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

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!

Lotus Elite

Lotus Elite 1950s British classic sports car

The Lotus Elite is widely regarded as one of the most stylish cars the firm made. Primarily, that was down to Peter Kirwan Taylor. Though not a leading light in the automotive design field at the time, Lotus put their faith in him - and it was rewarded. Launched in '59 - along with the Mini and Jaguar MKII - the Elite was produced for four years. In the course of that time, it became one of the iconic British sports cars. As always - with Colin Chapman at the helm - light weight was key. With that in mind, the Elite was the first car to be built on a glass-fibre monocoque chassis. That helped it reach a top speed of 130mph. Aerodynamic lines assisted. The Elite was agile, too. Few sports cars could hold a candle to it through corners!

Power was provided by an overhead-cam Coventry Climax motor. When kitted out with a single carburettor, it delivered 71bhp. A twin-carb set-up increased that to 83bhp. A 4-speed gearbox came courtesy of BMC. The SE version would be fitted with a close-ratio, 5-speed ZF 'box. Power increased to 105bhp. The Elite was economical, though - as a result of its light weight. As impressive as the Elite's straight-line speed, was its handling. The car was suspended by coil-spring dampers at the front - and Chapman struts (modified MacPherson struts) at the rear. Steering was by rack-and-pinion. The full complement of high-grade disc brakes came as standard. Of more questionable quality were the windows. While pleasing on the eye, their unique profile meant they were difficult to wind down fully. Not what you wanted, on a hot summer's day!

Generally speaking, though, the Elite did its name justice. In styling terms, it was from the top drawer. The Elite's dashboard, for example, echoed its chic low profile. Nevertheless, there were faults - other than the wind-down windows issue. The car's monocoque - cutting edge, though it was - was prone to noisy vibration. Also, interior décor was somewhat sparse. All things considered, however, the Lotus Elite was a fine example of a top-flight British sports car!

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!

Austin-Healey Sprite

Austin-Healey Sprite 1950s British classic sports car

The Austin-Healey Sprite is, arguably, the cutest car ever! Its most adorable feature? Some may go weak at the knees for its seductive smile. That came in the form of an emoji-style grille. Most, though, would faint at those 'foxy' frog eyes - hence the car's Frogeye Sprite moniker. In fact, those heart-melting windows of the automotive soul might never have opened at all - at least, not in daylight. Donald Healey - designer of the Sprite - drafted it with retractable headlights. Mercifully - for classic car buffs - the cost of fitting them proved prohibitive. So, 'pop-up' became 'pop-eyed' ... and a legend was born.

The Sprite, though, was not just about styling. In the Fifties, its top speed of 84mph impressed. Particularly, since the Sprite's inline-four engine made just 43bhp. Capacity was 948cc. We are talking efficient British engineering. Then again, there was not a lot to lug about. The Sprite, after all, measured only 3.5m in length. Certainly, the Frog-Eye was economical. 45mpg was the low-cost reward for a relaxed driving style. Saying that, tweaking the 'A Series' engine was a breeze. The whole of the Sprite's one-piece nose section lifted up - allowing for the easiest of access. The Frogeye's 4-speed 'box served up the power in bite-size chunks.

The Sprite was the younger sibling of the 3000 model - or 'big Healey', as it was commonly dubbed. BMC's shelves, then, were heaving with parts which bolted straight onto the Sprite. Most of the components also saw service on Morris Minors and Austin A35s. 38,999 Frogeyes were built. Sadly, Austin-Healey broke the mould after making the Sprite. Cars would never again be quite so cuddly!

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!