Tag: 1950’s

Could an Obscure Fifties Fiberglass Roadster Have Been the First Electric Car Inspired by Nikola Tesla? – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings

Could an Obscure Fifties Fiberglass Roadster Have Been the First Electric Car Inspired by Nikola Tesla? – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings

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The mid-Fifties weren’t much of a boom time for electric vehicles here in the United States. Gas was cheap, the chrome was thick, and conformity was high. Despite all the advancements in aerospace and pushbutton gizmos, the state of electric drivetrains at the time wasn’t that much more advanced than 25 years prior, when the first wave of electric vehicles sparked their last. Of the half-dozen or so American EVs that one can count from that time, one stood out partly for making the effort in the first place and partly for proposing a novel means of propulsion that has otherwise dwelt only in the realm of myth.

1955 Electronic. Press handout photo via Alden Jewell.

When the Electronic debuted in June 1955, it brought along with it a bevy of dubious claims. F.B. Malouf, president of the Salt Lake City-based Electronic Motor Car Corporation, boasted that it was a multimillion-dollar company with two manufacturing facilities already in operation (in Detroit and in Oxford, Michigan) and a third forthcoming in the Utah capital city with production expected to reach 400 cars per day within the year. The car itself Malouf described in terms bordering on technobabble: It had a “turbo-electric” drivetrain with a “dual-torque” electric motor capable of propelling it to 100 miles per hour. If the press release didn’t come with a photo, it would’ve been simple to write the Electronic off as a pipe dream

The press release did come with a photo, though, and from that photo it’s plain to see that the Electronic was merely a LaSaetta selling under a different name. As an August 1955 Motor Life article reported, the LaSaetta was the fiberglass sports car dream of two brothers, Cesare and Gino Testaguzza, who relocated from Italy to the Detroit area – specifically Oxford, Michigan – and worked for multiple carmakers before setting out to build their own car. Not a kit car, the LaSaetta was instead meant to be tailored to each customer’s specifications. Most had altered Ford chassis with Oldsmobile V-8 engines, though Motor Life reported on one that had a Hudson six-cylinder, and then there was the Electronic.

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The Demise of the Nash Metropolitan – Pat Foster @Hemmings

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What killed the Met?

Remember how you felt the first time you saw a Nash Metropolitan? Well of course you do — it would be almost impossible not to. Tiny, quirky… the little car seemed like a joke, right? But that’s not how it was viewed when it first arrived on the market. When it debuted in March of 1954, it was well-received by the motoring press, which praised its design, ride, and fuel economy, as well as its styling. It was also well-received by the public, who flocked to Nash showrooms and bought up every Met in stock. After May of that same year, the little Met was also available in a Hudson version, becoming the first Hudson model to be created from a rebadged Nash.

By the end of the year, the newly formed American Motors realized it had a minor hit on its hands (the company never expected it to be a major hit) and asked Austin in the U.K. to increase production to meet demand. In mid-1956, the debut of a new two-tone “zig/zag” paint job and larger 1,500-cc engine sparked renewed interest. In fact, that year the little Nash was America’s number-two selling imported car!

So, what happened? How did a car that was doing so well become a failure? Its best sales year was 1959, when 14,959 were retailed in the U.S. But sales turned downward in 1960 and from there dropped like a stone. The final model year was 1962 and many (probably most) of the units sold were leftovers from 1961 or earlier.

American Motors had an unusual system for determining the Metropolitan’s model year. On whatever date the new models were announced each year, any new, unsold Mets still in stock at dealerships or in factory inventory automatically became the new year’s model. That’s why you sometimes find Metropolitans that are registered as, say “1961” models with a lower serial number than a 1959 or 1960 model, simply because that particular car sat on a dealer’s lot for a while, a couple of years or more in some cases. The situation does cause some confusion with collectors, but it was designed to avoid having to discount the prior year’s inventory. This policy was maintained even when fairly significant product changes took place, such as 1956 when the new two-tone color scheme and large engine debuted, and 1959 when the vent windows and opening trunk first appeared

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From the Cover of Road & Track to Decades of Languishing, One of the Few Remaining Strother MacMinn LeMans Coupes To Be Resurrected – @Hemmings

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Editor’s Note: We recently heard from Dennis Kazmerowski, who has decided to resurrect a never-finished fiberglass body based on Strother MacMinn’s concept for an American coupe to compete at Le Mans. He’s making headway and wanted to share with us exactly how he got started with the project in the first place.]

