Some of the most iconic cars ever designed were manufactured in the post-war boom of the 1950s, which was a time of exploration and experimentation for the automobile industry. Advances in automotive technology sparked dramatic changes in manufacturing and efficiency, which caused significant economic growth and intense competition among automotive companies.
The average consumer had more disposable income after the American economy recovered from the war, which caused a hike in automobile prices. The thriving automotive industry created millions of jobs. In fact, one in six Americans employed at the time worked in the automotive industry in some capacity.
That economic environment, coupled with the emerging technology of the era, produced some of the best cars out there even today. Whether it’s a daily driver or a luxury car, they just don’t make them like they used to. Check out our top cars from the 1950s to see if your favorite model made the list.
The 1951 model of the Studebaker Champion was part of the third generation of Studebaker Champions. The 1951 Champion was a more affordable version of the previous year’s model and also boasted better gas mileage compared to its 1950 counterpart.
The wraparound rear window was also a key feature of the style of the car’s body, offering greater visibility and lending a unique touch to the car’s design. The cost of a brand new Studebaker in 1951 was a little over $1,600. Today, you can buy the same car for $11,000. Still not bad for a classic.
Buick produced the 1953 Skylark convertible to mark the company’s 50th anniversary and to showcase GM’s design quality. Complete with whitewall tires, an impressive grille, and a swooping, waterfall-style front end, this American classic was considered top-of-the-line and even included electronic window controls. With a price tag of more than $5,000, the Skylark was one of the most expensive luxury cars on the market.
Okay, so this one’s not an American car, but it had such a profound impact on the racing industry that we just had to include it. The Spyder was the first of many racing cars built by Porsche. The prototype for the 1953 Spyder was built by hand. In 1953, the Spyder won its first race, thanks to its revolutionary design.
In fact, the Spyder was built so low to the ground that German Formula One driver Hans Herrman was able to drive it under lowered railroad crossing gates in 1954! After such an amazing feat, it’s no surprise the Spyder amassed racing victory after racing victory. Even with such an impressive racing record, the Spyder also doubled as an excellent daily driver, making it one of the most versatile cars on the market.
You couldn’t have an article about the best cars of the 1950s and not feature the famous Eldorado. This car all but defined the era. That year brought forth the second generation of Eldorados at a lower cost compared to previous models.
Just over 2,000 units were produced that year, so the 1954 Eldorado quickly became a rare model that car collectors and enthusiasts scrambled to acquire. And, for just over $4,700, acquiring one back then wasn’t exactly financially feasible for the average consumer. If you wanted to buy a mint condition 1954 Cadillac Eldorado today, you’d need to shell out $96,000.
You got us – this one’s not American, either, but the 1955 Mercedes 300 SL is the definition of luxury and style. After all, James Bond drove one in Moonraker. The gullwing style of the doors was a revolutionary design, and the car included the first-ever fuel injection system produced.
Described as a race car for the street, the 300SL quickly became famous for having the top speed of any vehicle produced at the time. Today, you can pick up a mint condition Mercedes-Benz 300SL at auction for just $1,500,000. (It might seem a little pricey, but it is a vintage Mercedes, and it was featured in a Bond film. And Bond cars don’t exactly come cheap.)
The 1957 Ford Thunderbird was the last model of Ford’s first generation of Thunderbirds, complete with larger grilles and tailfins than previous models. The Thunderbird quickly established itself as the go-to choice for personal luxury cars.
Producing it was a bold move on Ford’s part – especially considering they’d primarily produced sports cars up until 1953 – but it turned out to be wildly successful for the company. The following year, Ford added a backseat to the Thunderbird. They continued to manufacture Thunderbirds until 2005, making it one of the most successful Ford models in the company’s history.
Anybody who was anybody in the 1950s wanted a Chevy convertible, and 1957 was certainly the year to get one. Chevrolet wanted to build an entirely new car for the 1955-1956 automotive year, but the chief engineer at Chevrolet wanted to make so many changes that production was pushed back an additional year.
While those changes caused the price of the car to skyrocket, the newly introduced features of the 1957 Chevrolet models established the Chevy as a classic car. The 1957 model of the Bel Air convertible was built lower to the ground and featured Chevy’s classic chrome headlight pods and tailfins for the very first time. The gold trim design added a luxurious touch to the convertible. Today, a mint condition 1957 Chevy Bel Air ranges from $37,000 to $120,000.
Modern cars are all about flashy technology and features, from built-in Wi-Fi and autonomous drivers to touchscreen radios and rearview cameras. The classic cars of the 50s, though, flawlessly combined luxury, style, and solid bodywork. No extra bells and whistles required. Granted, the 1950s saw the introduction of modern automotive staples such as seat belts, air conditioning, heating, power door and window controls, the V-8 engine, and fuel injection systems, among others.
The iconic cars of the 1950s not only paved the way for the cars we have today but established America as an international superpower. Even though America dominated the global automotive industry during the 1950s, countries like Germany and Italy produced some fine models of their own during that era, including the Porsche Spyder and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. While these cars also went down in history as classics, they still couldn’t compete with the American cars of the 1950s.
What are your favorite cars from the 1950s? There are so many classics from the 1950s that it was impossible to include them all on our list. Let us know in the comments!