The 1950s were a time of excess and abundance for the Americans. After the Second World War, the economy and industry were booming, and people had a lot of money to spend on cars, suburban homes, and all kinds of luxuries.
So, it makes total sense for American automakers in the post-war economy to capitalize on all that opulence. This led to an astronomical rise in the cubic inches, horsepower, and luxury features of the cars of that era. Here's a look at some of the coolest cars from the 1950s.
Pontiac Chieftain Catalina
Manufactured by Pontiac from 1949 to 1958, the Chieftain was one of the two new designs to come from Pontiac in the post-WWII years. The Catalina coupe was introduced as part of the Chieftain line-up in 1950.
While not exceptionally powerful, the car was available with either a 239 cu-in 6-cylinder engine producing 93hp or a 249 cu-in 8-cylinder engine with an output of 106hp. The Chieftain was produced until 1958, after which it was replaced with an all-new Catalina.
The 4-door Century from 1957 was equipped with a 300-horsepower engine that featured 10.0:1 compression for effortless acceleration. The engine was, however, not the only thing that made the Century a great car (even though those numbers are respectable even today).
The main reason this car was immortalized was the luxury, safety, and convenience features that the Buick brand was famous for. The standard equipment included trunk lights, license plate frames, wheel covers, a cigarette lighter, and turn signals.
More commonly known as the T-Bird, the Ford Thunderbird is credited with starting the ‘personal luxury’ market segment when it debuted in 1955 as a two-seat convertible.
Ford had originally released the T-Bird to rival the Chevy Corvette… which it did really well. So well, in fact, that it outsold the Corvette with a 20:1 margin and remained in production for 11 generations across the next five decades. During this period, Ford released the car in various 4, 5, and 6-seat configurations.
Dodge Custom Royal
The Dodge Custom Royal was a car that embodied the best of the excess, opulence, and luxury of the 1950s. It was wider, longer, more powerful, and collectively more absurd than any Chrysler model that came before it.
The Custom Royal came with V8 engines ranging in size from 350 to 500 cubic inches and 295 and 400 horsepower. Talking of technology, it was one of the first ones to introduce electrojectors, the closest thing to modern EFI systems.
Chevrolet Bel Air
Made by Chevrolet from 1950 to 1975, the Bel Air was known for its sleek design and its characteristic tail-fins. The car was an icon of the 50s style and still remains "the hot one.".
In addition to the looks, the Bel Air was also known for its powerful V8. In 1953, the car made headlines when it went 0-60 in just 19.6 seconds. To top it all, it also flaunted a great deal of luxuries inside.
Chrysler New Yorker
Made from 1940 to 1996, the Chrysler New Yorker remained the brand’s flagship offering throughout most of its run and was the longest-running nameplate at its discontinuation. Blending comfort with style and power, it competed with high-end models from Buick, Mercury, and Oldsmobile and went on to establish Chrysler as an upscale carmaker.
The New Yorker was available as a sedan, coupe, and convertible… and got numerous engine upgrades throughout its production run, with the 1959 trim featuring a 413 cu-in V8 that churned out 350 horses.
The Cadillac Eldorado was manufactured for 12 generations between 1952 and 2002, and throughout this period, it remained either the most or one of the most expensive offerings in the brand lineup.
The inaugural model year of 1953 saw a mere 532 convertibles leaving the assembly line, with Marilyn Monroe being one of the proud owners. It was originally released to commemorate Cadillac's golden anniversary, as is hinted by the name, which translates to "the golden one" in Spanish.
Counted among the largest Pontiacs ever built, the Bonneville was made from 1957 to 2005. Its station wagon configuration weighed in at 5,000 lbs and measured 230 inches in length.
The 1958 Bonneville was available as a 2-door convertible or hardtop and came standard with a 255hp 370 cu-in V8 with dual exhausts and a four-barrel carburetor. The car was named after Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats (an early auto racing site in the US) and made it to the Indianapolis 500 in its first year.
Ford Fairlane 500
Released as the flagship model of Ford's full-size lineup, the Fairlane remained in production from 1955 to 1970 and was named after Henry Ford’s estate in Dearborn, Michigan. During its 15-year run, it saw seven generations in a diverse array of body styles.
The Fairlane 500 was unveiled in 1957 as the highest trim level, with the convertible Skyliner being the most prominent variant. It was a power retractable hardtop, and its solid top would hinge and fold into the trunk space at the touch of a button.
