There are certain things that define a period in time and, alongside fashion, cars are one of the big ones.
In this new series, we’re looking at the cars that really stood out from around the world from the 1950s to the 1990s. The 1950s were a decade of recovery, affluence and mobilisation in the wake of World War Two.
And it was boom time for the car industry as it moved on in leaps and bounds from the pre-war and immediate post-war era.
Quite often, when we think of that boom time of the 1950s, the USA and its big, brash cars
come to mind. We could have picked any number of ‘50s Americana motors here, but the Ford Thunderbird
sums it up as good as any. A two-seater convertible introduced in 1955, it wasn’t strictly marketed as a sports car, but more an upscale model that was eventually credited with creating a new market segment, the personal luxury car.
It was successful enough that, in 1958, it gained a back row of seats so that 1950s teenagers could go to the drive-in in greater numbers.
The model, in name at least, actually survived until 2005 in various forms and more than 4.4 million cars bearing the name were produced.
If you want one today, prices can range from anything between £5,000 and £50,000 depending on age, variant and condition.
In order to demonstrate the cultural differences between the UK and our friends across the pond, here’s another Ford from the same era.
The Anglia couldn’t have been much different to the Thunderbird – in name for one – but, while the States were basking in a time of opportunity and good times, the UK had been more badly hit by the war and cheap motoring was the way forward for many.
The Anglia name
started life in 1939, but it’s the 100E that was released in 1953 that we’re looking at here. It was a totally new car, essentially a smaller version of the Ford Consul
that had been introduced two years earlier.
The 100E was available as a two-door Anglia and a four-door Prefect. Interestingly given the frugalness of the time in Britain, the new 100E meant that the old Anglia was made available as the 103E and heralded as the cheapest car in the world. A good example can be had for a pretty reasonable £4,000 today.
Another example of the progress made in the 1950s, the MGA was a total departure
from the pre-war models that the company had produced. It replaced the TF 1500
Midget, but bore little resemblance to MG’s earlier sports cars as regards styling.
The differences were such that it was called the MGA in recognition of it being the first of a new line, as went the advertising. The MGA was a car that summed up the freedom and excitement of the decade.
Announced in September, 1955, the car was officially launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show. A total of 101,081 units were sold between its launch and the end of production in July 1962. You might be surprised to learn that, despite it being a common sight on UK roads and in many ways a quintessential British sports car
, the vast majority of those were exported.
In fact, only 5,869 cars were sold on the home market, the lowest percentage of any British car. It was replaced by the MGB
, which more than took forward its mantle into the 1960s and 1970s. This is a car whose value is rising, with £10,000 barely enough to grab one – and you could spend four times that.
If any country managed to transform itself in the wake of World War Two – despite having been on the losing side – it was Italy
. And cars played a massive part in that. While the country is famous for its beautiful Ferraris
, it was Fiat that mobilised the masses in those years.
In the 1950s the Fiat 1100 was the small family car that got everyday people on the road. It was produced from 1953 right the way through until 1969 and had a unibody, unlike its predecessor, the 1100E, which had descended from a pre-war body-on-frame car.
The little 1100 summed up fun and frugal Italian motoring before its destined-to-be-very-famous sibling, the 500 came along
four years later. The 1100 was replaced by another very popular and recognisable car, the 128, but not before many different variants, including light commercials, were made.
In India the car was built under licence until the end of 2000. These cars are fairly rare now, with £3,000 enough to buy a project and easily five times that for a mint example.
Here we have a real beauty to finish with – and of course we had to visit Germany on our travels
. The Mercedes-Benz 190SL was a two-door luxury roadster, but you already knew that just from looking at it.
It was launched in 1955 and sold for eight years. Moreover, it was a sign that Merc was in the serious business of luxury sports cars. The aim was for it to be a more affordable alternative to the famous 300SL, remembered for its gullwing doors. The 190SL shared the 300SL’s
general styling and engineering, including its fully independent suspension.
Buyers had the option of a convertible or a removable hardtop and the quirky option of a small transverse seat for a third occupant.
Early models – no doubt highly sought after both then and now – could be had in sports/racing trim, with a plastic windscreen, bucket seats and aluminium doors.
The 190SL and the 300SL were both replaced by the 230SL in 1963. You won’t be surprised to know that you’ll need anything from £80,000 to £200,000 to get one of these in your garage today.