Anything that happened in the 1940s was overshadowed by the terror of the Second World War. After the war had finished, automakers around the globe were quickly back on track to creating some of the world’s finest cars. As a result, cars developed after WW2 were better than ever before.
Many of the automakers that were popular throughout the 40s and the 50s are not around anymore, while others continue the legacy and release modern counterparts of iconic vintage cars. These are the best cars released during that time period.
Cadillac Series 62
The redesigned, third generation of the Cadillac Series 62 hit the market for the ’48 model year. Although the American manufacturer built the previous generation after the end of World War 2, the automobile desperately needed to be refreshed.
The third generation of the Series 62 was more glamorous than any of its predecessors. The vehicle featured lots of chrome touches across the sleek body, as well as an enormous 5.7L V8 beneath the hood, offered with either a 3-speed stick-shift or a lavish 4-speed automatic transmission.
Rolls-Royce Phantom III Labourdette Vutotal Cabriolet
Shortly after the end of World War Two, a small French coachbuilder was commissioned to create the most extravagant Rolls-Royce Phantom III the world had ever seen. Henri Labourdette of Paris had finished his rebodied convertible in 1948, and it was indeed crazy.
The 120-horsepower powerplant or the lavishness of a regular Rolls Royce Phantom were all overshadowed by this crazy one-off design. The vehicle was commissioned by Louis Ritter, commonly known as the craziest millionaire of the ’40s. The body alone had cost him nearly $45,000, which is equal to over $850,000 adjusted for inflation!
Ferrari 125 S
Despite having a short production run limited to just two units in total, this vehicle has rightfully gone down in automotive history. That’s because the car in question, the Ferrari 125 S, was the first automobile developed by the Italian manufacturer.
This small roadster debuted in 1947. It featured a light body that weighed less than 1500 pounds. In addition, it came powered by a 1.5L V12 motor. Although not the first vehicle built and designed by Enzo Ferrari himself, the 125 S is the world’s first Ferrari automobile.
Jaguar XK120 Roadster
The XK120 was Jaguar’s first sports car unveiled after the end of the Second World War. Just like other automakers around the globe, Jaguar quickly returned to developing exciting sports cars in the second half of the ’40s. The XK120 hit the market in 1948, production lasted until the end of 1952.
Jaguar’s sleek sports car was powered by a 3.4L flat-six motor. The stock motor is rated at 160 horsepower, though buyers had the option to upgrade the power output all the way up to 220 horses. A little over 12 000 units were built in total.
The history of the legendary Porsche 356 dates back to the late ’30s. The development of a lightweight sports car came to a halt as soon as World War 2 broke out. Shortly after the war, the German automaker resumed working on the flagship sports car. The 356 officially debuted in 1948 as Porsche’s first production car ever.
The original 356 featured a 4-cylinder, air-cooled boxer engine mounted in the rear of the car. Its lightweight aluminum body improved the vehicle’s performance in corners. The production of the original, first series of the 356 lasted until 1955.
Figoni & Falaschi Narval
The Narval was one of the most extravagant automobiles ever designed by Figoni et Falaschi, a French automaker. Unarguably, the unique styling is the most striking feature of this spectacular vehicle.
The jaw-dropping styling is far from the only thing that makes the Narval exceptional. In fact, this vehicle was based on the Delahaye 135M, an automobile widely considered to be one of the best cars of the 20th century. The Narval comes powered by a 6-cylinder motor that peaks at 125 horsepower, enabling the vehicle to surpass 100 miles per hour. It was both beautiful and quick, at least back in the mid-40s.
For many fans of classic Italian cars, it simply does not get better than this. The legendary Maserati A6GCS/53 ticks all of the boxes. It was immensely fast back in the day. Afterall, it was primarily developed to compete in the World Sportscar Championship series. Like any other sports car designed by Pininfarina, the A6GCS/53 looked absolutely stunning.
This spectacular Maserati hit the market for the 1953 model year, and its production only lasted around two years. The Italian automaker only managed to produce 52 units in total, making the A6GCS/53 a rare gem among the richest collectors.