It was 1948, and the Lincoln brand was quickly losing credibility as a budget-luxury automaker. To 'reset' the brand image, the executives at Ford came up with the Capri, offering a sedan, a pillarless hardtop coupe, and a convertible.
Equipped with a 318 cu-in V8, power windows, power brakes, and a power front bench seat, the Capri did revive the name of the Lincoln brand, establishing it, once again, America's domestic luxury brand.
The Buick Roadmaster was made from 1936-1942, 1946-1958, and then 1991-1996. The variants produced in the 50s were the brand's flagship models, built on Buick's longest non-limousine wheelbase. They were also known for a massive postwar styling shift that included a shorter length and a larger 2-piece curved glass windshield.
The 50s Roadmasters also had "VentiPorts" displayed on each of the front fenders to ventilate the engine compartment and signify the number of cylinders under the hood of the given model.
1952 Oldsmobile 98
The Oldsmobile 98 remained in production from 1946 to 1996. The name 98 signifies it belongs to the 90 series (the Flagship) and has an 8-cylinder engine (the biggest for this type of car). This car held the apex of the Oldsmobile lineup for a long time.
The 1952 model was the first one to get a new aerodynamic design, new headlamps, and an automatic transmission. Owing to its iconic 1950s shape, this particular model of the Oldsmobile has become a popular collector's car.
Famously known as the "Rocket 88" and the "King of NASCAR," the Oldsmobile 88 was in production from 1949 to 1999. It was a massive success right from day one and remained the brand's most profitable line for the first 25 years of its release.
The 88 is also regarded by many as the first muscle car since it combined a relatively small and light body (the A-body platform of the 6-cylinder Oldsmobile 76) with a large and powerful engine... a 303 cu-in Rocket V8 churning out 135 horses on the tarmac!
The name 'Coronet' refers to a type of crown worn by royalty. Unveiled in 1949 by Dodge, the first generation Coronet featured a 230 cu-in straight-6 engine with a single barrel Stromberg carburetor and a fluid-driven semi-automatic four forward-speed transmission called Gyromatic.
The engine produced 103hp, enabling the massive car to move at a top speed of 90mph. Dodge also unveiled an even massive four-door, eight-passenger limousine as a limited production model of the stock Coronet.
Lincoln Continental Mark II
The Mark II was a two-door ultra-luxury hardtop coupe offered by Ford’s Continental Division for 2 model years: 1956 and 1957. Ford’s flagship vehicle at the time, the Mark II, was a successor to the Lincoln Continental manufactured between 1939 and 1948. It sourced its V8 powertrain from the standard Lincoln lineup and was meticulously assembled by hand.
With a price tag of $10,000 (equivalent to $108,000 today), the Mark II was the most expensive American-made car of its time and competed against the Bentley Continental and the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. Just 2,996 units were produced in total, including two prototype convertibles.
The Hornet was made by the Hudson Motor Car Company in 1951. It had a sleek and streamlined style, a chassis with a lower center of gravity than other vehicles of the time, and a distinctive "step-down" design characterized by a dropped floor plan. This design was intended to improve handling for racing purposes.
The Hudson Hornet was restyled as Nash for the 2nd generation after Hudson merged with Nash-Kelvinator in 1954 to form American Motors Corporation (AMC).
The Monterey was produced by Ford's Mercury division from 1952 to 1974. Named after Monterey Bay in California, the vehicle was available in various body styles throughout its 22-year production span, including sedans, coupes, hardtops, convertibles, and station wagons.
The 50s-era Monterey models were known for their iconic two-tone paint schemes and elaborate chrome detailing. They also offered a range of powerful engines, including the Ford Y-block V8, Lincoln Y-Block V8, and MEL V8.
The Ranchero was a coupe utility vehicle made by Ford from 1957 to 1979. It sold over 500,000 units during its 22-year run, and its sales figures from the inaugural year were well enough to inspire a competitor from General Motors - the Chevy El Camino - in 1959.
The Ranchero's design combined the sleek appearance of a sedan with the practicality of a light-duty pickup truck by integrating the cab and cargo bed on a two-door station wagon platform, pioneering "ute" body style that still remains popular in Australia.
Packard’s top-tier offering in the mid-1950s, the Caribbean, was the brand's final effort to establish itself as a premium luxury car manufacturer. With this release, Packard finally departed from its allegiance to straight-8.
The Caribbean introduced a 352 cu-in 275hp V8 to match the challenge from Lincoln, Cadillac, and Imperial... and it, in fact, surpassed its main rival (the Cadillac Eldorado) in both horsepower and torque. It was also super gorgeous to look at.
