The Fabulous Fifties

Of course, on this day in 1953 the first Chevrolet Corvette was produced in Flint, Michigan. The “assembly facility” was actually the back of a customer delivery garage. From reddit a picture of the car and the people who built it.

 

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The Corvette was first shown to the public at the General Motors Motorama exhibit in January of 1953. The 1950s was the height of show/concept cars, in my opinion. In addition, some of these cars were put into production.

The GM Motorama shows were either cause or effect (or both) of the “Dreamcar Fever” that grew rampant in the early 1950s. I am quoting A Century Of Automotive Style by noted automotive author Michael Lamm and the late Dave Holls, former GM Director of Design. The article from which I quoted the phrase “Dreamcar Fever” offered the opinion that Ford concept cars of the period “often went overboard, beyond reason and credibility,” that Chrysler cars mainly conceived by Virgil Exner “tended to be too Italianate for American tastes” and that left Harley Earl as “the guiding apostle of dreamcars.”

Long way ’round, today’s post was actually inspired by a recent telecast of a Bitchin’ Rides re-run where Dave Kindig and Kevin “Kev Dogg” Schiele attend the Woodward Avenue cruise in Detroit. (Sadly, the cruise will not happen this year. Damn virus…) While Ford’s dreamcars may have gone “overboard,” one of their production cars, a car shown on that Bitchin’ Rides episode, is the height of taste to me. From Classic Cars a picture of a 1956 Continental Mark II:

 

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For a car from that era, this Continental is relatively devoid of chrome and stainless steel trim and only has a hint of tail fins. To me, the proportions of this car are almost perfect.

The design was actually the result of a competition. William Clay Ford was in charge of the Continental project, which was spurred on in large part by Lincoln dealers who wanted something to fill the void created when production of the earlier Continental ceased after 1948. He had five designers draw ideas for the car and after the first design was rejected by Henry Ford II in December, 1952, the second iteration of design was turned into a competition between Ford staff and outside designers. The Ford group, led by former Packard design head John Reinhart, won the competition in April 1953. (“Political” note: competition is not inherently evil.)

These cars were sold for $10,000 in 1956-57, an extraordinary amount when the most expensive Buick was $3,700 and even no Cadillac sold for more than $6,800 in 1956. Today, non-concours examples of this car are not as expensive as one might think despite a two-year production total of only 3,000 cars. Alas, maintenance is simply too expensive and too difficult for one of these to be considered for purchase by my wonderful wife and me.

The 1956-57 Mark II has been the subject of previous posts, but I simply had to write about the car again after seeing it on TV. I guess TV can be useful sometimes.

 

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4 thoughts on “The Fabulous Fifties

  1. Lincoln Continental Mark II shows what can be done with simplicity of design. Smooth, simple lines make for a most elegant automobile. You do not refer to a vehicle like this as a “car”.

    The thought drives me back to the old design principal I learned very early: K. I. S. S. The acronym has two definitions. One, Keep It Simple and Safe or Two, the engineer needs to remind himself Keep It Simple, Stupid! I much prefer the latter as it helps you stay humble.

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    1. Thanks, Philip. I, too, am a believer in simplicity of design, in KISS (not the “rock group”), in Occam’s Razor. Albert Einstein said, “Every problem should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

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  2. Your comment about Motorama reminded me of the 1950 Futurliner series of buses that traveled the show circuit for General Motors in the 1950s. Only 10 of these traveling stages were built. One sold in 2015 at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale for a cool $4 million.

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    1. One of those Futurliners was featured as a build on two episodes of Bitchin’ Rides. Can’t imagine something like that being built today and can’t imagine something like Motorama happening today, either.

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