The Best Cars Made in the 1950s

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The 1950s were all about standout styles in cars, making them genuinely unforgettable even today. This decade marked a significant shift in the car industry. Post-World War II, industries were booming, and with expanding suburbs, cars became essential. The ’50s cars were not just a luxury but a necessity, with manufacturers focusing on affordable mass production without compromising on their eye-catching designs. These features are what make these cars so iconic.

Here are some of the best cars from the 1950s that continue to captivate as classic masterpieces:

1. 1953 Chevrolet Corvette

a Chevrolet Corvette

The 1953 Chevrolet Corvette is an icon in the world of cars, instantly recognizable to people globally. While the first generation, known as the C1, might be less familiar to the general public, it holds a special place among car enthusiasts.

The original Corvette featured a two-speed automatic transmission, the only one available from Chevrolet at the time capable of handling its robust engine. It took advantage of its era’s technological advances as one of the first mass-produced fiberglass cars. This innovative design made it lightweight and paired seamlessly with a top six-cylinder engine, pushing an impressive 150 hp at the time.

Its convertible design was a game-changer, transforming the Corvette into a head-turning vehicle that commanded attention and envy. While many Corvettes have followed since the 1953 model remains a timeless beauty. Despite experiencing a slow start in sales, the original Corvette set the stage for its successors, paving the way for the Corvette line to become truly legendary.

2. 1955 Ford Thunderbird

1955 Ford Thunderbird

The 1955 Thunderbird is a true legend in the automotive world. The T-Bird two-seat convertible is often hailed as one of the greatest cars ever made. Launching in 1955, this quintessential ’50s classic was an instant hit and remains a highly sought-after American classic.

Developed in response to Chevrolet’s Corvette, the T-bird was marketed as a luxury vehicle yet remained within reach for the average American. It came equipped with a robust 4.8-liter V8 engine, delivering a remarkable 198 hp for its time. Not only did it look stunning with its detachable fiberglass roof, but it also outdid the Corvette in sales, with over 16,155 units sold in its debut year, quickly becoming an American icon of that time.

Its popularity was so immense that Ford continued to produce various versions of the car – including four-seat hardtop coupes, convertibles, five-seat models, four-door sedans, and more – for fifty more years, catering to the enthusiastic demand of car lovers. Later models might have boasted more power, but they couldn’t quite capture the unique style of the first generation.

3. 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

A 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

The Chevrolet Bel Air is the quintessential American classic car. Once a reliable “workhorse” for Chevrolet, the Bel Air was transformed into an exquisite roadster that year, capturing the essence of 1950s style with its two-tone paint, tailfins, and chrome detailing. Despite being known as the “poor man’s Cadillac” at the time, the Bel Air was anything but modest in its offerings.

The Bel Air was one of the first accessible hardtop convertibles, leaving a lasting impression with its striking and sensational styling. The large front and captivating tail fins were standout features.

It boasted a revolutionary 283 cubic inch Super Turbo-Fire V8 engine and modern options like air conditioning and a high-quality stereo system. Capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 in just 20 seconds, which was impressively quick for its time, the Bel Air quickly earned the nickname “the hot one.”

Today, it remains a coveted item among collectors. Its timeless style elevates the Bel Air to a classic status, symbolizing the pinnacle of 1950s automotive design. The Bel Air was more than just a car; it was a cultural icon representing post-war America’s optimism and prosperity.

4. 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder

1955 Porsche 550 Spyder Replica

The 1956 Porsche 550 RS Spyder stands out as a remarkable classic in the automotive world. While the standard 1956 Porsche 550 is already considered a classic, the Spyder variant elevates it to a higher level.

Each of these models was meticulously hand-built, ensuring that every single one was unique. Its combination of top speed, ease of handling due to the aerodynamic design, and the blend of racing style with Porsche’s elegance and class made it exceptional. The minimalist and open-top design not only added to its cool appearance but also played a part in its racing successes.

While it may not have had the same immediate impact as the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa that appeared two years later, its elegant bodywork and racing capabilities left a lasting impression wherever it competed. As one of the rarest models, with only 90 produced, the 550 RS Spyder remains a coveted jewel in Porsche’s history. It’s a favorite among sports car enthusiasts, and being owned by celebrities like James Dean adds to its great reputation.

5. 1957 Cadillac Eldorado

1957 Cadillac Eldorado 

The 1950s in America were all about flashy cars, and the Cadillac Eldorado was at the forefront. Released in 1957, it was one of Cadillac’s priciest creations. Cadillac was a shining star in the automotive world during the decade, but their Eldorado stood out as the true gem. The third generation, redesigned by Ed Glowacke, struck the perfect balance.

The Eldorado featured a long body, distinctive Dagmar bumpers, sleek chrome lines, and white wall tires. It was slightly smaller but still boasted those eye-catching tail fins, a grill to match, and a powerful engine that was one of the first to offer 300 hp straight from the factory. Its luxurious style inside and out made this Eldorado model a big hit with customers, boosting Cadillac’s market presence for quite some time.