The story behind this small British automaker is rather interesting. After World War 2, Sydney Allard decided to make use of Ford parts that were overproduced during the war. The former rally driver had already had experience building racing cars before the war broke out. The small automaker released three vehicles, all of which were based on the Ford pilot Chassis.
The K1 was Allard’s first sports car developed to be used out on public roads. This little roadster featured a V8 beneath the hood that made nearly 100 horsepower, mated with a three-speed transmission.
Alfa Romeo Freccia d’Oro
The Alfa Romeo Freccia d’Oro, or the Golden Arrow in English, marked the beginning of a new era for the Italian automaker. It was the first vehicle built by Alfa Romeo after World War 2, and it is still considered to be one of the most legendary of them all.
Beneath the hood, this beautiful 2-door Berlina packed a 90-horsepower 6-cylinder motor. The top speed was nearly 100 miles per hour. The vehicle saw a short production run of just 680 units in total, making the Freccia d’Oro one of the most desired Alfa Romeos from the post-war era.
The Tucker 48, more commonly known as the Tucker Torpedo, is one of the rarest vehicles of the 40s. This stylish sedan saw a short production run that barely lasted a year, only 50 units were built. In effect, the Torpedo is extremely sought-after by wealthy automobile collectors today. Only 47 examples remain today.
The Tucker Torpedo is powered by a 6-cylinder boxer, mounted in the rear of the vehicle. Back in the late 40s, the Tucker Torpedo was one of the most technologically advanced and innovative vehicles available on the market.
Ford Club Coupe
Ford revolutionized the auto industry with the release of the Club Coupe back in 1948. It was the first post-war production automobile in the US. All other American cars sold between 1946 and 1948 were simply redesigned versions of vehicles built prior to the war. The Club Coupe, however, was brand new from the ground up.
Some of the innovative features of the Club Coupe included a sleek-looking body with integrated fenders, as well as a 100-horsepower V8 under the hood available as an extra option.
Triumph 1800 Roadster
The iconic Triumph Roadster went on sale back in 1946, shortly after the end of the Second World War. Much like the previously mentioned Alfa Romeo Freccia d’Oro, the Roadster marked the beginning of the post-war era for the British Standard Motor Company.
At first, the manufacturer fitted the Roadster with a 1.8L flat-four motor, mated with a 4-speed manual transmission. The maximum speed was 75 miles per hour, while the 0-60 sprint took a little over half a minute. The newer models, produced between 1948 and ’49, featured a larger 2.0L power plant. The British automaker only built 4501 units before retiring the model.
The 166 was the third automobile developed by Ferrari. At first, the Italian automaker released the 166 Sport in 1948. The iconic 166 MM, named after the legendary Mille Miglia race, soon followed.
The 166MM came powered by a 2.0L roaring V12 powerplant, which produced around 140 horsepower. In effect, the 166 MM could reach a top speed of nearly 140 miles per hour! 47 units of this jaw-dropping roadster were built in total, along with 6 Berlinetta coupe variants. It remains one of the most desired Ferraris of all time.
Aston Martin DB1
Today, Aston Martin’s DB is one of the most recognizable series of sports cars in the world. Back in the late 40s, however, the British manufacturer was nowhere near as popular. The DB1 was a 2-liter sports car that debuted in 1948. It was also the first Aston Martin automobile since David Brown took over the company.
The original Aston Martin DB featured a 2.0L flat-four beneath the hood, rated at 90 horsepower. In effect, the DB1 was able to reach a top speed of over 90 miles per hour!
Although the Deluxe originally debuted in the early 30s, this legendary Plymouth saw a wide array of upgrades after the end of World War 2. When production resumed in 1946 after a 4-year absence on the market, the Deluxe came powered by an all-new flat-six motor. Three years later, in 1949, the power plant received minor tweaks to make nearly 5 horses more.
The Deluxe was available in all kinds of body styles, ranging from a 2-door sedan up to a 4-door station wagon. In its most powerful version, the Deluxe would make 97 horsepower from its 3.6L flat-six. The model was eventually discontinued in 1950.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spyder Veloce
When it comes to beautiful roadsters, you simply cannot go wrong with anything built by an Italian manufacturer. The stunning Giulietta Spyder Veloce, built by Alfa Romeo throughout the mid-1950s and the early 60s, is a prime example.