It started in August 2021, still in COVID-19 lockdown with much time to think about the past, present and future. I was talking with my good friend Geoff Hacker (founder of Undiscovered Classics and auto archaeologist) and shared with him a dream of my youth: the car on the August 1960 cover of Road & Track, the LeMans Coupe. While the car may have been beautifully designed and was ahead of its time in styling (that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it back in 1960), the LeMans Coupe is far more than a design study. The original project was the brainchild of John Bond, the publisher of Road & Track magazine.

Bond was not just a publisher, he was also a designer and engineer. For years he penned a column in his own magazine, Sports Car Design, where he talked about independent and production sports car development. It was toward the late 1950s where he challenged himself and his readers to design and build a car that would win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, something his friend Briggs Cunningham had nearly done in the early 1950s. Bond pulled together a team which specialized in design and engineering, and over a series of articles in 1957 and 1958, the LeMans Coupe project emerged. The lead designer of the shape of the car was the legendary teacher, mentor, and stylist from the Art Center in California, Strother MacMinn. Looking back in history, this makes the LeMans Coupe one of the talked about and recognized “specials” back in the 1950s.

While the design and history of the car is significant, it was always the visual impact that the car made on those seeing it that, too, caused me to remember the car for nearly 60 years. Sadly, Geoff, who has tracked down the surviving coupes built from MacMinn’s design, shared that the car shown on the cover of Road & Track magazine had been destroyed early on in an accident. But he knew where a virgin body was that was produced from the original molds. He shared the contact information with me and the wheels started to turn. I talked with the owner and after a few phone calls we agreed on a price, and my project began. Little did I know what I would be getting into.

So the project began when the body arrived at my New Jersey home in July 2021. I immediately re-read the Road & Track LeMans coupe articles, and I noted that one of the articles shared that production bodies were made very thin to keep weight down for racing purposes. This may have been good 60 years ago but over the years, with no inner structure, the sun had taken its toll and weakened the body. What I started with was a body shell with no doors, windows, wheelwells, or hood cut out. Just a shell. This project was and is going to take a lot of work

As I read the articles, I tried to hold true to the original chassis ideas but even they changed by the time I read the last article, so I went with the original dimensions and worked around what I had. It’s a long, thin car built for a V-8 engine. Could it have won at LeMans? That’s the subject for a different story. With Geoff’s guidance and my persistence, the car started to come together. Everything has to be made for it and when you think you have a problem solved – it’s not. The car is a work in progress and should be very fulfilling in the end, and I imagine that’s how Alton Johnson felt when he was building the first LeMans Coupe at Victress in North Hollywood, California.

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Lowrider Hydraulics Pioneer X-Sonic Corvette to be Restored – David Conwill @Hemmings

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Back in November, we were excited to learn that Dave Shuten, of Galpin Speed Shop, will be restoring the X-Sonic Corvette to its 1960s appearance. The X-Sonic was a groundbreaking custom car in the late-1950s that not only inspired Ed Roth to begin crafting his famous bubble tops, but also helped introduce the custom-car world to hydraulics.

The circa 1960 version of the X-Sonic, demonstrating its hydraulics and sporting tunneled 1958 Dodge headlamps, but pre-bubbletop. Photos courtesy Kustomrama.

Hydraulic suspension (and its spiritual descendent, airbags) on custom and lowrider cars is commonly known today. But where and when did hydraulics make the leap from being aircraft parts to automotive suspension pieces? The answer, of course, is in post-World War II California, where two enthusiasts—seemingly separately and unbeknownst to one another—used parts found in military surplus stores to create the first suspension systems that could be impracticably low for car shows but raised for driving

One of those men was Jim Logue, a North American Aviation employee who lived in Long Beach in 1957 and took inspiration from Citroen’s factory hydropneumatic suspension to modify his 1954 Ford. The other was Ron Aguirre, a resident of Rialto, who around the same time saw a hydraulic ram being used for dent removal and thought he might use something similar to avoid future violations for the lowness of his 1956 Corvette. Today, Logue and his Fabulous X54 have faded from popular memory, but Aguirre’s bubble-topped X-Sonic persists as the poster child for “the first” hydraulics-equipped custom car.