The Montclair was released as a premium sedan line, positioned above the Monterey, in 1955, when Mercury underwent a redesign of its lineup. Its configurations included a 4-door sedan with a different roofline than the Monterey, a 2-door hardtop, and a 2-door convertible.
The Montclair was powered by a 292 cu-in V8 that produced 195 horses and was borrowed from the new Ford T-Bird roadster. The nameplate continued till 1960 and then again from 1964 to 1968.
Introduced in the era of more extensive and bolder American cars, the Nash Metropolitan offered a fresh perspective by shrinking the scale of the vehicle while maintaining the colorful designs of the time.
Nash's attempt to tap the largely-ignored small car market struck a chord with American buyers, and over 90,000 Metropolitans were sold during its 8-year production run. The success of the Nash Metropolitan, in fact, led Ford, Chevrolet, and General Motors to start making sub-compact vehicles.
The Plymouth Fury was produced from 1955 to 1989, out of which the model years from 1956 to 1958 were made as a sub-series of the Belvedere. Characterized by the 50s tail fins and an atomic-themed logo, the Fury was equipped with a 303 cu-in V8.
The 1958 Fury famously made headlines when it hit 143.5mph at Daytona as a Factory Experimental racecar and became iconic by Stephen King's famous horror novel and later movie Christine, in which a menacing red ‘58 Fury became a haunting presence.
Widely regarded as the most iconic station wagon of all time, the Nomad was made from 1955 to 1961 and then from 1968 to 1971. Its groundbreaking design combined speed and power with ample space and boasted distinctive elements like a grooved roof, sliding quarter windows, and abundant chrome.
Today, one of the most sought-after classics, the Chevrolet Nomad had a straight-6 six engine that produced 150 horses and could easily haul a family of six in its spacious body.
The Chieftain made its debut in 1949, along with the Streamliner, both of which marked Pontiac's first completely new car designs after World War II. The first generation (1949-1954) offered a choice between L-head straight six or 8-cylinder engines, while the second generation was powered by V8.
The Chieftain was initially introduced in sedan, sedan coupe, business coupe, and deluxe convertible coupe configurations, but the lineup later expanded to include a Catalina coupe and a station wagon.
Named after a bird, the Skylark was introduced in 1953 to celebrate Buick's 50th anniversary and had a production run spanning 46 years and six generations. During this period, it underwent numerous design changes due to technological advancements, evolving preferences, and changing industry standards.
Initially a luxury passenger model, it transitioned into a sports saloon and later into a heavyweight muscle car. The 1st generation boasted a luxurious design with a length of 209 inches, a weight of two tonnes with plenty of chrome, and a powerful 322 cu-in V8 delivering a top speed of 103mph.
Cadillac Series 62
The Cadillac Series 62 was produced from 1940 to 1964, with the 50s seeing 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th generations. The car underwent several transformations throughout its production run, reflecting the changing trends. It also introduced the Cadillac Coupe de Ville and the Cadillac Eldorado as special packages, both of which were later placed into production.
The Series 62 was known for its powerful V8 engines, futuristic design, luxurious interior, and numerous cutting-edge features, including power windows, power steering, and auto transmissions, setting new standards for convenience and luxury.
Chrysler 300 Letter Series
Since its debut in 1955 as "America's Most Powerful Car," the Chrysler 300 has been immensely popular. The inaugural model was known as the C-300 due to its standard 300hp (331 cu-in FirePower V8) engine.
The 1965 model was designated 300B, and a new letter of the alphabet was added as a suffix to denote the model in all subsequent years, ending with the 300L in 1965. This is the reason behind the letter series nomenclature. Chrysler reintroduced the "300" designation for performance-luxury sedans in 1999.
Studebaker Golden Hawk
Made from 1956 to 1958 by the Studebaker Corporation, the Golden Hawk was a pillarless two-door hardtop personal luxury car and the brand’s flagship model.
It featured Packard's powerful 352 cu-in 275hp V8 engine that made it one of the fastest cars of the time. The 1956 model was the first vehicle from Studebaker to have tail fins, which were made of fiberglass. The subsequent models had steel tail fins.
The Ambassador was a luxury car made by now-defunct Nash Automotive between 1941 and 1957. The 1952 model was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the brand and included many new and innovative design ideas.
These included slanted C-Pillars inspired by the European cars of that time and an automatic transmission with overdrive to help slow down the 5.4L V8 during highway cruises and save some fuel. It was offered in "Super" and "Custom" series as a two- or four-door sedan and a two-door 'Country Club' hardtop.