This gorgeous two-door spyder came powered by a four-cylinder engine fitted with twin cams. It was only made with a manual transmission. Alfa Romeo offered different variants of the original Giulietta, their power output varied from 52 up to 100 horsepower depending on the version as well as the production year. Although not the most powerful, the Spyder Veloce has gone down in history as one of the most iconic variants of the car.
Maserati 1500 Gran Turismo
Releasing the 1500 Gran Turismo was a major milestone for Maserati, as it was the automaker’s first automobile created after the Second World War. It should come as no surprise that it has gone down in history as one of the greatest Italian vehicles made in the first half of the 20th century.
The marvelous body was designed by Pininfarina, though the motor under the hood was a lot weaker than the ones found in pre-war Maseratis. It only made 65 horsepower, while the top speed was below 100 miles per hour.
Ferrari launched the famous 250, a series of high-performance touring cars, back in 1952. Over the next 12 years, the 250 would go on to become the company’s most successful automobile at the time.
The 250GT was a roadgoing version of its race car counterpart. At the end of the 250’s production run, Ferrari released the legendary 250 GTO. Today, the 250 GTO is the most expensive vehicle in the world! Units that end up at auctions easily sell for over $30 million.
Aston Martin DB2
Aston Martin eventually retired the previously mentioned DB1 by 1950. To keep up with the competitors, the manufacturer developed a more powerful flat-six motor instead of a basic four-cylinder. The British automaker stuck to the company’s roots, to say the least. The DB2 saw quite a bit of success in motorsport throughout the early 50s.
The DB2 was initially only available as a two-door coupe, though Aston Martin did offer a drop-top variant shortly after the car’s debut. A little over 400 units were sold before the model was replaced in 1953.
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing
Everybody loves the iconic Gullwing. There’s a good reason why this particular vehicle was awarded as the best automobile of the 20th century. It truly ticks all of the boxes. It was mind-blowingly fast back when it was released, and the styling is beautiful. Its gullwing doors are just unmistakable.
The 300SL Gullwing was the ultimate version of Mercedes-Benz’s Super Leicht series, which was developed to create road-legal cars that would perform just as well as race cars. The German automaker built 1400 coupes, along with 1858 open-top units.
Back in 1949, the Buick Roadmaster had received its first major redesign since the end of the Second World War. Although the refreshed fourth-gen was a tad smaller than its predecessor, its weight was actually increased.
At first, the Roadmaster came powered by a 5.3L flat-eight motor. The Roadmaster was capable of reaching a top speed of 110 miles per hour, which was rather impressive compared to some of its competitors. Buick kept adding extra features throughout the next years, such as power steering that became an extra option since 1952.
Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa
Undoubtedly, the most popular Testarossa is the iconic roadgoing Ferrari from the 80s. Many petrolheads are unaware that the name of that Testarossa actually paid homage to this one, a rare open-top race car from the second half of the 50s.
The Italian automaker released this crazy race car, based on the previously mentioned roadgoing Ferrari 250, back in 1957. It came powered by a 3.0L V12 which was capable of generating 300 horses. It should come as no surprise that the 250 Testa Rossa saw great success in motorsport up until the 60s.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce
The Giulietta Sprint Veloce is a coupe variant of the recently mentioned Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Spyder, an iconic sports car built by the Italian automaker since the mid-50s. Just like its roadster counterpart, the Giulietta Sprint Veloce is a truly beautiful Italian sports car.
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce was offered with only one engine option- a 90-horsepower flat-four fitted with twin cams. In effect, the sporty coupe had a top speed of 115 miles per hour! The Giulietta was eventually replaced by the Giulia after 1962.
Back in 1956, Plymouth released the stunning Fury. The debut of this beauty marked the beginning of a new era for Plymouth– the American automaker proved what it was capable of. Sales were through the roof, at least during the first years of production.
Within the next years, the demand began to plummet. The vehicle was eventually discontinued in the late 70s. According to many experts, the Fury remains one of the primary reasons why Plymouth was shut down.