Available in just four colors – Alpine white, Azure blue, Aztec red, and Artisan ochre – only 532 were made in its debut year, 1953. But its exclusivity didn’t deter buyers, with famous figures like Marilyn Monroe reportedly among the proud owners, turning the Eldorado into a stylish symbol on wheels.

6. 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

a red Mercedes-Benz 300SL

The 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL is an extraordinary gem, possibly one of Mercedes’ most stunning creations. The gullwing doors set it apart in a league of its own, revealing a lavish interior that makes this car a work of art. These iconic doors are a visual treat and a reason why this car is a top pick for classic car enthusiasts.

The interior boasts luxurious leather seating and elegant paneling, offering both comfort and space. Its 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine delivers 215 hp and can reach speeds of 138 mph, blending speed with its unmatched style. The 300SL’s rarity only adds to its prestige, having set a new standard for automotive elegance in its era.

Interestingly, one of these models (specifically the SLR version) fetched a staggering $142 million at an auction, setting a record for the most expensive car ever sold!

7. 1955 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud

a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud I

The Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, from 1955, rightfully earns its spot on this list as one of Rolls-Royce’s finest. Breaking away from its traditional boxy designs, it adopted a sleeker, Bentley-like appearance while retaining classic Rolls-Royce features like the prominent front grille.

It showcased a luxurious and sizable design, updated to reflect contemporary tastes. Inside, it boasted air conditioning and plush leather seating.

But it’s more than just a pretty face. Performance-wise, the Silver Cloud came with power steering and a choice between a robust 4.9-liter straight-six and a 6.2-liter V8 engine, enabling it to surpass 100 mph. This car represented Rolls-Royce’s first major post-war design, making it a significant and memorable model from that era.

8. 1956 Lincoln Continental

The Lincoln Continental of 1956 stands as a pinnacle of classic American luxury from the 1950s. With a limited run of just 3,000 units, it offered exclusivity and sophistication that was unparalleled in the U.S. at the time.

Notable features included air conditioning and a high-quality stereo system. Each vehicle was handcrafted, adding a unique touch to every model, along with a robust 6.0-liter V8 engine boasting nearly 300 hp.

Despite its allure, its status as the priciest American car at the time meant it couldn’t sustain its market presence. Nevertheless, it remains a symbol of how American luxury cars could rival their European counterparts. Its enduring appeal is evident, as it was manufactured across nine decades, spanning 55 years. The Continental combined beauty, power, and a prestigious aura, making it a sought-after classic.

9. 1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

Ferrari’s classic race cars fall into two groups: the 1958 Testa Rossa and everything else. Its design was strikingly beautiful, a style that only Ferrari could master. Its sleek curves and aerodynamic shape are unmistakably Ferrari in design.

But it wasn’t just about looks. Under the hood, it boasted a 3.5-liter 12-cylinder engine delivering an impressive 300 hp. Lightweight and agile on the racetrack, this car set new records and reshaped the future of sports cars, not just in the ’50s but for years to come. The Testa Rossa was a record-breaker on the racetrack and a forerunner in Ferrari’s quest to design some of the most extraordinary cars ever seen.

10. 1956 Aston Martin DBR1

Including a pure race car like the Aston Martin DBR1 in this list is unfair, but it’s hard to overlook such a vehicle. Even James Bond would be envious of this beauty.

The DBR1 was a game-changer in the racing world during the 1950s, with legends like Sir Stirling Moss driving it to victory. Its revolutionary inline-six engine produced up to 254 horsepower and could hit speeds of 155 miles per hour.

A landmark achievement in automotive history, one of these DBR1s was sold for an incredible $22.5 million at a 2017 RM Sotheby’s auction. While it may not have been the safest, it was certainly one of the most stunning and fastest cars, marking a significant milestone for Aston Martin.

11. 1955 Jaguar XK140

1955 Jaguar XK140

The Jaguar XK150 was more than just a car; it was a work of art. It set a new standard in sports cars of the era. Known for its superior design and quintessentially British style, this car was the epitome of luxury and performance. It excelled in every aspect and laid the groundwork for the future E-Type.

With its graceful curves and powerful engine, the XK150 was a dream car for many and remains a highly sought-after classic. As it is designed as a GT car, the XK140 was perfect for long-distance cruising, capturing the spirit of the 1950s with its style and performance.

 12. 1950 Buick Skylark

The 1950 Buick Skylark played a pivotal role in shaping the American automotive industry, setting a benchmark for other carmakers. It symbolized American grandeur, ambitious aspirations, and the nationwide optimism that emerged post-World War II.

The Skylark stood out as one of the most significant cars of the 1950s, a true masterpiece in design, elegance, and luxury. Under its hood was a powerful 5.3-liter V8 engine, complemented by luxurious leather upholstery and an electric roof, embodying the American dream of that era.

Conclusion

The 1950s were a remarkable time for the automotive industry, producing cars that were not just vehicles but symbols of their era. These cars represented the best of design, technology, and luxury, capturing the imagination of generations to come. They remain highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts, a testament to their enduring appeal and significance in automotive history. As we look back on these classics, we can’t help but be inspired by their legacy and the timeless beauty they represent.

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