The X-Sonic as it appeared in 1963 with bubbletop and no headlamps.

As a successful contender on the indoor-car-show circuit of the 1960s, the X-Sonic went through a few iterations and wound up heavily modified, including the aforementioned bubble top, substitution of a Turboglide transmission for the original three-speed, and even the elimination of a conventional steering wheel in favor of an electric motor controlled by toggle switches! The bubbletop and unconventional steering marked the transition of the car from street custom to all-out show car.

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Seventy Years On, the Packard 200 is Still Affordably Priced – David Conwill @Hemmings

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One of the more controversial things Packard Motor Car Company ever did was start building less-expensive cars. In the 1920s, there was no such thing as an affordable Packard. If you owned one, it meant you were somebody of wealth and taste.

Come the Great Depression, however, fewer folks with taste had wealth. Moreover, those with wealth often didn’t wish to flaunt it on the streets they shared with those without. Packard’s answer was a high-quality, six-cylinder car aimed at upper-middle-class buyers. After the Depression and World War II were over, the economy recovered, but Packard continued to build more affordable cars alongside its luxury models

.In 1951, the entry-level range was restyled and renamed the 200 model. Priced like a Buick Super, Chrysler Windsor, or base-model Lincoln, the 200 rode on a 122-inch wheelbase, powered by a 288-cu.in., 135-hp straight-eight backed up with a column-shifted three-speed manual, an over-drive, or Packard’s torque-convertor automatic, the Ultramatic.

The 200 came in standard or Deluxe trim, the primary difference being a toothy grille on the Deluxe. Initially, the standard 200 could be had as a business coupe, two-door Club Sedan, or a four-door sedan. No Deluxe business coupe was offered and for 1952, the business coupe was dropped entirely. A two-door Mayfair hardtop and a convertible were offered on the 122-inch wheelbase, but with a 150-hp, 327-cu.in. straight-eight. The Mayfair and convertible were grouped as the more-expensive 250 model and while they are a part of the “junior series” Packards, they are not included in this evaluation. The 200 sold well enough during its two years of production and served as the basis for the Clipper models that followed. For 1951, counting all body styles, over 70,000 200s were built, about 2⁄3 of which were Deluxes. That number dropped to under 47,000 for 1952, in part because of material restrictions caused by the Korean War. Only about 15 percent of 1952s were built with Deluxe trim. Attrition has been hard on the Deluxe cars, too, as some of them have wound up as parts cars to restore more valuable 250 models.

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This Cadillac Eldorado Brougham Is a Rare Example of GM’s Ultimate in 1950s Luxury and a Dream Realized – Jim Black @Hemmings

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Gliding with the “Blue Lady”

As announced in December 1956 and available by March 1957, the Cadillac Series 70 Eldorado Brougham was designed by Ed Glowacke, who was part of Harley Earl’s design studio at General Motors. Arguably the most beautiful and most sought-after Cadillac ever built, the Eldorado Brougham was Cadillac’s response to Ford Motor Company’s Continental Mark II. The prototype Brougham was a hand-built, true pillarless four-door hardtop that first debuted as a featured show car in the GM Motorama for 1955. Derived from the ultra-luxurious Park Avenue and Orleans show cars of 1953-’54, the Brougham was stunning with its brushed-stainless-steel roof. Other exterior ornamentation included polished-stainless-steel lower rear-quarter panels with full rocker sills and rectangular-shaped side body coves cut into the front and rear doors, with horizontal wind-splits set into each cove. The pillarless four-door design had the rear doors opening toward the rear of the car (“suicide” style), allowing easy access for back-seat occupants. With all four doors open you could barely see the stub B-pillar.

The Brougham was the first to offer quad headlamps that, at the time, were still illegal in some states. The air suspension also proved unreliable, and Cadillac later released a kit to convert cars to rear coil-sprung suspension. Broughams still using the factory air suspension are rarer and thus more valuable today.