Aston Martin DB3
In the early 1950s, Aston Martin made a controversial decision that confuses petrolheads to this day. The successor of the previously mentioned DB2 was named the DB Mark III, while a completely unrelated racing car was called the DB3. Naturally, enthusiasts often got the two automobiles mixed up, or wrongly assumed that the DB Mark III was a roadgoing version of the DB3 racing car.
The DB3 is an open-top race car that packed a 133-horsepower flat-six motor, the same one that can be found in the DB2. The vehicle saw great success in motorsport all throughout the 50s.
Maserati 5000 GT
The story behind this rare Maserati is indeed interesting. Back in the early 50s, Maserati mailed out sales brochures of the 3500 GT to wealthy buyers across the world in a desperate attempt to boost sales. One leaflet was received by the Shah of Iran, who was interested in having his very own Maserati sports car.
After test driving Maseratis that were available at the time, the Shah demanded a sports car that would combine the power of the 450S along with the practicality of the 3500 GT, offering to cover the development costs in return. In effect, the 5000 GT was born in 1959. Maserati only built 34 of them.
Chevrolet Bel Air
The Bel Air is easily one of the most iconic American cars of all time. This luxurious full-size coupe first hit the market for the 1950 model year. Though not as popular as the second-gen, the original Bel Air was still a massive hit among buyers.
The first generation of the Bel Air came powered by a flat-six motor that made a little over 90 horsepower. Clearly, speed and performance were not the priority here. The engine was eventually replaced by another, slightly more powerful flat-six, though the power output remained largely the same.
The Skylark first appeared on the market in 1953 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American automaker. The lavish automobile was only offered as a soft-top convertible, powered by a 5.3L V8 motor. Sadly, the sales figures were less than ideal, and the automaker discontinued the model merely two years after its debut.
The Skylark had come a long way since its original debut in the early 50s. The model saw six different generations during its lifetime, with the combined production run lasting nearly half a century! Sadly, the Skylark was eventually dropped from the lineup after 1998.
The sixth generation of the Chrysler Imperial went on sale in 1949. Theoretically, Chrysler sold the fifth-gen directly after the end of the Second World War, though that generation had already been on sale before the war. As a result, the sixth-gen was the first new post-war Imperial.
Chrysler offered the upscale Imperial in two different wheelbase options that varied in length. The short-wheelbase was only available as a four-door sedan for up to 6 passengers, while the long-wheelbase variant could seat up to 8. Under the hood laid either a flat-eight cylinder motor or a Hemihead V8 engine.
Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato
Zagato is a small Italian coachbuilder that’s become famous for developing beautiful automobiles based on Aston Martins. The DB4 GT Zagato is unarguably one of the brand’s greatest creations. It hit the market back in 1960 and only 25 units were constructed during the car’s 3-year long production run.
The body of the regular DB4 was modified to become more aerodynamic, lightweight, and stylish than ever before. The powerplant had undergone an array of upgrades, too. The DB4 GT Zagato peaks at 314 horsepower and can reach 60 miles per hour in just 6.1 seconds!
Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider Competizione
The 250 GT LWB California Spider Competizione is one of the rarest and most desired versions of the Ferrari 250. It was built in the late 50s, during the golden era of Italian sports cars. The vehicle quickly became famous for its extraordinary results in motorsport.
Today, this rare variant of the Ferrari 250 GT is one of the most expensive cars of all time. In fact, it had sold at an RM Sotheby’s auction back in late 2017 for nearly $18 million! While that’s already a crazy amount of money, it’s merely half of what you would have to pay for an original 250 GTO.
Looking at it today, you could easily consider the Delahaye 175 to be more of an artwork rather than a regular automobile. Back in the late 40s, the styling of this glamorous two-door luxurious convertible was unlike anything buyers had ever seen before. Enthusiasts watched in awe, while the few buyers who were lucky enough to afford a Delahaye 175 rushed to get their hands on one.
The Delahaye 175 was powered by a 4.5L flat-six mated with a four-speed pre-selector transmission, though the drivetrain was overshadowed by the unique design language of the car.