1958 Chevrolet Impala
The 1958 Impala was probably the best example of Harley Earl's design. It debuted a lot of the features that defined cars of this class for the next decade, including lots of chrome, deeply sculpted fenders, dual headlamps, and triple tail lamps.
It was offered as a 2-door hardtop or a 2-door convertible and came with an option of 3.9L, 4.6L, or 5.7L engines. This platform of the Impala was so popular that GM shared it with many of the other models from Buick, Oldsmobile, and other sister brands.
Cadillac Coupe DeVille
If you have seen any old mobster or gang movie, chances are you would've seen this Caddy, though not in such a funky color. This model of Cadillac belongs to the era when people with Caddies meant serious business.
The Coupe DeVille was available in 2-door and 4-door hardtop and convertible formats and came with every last luxury option conceivable for that time. Moreover, it accounted for 37% of all the Cadillacs sold the year it came out.
The Edsel brand was founded by Ford to bridge the gap between them and GM at that time. Presented as the car brand of the future, Edsel introduced cars with some really innovative features.
These included push buttons on the steering to control the automatic transmission, a rolling dome speedometer, and the iconic horse collar grille that was more distinctive than any other brand at the time. The base price of this car was $4,000 at that time, before options, which were plentiful.
The Patrician, designed by John Reinhart, was a new direction of car design for Packard. This was the first car from the brand to adopt the three-box design, which was more contemporary for the time.
If you think that hood is a bit too long, that is because under it was a straight-eight engine that displaced 318 cubic inches, produced 155 horsepower, and was linked to the wheels with an Ultramatic automatic transmission.
Cadillac Fleetwood Series Sixty-Special
The Fleetwood Series Sixty-Special took the world by storm when it came out in 1959 as the only Caddy with a Fleetwood body that was not a limousine. The distinctive tailfins of this car, which became an identifier of all cars of the era, were the tallest in this model.
Other than the striking design, this car was equipped with all the luxuries available in the 1950s, as it was the product of the collaboration of two of the luxury automakers of the time.
Not to be confused with the 1970s model of the same name for Brazil, the Galaxie was a full-sized car that was produced and sold in the American market between 1959 and 1974. The name of this car was inspired by the space race between the USSR and the US.
When the Galaxie came out in 1959, it was at the top of the Ford model lineup and was offered as a convertible as well as with a hardtop.
The Packard Hawk was unveiled in 1958 as a luxury passenger car to rival the popular Ford Thunderbird. It was a Studebaker Golden Hawk with a modified deck lid and a fiberglass front end.
It featured the same 289 cu-in 275hp supercharged V8 used in the Studebaker Golden Hawk, a luxurious leather interior with all the latest amenities of the time, and a unique exterior armrest design mimicking a WWI-era airplane cockpit.
Pontiac Star Chief
Same as the Ford Galaxie, this space race-inspired car was the top model of the Pontiac lineup. Well, it was not a separate model but rather the top-of-the-line trim option for the Pontiac Chieftain.
This car was really over the top in all aspects. The only available engine was a straight-eight, and Pontiac took the longest available chassis in their lineup and added another 11 inches towards the rear to make it even more roomy and comfortable.
Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria
You might think that the Crown Victoria nameplate is an old one but it is not only as old as the 1980s, but rather the 1950s. The name debuted with this car, the flagship trim of the Fairlane back in 1955.
One of the most striking features of the old Crown Vic was the windshield that wrapped around the entire front... and some times it even extended to make the whole portion of roof on top of the front seats into a giant fixed sunroof.
Mercury Park Lane
Introduced in 1959, the Park Lane became (unofficially) the top-of-the-line model in Mercury's lineup for the time. It was designed to be a Super Mercury, positioned to compete with GM's Buick Limited and Chrysler's 300D.
The Park Lane was offered as a 2-door hardtop coupe, a 2-door convertible, and a 2-door sedan... and came with Ford's first automatic transmission, the Merc-O-Matic. The Park Lane name was dropped when Mercury shifted its focus towards better-selling compact models.
Oldsmobile Super 88
Back in the 1950s, Oldsmobile was not a major competitor in the automotive race (both literally and figuratively), but the Super 88 caught the eyes of the legendary stock car racer Lee Petty.
Petty and his son raced this thing in the sands of Daytona, making the car a household name in the US. Oldsmobile then started offering higher performance and racing versions of the car that bumped the horsepower and increased the durability and reliability of the engine.