At 5,315 pounds, the Eldorado Brougham was a brute and required Cadillac’s largest and most powerful overhead-valve V-8 engine. The 365-cu.in. V-8, fed via dual Carter four-barrel carburetors and backed by Cadillac’s Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic transmission, produced 325 hp at 4,800 rpm and 400 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm

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12 Motoring Classics From the 1950s Under $25,000 – @Hemmings

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The period following World War II was an amazing time of optimism and prosperity in the U.S., with industry booming and technology advancing rapidly. Meanwhile, Americans were feeling good about life in the free world and many were flush with cash thanks to the strong job market. This all meshed to create a perfect storm of consumer demand that was advancing beyond the need to obtain products that hadn’t been readily available during the war—now, people were buying to satisfy desire as much as need.

The domestic automakers were perfectly poised to satisfy that demand, coming off of war contracts that had been followed by frenzied car sales after years of halted automobile production. The war had also pushed the development of technology, and style was once again a primary criterion for car shoppers. Detroit spent the decade trying to outdo itself, yielding some of the most ornately styled and trimmed cars of all time, while also recognizing that even truck buyers thought about aesthetics. Meanwhile, European automakers were pursuing their own versions of performance and style, creating some landmark designs as the decade unfolded.

This period would shine brightly, but relatively briefly, as trends continued to evolve rapidly and the 1960s would see its own characteristic features. By the 1970s, cars of the ’50s seemed like artifacts of a long-gone era, and nostalgia for that time kicked in with substantial force, driving collectors and restorers to latch onto the remaining examples to keep the memories alive. That drive hasn’t ever fully subsided, and cars and trucks of the 1950s are still very popular with car enthusiasts and collectors, including many who hadn’t even been born when those models were new.

Yet, ’50s cars still make for an excellent enthusiast ownership experience. In many cases, parts are available, and if not, strong networks of fans and specialists are ready to help locate spares to facilitate restorations or even just to keep these models on the road. Speaking of the road, cars of this period tend to be decent drivers, as the highway system was coming online and the ability to cruise smoothly at 60-plus mph became more the norm.

We wanted to illustrate that there are models from the 1950s that are also still attainable by gathering a selection of examples that are enjoyable to own, fun to drive, and still affordable. In this case, we’re considering anything costing $25,000 or less in good, presentable, and driveable condition to be affordable—that seems to be what the market thinks, too. Ponder these examples from a fantastic period in automotive design and let us know what else you think ought to have been included

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Chevy’s 1955-1957 passenger cars remain the aspirational American ideal of a better future now – Jeff Koch @Hemmings

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The idea of a truly all-new car is tempting fate. Each system, each individual component requires so much effort to work properly in concert with a thousand other components, in myriad conditions, that body/chassis and drivelines often see their launches staggered. A newly styled car, or one with an all-new chassis, often starts life with a carryover powertrain; a new engine may show up in an existing chassis years into a model’s gestation. Doing it all at once is an expensive gamble.

All-new for the fall of 1954, Chevrolet’s full-size line was lower, cleaner, lighter, and more powerful than the previous year’s Chevrolet. While the Chevy bowtie appears prominently on the hood and hubcaps, the Chevrolet name doesn’t appear on the exterior of the car.

That said, if anyone could launch an all-new car, it was Chevrolet. Its status as America’s best-selling car brand for the bulk of the postwar era brought success and swagger. For 1955, Chevy needed a new car to keep up with the competition’s advances—and the division’s engineers and stylists delivered; Chevy’s V-8-powered 1955 sedan lineup really was as new as it got in Detroit in the ’50s. Comparing the 1954 and ’55 Chevy lines, virtually the only things that remained were the conventional front-engine/rear-drive layout, names (150, 210, Bel Air, et al), the chassis’ 115-inch wheelbase, and the wheel-and-tire combo. All-new body, all-new chassis, all-new V-8 engine, and new optional overdrive behind the (admittedly extant) three-speed manual transmission. You’d scarcely believe a ’54 and a ’55 Bel Air were built a model year apart.