The Thunderbolt was Chrysler’s first concept car ever. The idea of releasing a concept car was heavily inspired by GM, which had released the first American concept car ever just two years earlier. Nonetheless, the Thunderbolt was nothing short of innovative. It certainly made headlines at the time of its release.
The Chrysler Thunderbolt was inspired by Art Deco, a movement in art and design that dominated shortly before the Jet Age of automotive design. Some of the key features of this concept car included a fully retractable roof, a semi-automatic transmission, or hideaway headlights.
Talbot-Lago Record T26
Talbot-Lago may not be around anymore. However, back at the beginning of the 20th century, this French automaker was famous for developing exceptional high-performance automobiles. The Talbot-Lago Record Type 26 was the first car released by the French manufacturer after the end of World War 2.
Just like the previous automobiles built by Talbot-Lago, the T26 was properly fast. It packed a 170-horsepower motor mated with a manual transmission. All of the power was delivered to the rear wheels only. According to Talbot-Lago, the Record T26 could reach up to 105 miles per hour.
Cisitalia 202 S MM Spider
Cisitalia is the Italian automaker you’ve probably never heard of. This small Turin-based company was founded in 1946. The automaker developed just over 20 different models over the next two decades. They even competed in Formula One back in 1952, though it wasn’t exactly successful. Cisitalia inevitably went bankrupt in 1963.
The 202 S MM Spider is an open-top race car developed by the Italian automaker in 1948. It came powered by a Fiat-sourced flat-four modified to make 60 horsepower delivered to the rear wheels.
Aston Martin DB4
After the confusion surrounding the DB3 and the DB Mark III, Aston Martin decided to stick with the DB moniker for the grand tourers. The iconic Aston Martin DB4 made its debut back in 1958 and remained on sale until the end of ’63. A little over 1200 examples were sold during the car’s 5-year long production run.
Contrary to popular belief, the DB4 was not a successor of the DB Mark III, at least from the technical side of things. Despite the complicated timeline, the DB4 is widely considered to be one of the greatest Aston Martins of the 20th century.
Believe it or not, the iconic Chevrolet Corvette wasn’t particularly successful at first. The vehicle hit the market in late ’53, following a rush in development to complete the Corvette as quickly as possible. In effect, the first version of the car failed to meet the clients’ high expectations. At one point, Chevrolet even considered discontinuing the Corvette altogether!
Luckily, GM decided to dramatically improve the vehicle rather than halting the production. The revised first-gen Corvette appeared in 1956. It featured a brand new body alongside many other improvements. The underpowered straight-six engine option was dropped from the lineup, too. All Corvettes came powered by V8 motors ever since.
Ford unveiled the first-ever Thunderbird in 1955, shortly after the debut of the successful Chevrolet Corvette. Unlike Chevy’s Corvette, the Thunderbird was more of a luxurious drop-top rather than a proper sports car.
The first-gen Ford Thunderbird came powered by a V8 motor as standard, all of the power was delivered to the rear wheels. Buyers were able to pick between an automatic and a 3-speed stick-shift. The vehicle was eventually replaced by the refreshed second-gen after 1957. During the car’s short production run, Ford managed to sell over 50,000 units of the original Thunderbird.
Fiat 1100 Frua Barchetta
There is certainly something special about classic Italian sports cars redesigned by creative coachbuilders, and the Fiat 1100 Frua Barchetta is no exception. After being reimagined by the team at Carrozzeria Frua, this roadster looked nothing like a regular Fiat 1100.
When this unique roadster debuted back in 1946, it truly stood out against any automobile that had come out of Fiat’s factory in Turin. After all, most post-war Fiats were focused on utility rather than spectacular design, and this spectacular creation fixed that.
Despite being an amazing car in terms of both the performance as well as the aesthetics, the 507 turned out to be a massive failure for BMW. The German automaker intended to export this stylish roadster to the United States, presumably after noticing the demand for cars such as the Ford Thunderbird or the Chevy Corvette.
The V8 powerplant did not help attract buyers, either. BMW only managed to sell 252 units of the 507, before shutting down the assembly line merely four years after the car’s 1956 debut.