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American Exuberance

For many Americans, the 1950s was a time of increased wealth and prosperity, and this was reflected in the cars they drove, which got bigger and more powerful. They had styling influenced by everything from science fiction films to space rockets and jet fighter planes, with extravagant wraparound screens and tailfins that grew bigger each year. Annual model changes used styling and spec upgrades to keep customers buying, and chrome detailing, whitewall tires, and two-tone paint were employed to sell cars that were often mechanically simple, despite their futuristic looks. In 1950s America new cars were big, bold statements of success.

Buick Limited Riviera, 1958


Engine5,965 cc, V8
Top speed115 mph (185 km/h)

Buick first used the Riviera name in 1949. By 1958 the model had become big, broad, and brash. Sedans were the first four-door “hardtop” Buicks with no central door pillars, and the model had features including air-assisted suspension, self-dipping headlamps, electric aerial, and power seats.

Hudson Hornet, 1954


Engine5,047 cc, straight-six
Top speed106 mph (171 km/h)

Large and aerodynamic, this saloon sat so low to the road that occupants had to lower themselves in, hence being known as “Step-downs”. Despite its size, it offered good handling and power, although poor fuel economy. The car was available with two or four doors.

Lincoln Continental MkII, 1956


Engine6,375 cc, V8
Top speed114 mph (183 km/h)

Designed to be the most luxurious and elegant car available, the largely hand-built Continental offered a simplicity of line and an understated grace. The car appealed to well-heeled owners, including stars such as Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor.

Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad, 1956


Engine4,343 cc, V8
Top speed108 mph (174 km/h)

This model’s styling, with sloping rear roofline, was inspired by a Chevrolet Corvette-based show car. The two-door Nomad was compact compared to many American cars of the period, and its sporting looks were a big departure from most utilitarian station wagons.

Oldsmobile Super 88, 1955


Engine5,309 cc, V8
Top speed101 mph (162 km/h)

First introduced in 1949, the range was revised in 1954, giving it a longer, lower body with distinctive detailing, and an enlarged Rocket V8 engine. Well-equipped, the Super 88 was a mid-range model, with two-and four-door options available.

Studebaker Silver Hawk, 1957


Engine4,736 cc, V8
Top speed115 mph (185 km/h)

The Silver Hawk offered a more restrained design than many contemporary models, with less chrome and fewer details, and sold well. It was available in two engine sizes, both offering lively performance.


It is a quote. The Classic Car Book – The Definitive Visual History 2016

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