Filed under: Art & Inspiration
Moving right along to the ‘Powerhouse Era’ of American auto design, we have mid-century madness with completely new cars coming out of Detroit almost yearly through out the entire decade. GM leads the way in making pretty much whatever vehicle they wanted to, bean-counters be damned. This is the pinnacle design period to the majority of customizers out there, and it’s easy to see why: Cars get lower, longer, and the amount of chrome and horsepower triples from just a few years earlier. Paint and interiors get a serious color palette upgrade, sometime even tri-tone with gold flecks! The birth of the retractable hardtop, the factory-built sports car, and the all-steel wagon in our country all happened in this window of time; we learned a few tricks from Europe’s builders, and made them our own. Americans are buying two cars per household for the first time ever.
So step right up, choose your personal picks of the most striking US-designed and built cars from 1950 – 1959, and have fun with it! This is a tough era to narrow your list down from, with so much to chose from, as all of manufacturers really stepped up to the plate year after great year. Narrow your list to a favorite 10 of all of them, if you can.
1953 Cadillac Eldorado. Introduced along with equally cool Buick Skylark and Oldsmobile Fiesta, the ’53 Eldo took styling a bit further with a fully wrap-around windshield, unique bodywork (the ‘sweetheart dip’ sides), and hard tonneau cover. This car (along with the Olds and Buick) was Harley Earl’s calling card of things to come from GM.
1952-53 Lincoln Capri hardtop. I love the Mercury-sized bodies, coupled with nice design touches like “frenched” floating headlamps, frameless taillights, and smart interiors. These cars are completely underrated as custom material, but it does not take much beyond lowering and some trim removal to make a striking statement.
1952-54 Nash Healey. She was designed by Pinin Farina, raced at Le Mans and the Mille Miglia, and in coupe form (which I think is the better looking of the two bodies), it won first place in styling at the Italian International Concours d’Elegance.
1954 Buick Skylark convertible. A radical departure from just one year earlier, the ’54 Skylark featured huge wheel well cut outs, Kelsey Hayes wires, and a unique ribbed deck treatment with chrome ‘pod’ taillights that doubled as tailfins (inspired by the Wildcat II). I toiled with calling this car “most beautiful” since the design is bust at times, but I think the short wheelbase, sloping decklid, and trim all work together on this car.
1954 Hudson Italia. Ok, the scoops over the headlights are a little on the strange side, but this Italian-designed Hud has got good style, nice proportions, and the coolest exhaust system ever designed! It’s a true factory custom.
1955 Chrysler 300. Virgil Exner’s million-dollar styling in a restrained, well proportioned car that just happen to be a Hemi-equipped sledge hammer. Now that is beautiful.
1956-57 Continental (by Lincoln) Mark II. This masterpiece has been discussed in depth on the Journal many times before, and all praise for this car is well-deserved. Clean, tasteful, and elegant in a time of gaudy chrome and busy bodywork, the Mark II showed amazing restraint. Pure class.
1955-57 Chevrolet Nomad and Pontiac Safari. A great example of a Motorama design coming to life in a successful package, these 2 door beauty wagons went against everything practical (4 doors) and reasonable (like decent liftgate operation) in a station wagon. My nod goes to the ’55 Nomad for the arched rear wheel wells and simpler trim.
1956-57 Chevrolet Corvette. Some might point to the original ’53-’55 Corvettes as the prettiest of the early cars, but I personally love the grille, the coves and frenched tail lights on these babies. A black 4-speed dual quad ’57 in on my bucket list.
1959 Pontiac Bonneville. The ’59 Impala’s have the cooler taillights, but I love the sculpted split grille on the Poncho. The body was heavily sectioned from just 1 year earlier when the model was introduced (also a looker).
Honorable mention: 1950 Nash “bathtub”, 1951 Hudson Hornet, 1955-57 Ford Thunderbird, 1956 Ford Victoria, and so many more!!