as it was, the Mini could shift a bit, too. Fastest of all was the Mini-Cooper S model. Named after John Cooper - the legendary race-car constructor - the top-spec version delivered 76bhp. And a top speed of 96mph. The Mini had always handled well ... now it had a motor to match. Standard-spec Coopers won the Tulip Rally - in '62 and '63. The Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally - in '64, '65 and '67. That was on top of ruling the roost in British saloon car racing.

The Mini even moved into the luxury car market ... well, after a fashion! Both Radford and Wood - and Pickett - turned out coach-built versions of the car. Pink Panther actor Peter Sellers owned one of Radford and Wood's creations. Presumably - after all his success - Sellers bought a Mini with an eye to style, rather than cost. But, Minis were comparatively affordable ... in standard trim, at least. The cost of the original cars was kept down by fitting sliding windows, cable-pull door releases, and externally welded body seams. To begin with, there were just two models to choose from - the Austin Mini Seven, and Morris Mini-Minor. The latter came in basic or de luxe versions. Over time, the use of alternative sub-frames enabled several variations on the theme. There were Mini vans, pick-ups, and estate cars. Not to mention, the Mini Moke and Cabriolet. The Mini, in turn, went on to influence other cars - like the long-boot Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet. Ultimately, though, the Mini was unique. Usually, iconic cars are comprised of vast swathes of metal. The Mini, though, went to the other extreme. Petite, certainly ... but always perfectly-formed!