Visuals first. Chevy’s new body was actually an inch narrower than the ’54’s—but because the ’55 convertible was 2½ inches lower (and wagons 5-plus inches lower!), the new car looked wider. Yet headroom was comparable, despite the lower roofline. A wrap-around “Sweep-Sight” windshield arrived, as did 18 percent more glass area for better visibility across the lower fenders. Crisp, almost formal lines made for a cleaner profile, with a minimum of filigree: just an elegant spear on 150 and Bel Air models, all the better to outline the optional two-tone paint offerings. The 1954’s ornate grille was exchanged for a tight egg-crate pattern. Fender tops hooded the headlamps; this, the side trim and the rakish rooflines combined to make the Chevy appear to strain against its leash and demand to run at full speed

Yes, the ancient 235-cubic-inch Blue Flame Six remained—available with manual transmission and 123 horsepower, or 136 ponies with Powerglide. But Chevy’s clean-sheet V-8 was the big news. Engineered by future GM president Ed Cole, Corvette-world legend Zora Arkus-Duntov, and a handpicked group of engineers, it was a wonder of high-tech simplicity. It featured a strong thin-wall block, using up-to-date casting techniques; an over-square bore/stroke that allowed it to rev; five main bearings; forged steel crankshaft; individual stamped-steel rocker arms; interchangeable heads; and self-lubricating hydraulic lifters. Chevy’s V-8 started off modest—162 horsepower for a standard two-barrel 265 with 8:1 compression, although the optional Power Pack (with four-barrel carb and dual exhaust) was rated at 180 horses; the rare Corvette-sourced 195-hp Super Power Pack added the famous Duntov cam and higher-compression pistons. Each V-8 block was painted a vivid shade of orange, so that no one could miss it when the hood was raised.

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11 vintage auto ads showcasing terrible places to park a car – Thomas A. DeMauro @Hemmings

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Automotive print advertising must reach out and grab the attention of readers to entice them to visit dealers and buy cars. Back in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, some went to great lengths to sell their rolling masterpieces.

Glamorous building facades, exotic locales, posh parties, cozy picnics, and action-packed sporting events became popular settings. Though consumers likely spent their ownership years with any car using legally designated parking areas, to make a statement some advertisers instead chose to place subject vehicles in spaces that were impractical, normally prohibited, or just plain odd.Since cherished models of this era have now transitioned to collector cruisers from workaday drivers, and a significant number of them have been treated to several-thousand-dollars-worth of restoration work, not many current owners would likely be willing to park their cars in some of the spots depicted in the following ads.

Nevertheless, just seeing these automotive treasures again will transport you to their erstwhile eras.

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A Rambler Rebel station wagon would make for a cool custom. Here’s how I’d build one – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings

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I’m a simple man with simple tastes. I like my action movies loud, my adult beverages cold, and my Ramblers to be a curious mid-century-styled blend of panache and performance with a specific mix of functionality and technology with select modern upgrades. I mean, you can’t really ask for much less than that, right?To keep from going stir crazy these last several months—and particularly since I messed up my shoulder—I’ve started going through all the boxes full of old stuff in the attic and basement. I came across my old models, which was great fun for a femtosecond, as well as a notebook full of ideas for classic cars as I felt they should have been built or as I would have built them had I a sugar momma and a garage that didn’t constantly get filled up with other projects.

Some of those ideas actually still hold up all these years later, which either meant that I had too much time to daydream the perfect setup when I was younger or that my daydreams really haven’t changed all that much.Take, for instance, my concept for a Rambler station wagon. I’ve always wanted a 1958-1960 full-/midsize Rambler wagon. Something about that stepped roof and reverse-slanted C-pillar appealed to me even before Nissan ripped it off for the WA60/JA60 Armada/QX56.

Sure, maybe it reduced total interior space by a cubic foot or so, and maybe it was just a way for American Motors to reduce tooling costs by sharing panels and interior structure between the sedans and wagons, but I still like it. That quad-headlamp front end always reminded me of the contemporary Chevrolets and Checkers, and while I don’t necessarily have anything against the flamboyant fins or wraparound windshield of the 1958 and 1959 models (and I wouldn’t kick one of those out of the garage for leaking oil), my preference lies with the toned-down winglets and conventional windshield of the 1960 models

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