The Underrated Orphans from the 1950s
Here’s the final installment of the ‘orphan’ posts, looking at unusual brand choices for a custom project. By the dawn of the 1950s, starting with the 1949 models, American automobile were styled all new inside and out, and rapidly improving year by year. Engineering and technology were making major strides in performance. The big manufacturers were flush with money and the smaller car companies were taking creative risks to stand out. These were good days indeed, my friend.
Here’s my top 5 non-Ford, non-GM choices for a 50s Kustom ride:
1. 1949-51 Nash Airflyte. Yes, it’s a bit bathtub-like, but it’s also cool in a Dick Tracy cartoon way as well. Flush body sides with hidden wheels front and rear on the outside, and a fold-flat reclining seat on the inside. Weird, and I like it that way.
2. 1953-55 Studebaker coupe. Classic, and not really “underrated”, but still a very unusual and striking car in a mild custom execution… Lowey’s lines are just beautiful. I personally think the ’55s got a little too chromey on the front end, loosing some of the original charm and grace, but I’d take a President Speedster in a heartbeat.
3. 1955-56 Packard Clipper Custom. The only Packard with torsion bar suspension, it had a factory V-8 with some punch and nice power amenities. I really like these lower-priced models often hated by the Packard hardcore entusiasts. You rarely see them as a luxury custom, and that’s a shame.
4. 1955-56 Desoto. Sure, the grille is cool, but check out the rest of the car. They have nice styling and brightwork, Hemi V-8 power, and a great ride. What’s not to love? It wouldn’t take too much work to turn this car into a menacing cruiser.
5. 1955-56 Plymouth. A really nice alternative to a Chevy or Ford from the same year, these hooded-headlamp hot rods have a nice, compact look to them. They were totally new cars for ’55, and really helped Plymouth move ahead in both their image and sales. I’ve seen a few of these as mild customs and they are stunning.