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The 1950s World On Wheels

The fact is, I don’t drive just to get from A to B. I enjoy feeling the car’s reactions, becoming part of it.”


In the 1950s the car took centre stage in daily life. Ownership was still by no means universal, but many millions of people could now realistically aspire to driving on the world’s still relatively uncrowded roads, in a car they could call their own.

American car-makers embraced new technologies, unveiling cars that emphasized power, luxury, and elongated glamour. Stylists produced innovative designs that adopted aerospace imagery and chromium-plated decor in equal measure, heightening public desire in their products. Their engineering efforts focused on combining smooth operation with abundant power. The horsepower race had started with a vengeance.

In Europe, with resources still scarce and—in 1956—he shock of a fuel crisis sparked by rising tensions in the Middle East, the emphasis was on attractive economy cars. Larger models, aimed at bigger families, were often also working vehicles, serving taxi drivers or police forces. Luxury saloons were the reserve of business leaders and government officials.

But stirring and efficient racing machines from Italy, Germany, and the UK also led to great sports cars that fused science with style. The Japanese car industry, meanwhile, was in its infancy, struggling to meet Western standards. Korea had only just got off the starting blocks; China was still predominately a land of bicycles.

Multi-lane highways around the world were shrinking journey times, but with higher-sustained driving speeds came a new concern—safety. Crash protection, braking, driver attitudes, and the cars’ mechanical stamina all had some way to go to catch up with the new pace of on-road life.

Key events

> 1950 Rover unveils the world’s first turbine-engined car, and demonstrates its jet-propelled performance.

> 1952 Lotus Engineering Company is started by Colin Chapman; Austin and Morris merge to form the British Motor Corporation.

> 1953 Chevrolet builds the first of its long-lived Corvette line of powerful sports cars.

> 1954 The age of the supercar dawns with the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, boasting gullwing doors and the world’s first standard fuel injection.

> 1954 The first of Ford’s Thunderbird luxury sports cruisers comes off the Detroit production line.

> 1955 RCA and Philco offer transistor radios in US cars for the first time.

> 1955 Cinema heartthrob James Dean is killed in his Porsche in California.

> 1956 20,000 people attend the launch of the Renault Dauphine in Paris.

> 1957 Fiat introduces its tiny Nuova 500 economy car.

> 1958 Aston Martin’s DB4 is a beautiful and powerful new GT.

> 1959 The Mini is unveiled as the first transverse-engined, front-wheel-drive economy car.

> 1959 Jaguar launches the iconic Mk 2 saloon.


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

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