For car enthusiasts and collectors, the vintage era in the automotive world was a time of transition. Most cars started off in 1919 as still something of a rarity, and ended up, in 1930, well on the way towards ubiquity. In fact, automobile production at the end of this period was unmatched until the 1950’s. In the intervening years, most industrialized countries built nationwide road systems with the result that, towards the end of the period, the ability to negotiate unpaved roads was no longer a prime consideration of automotive design. The 1950’s car culture is perhaps unparalleled by any other decade. There were many innovations in design and safety and the 50’s gave birth to many highly prized classic cars. Innovations were either invented or improved sufficiently to allow for mass production during the decade: air conditioning, automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, seat belts and arguably the most influential change in automotive history, the overhead-valve V8 engine. The horsepower race had begun, providing the footing for the muscle car era. Here are 5 vintage cars that can totally take you for a spin in today’s era of mind-blowing cars.
1956 Mercury Montclaire
The 1956 Ford Mercury Montclaire is a visual treat with deeply drawn headlamp eyebrows, a forward-sloping pair of faux scoops on the side, and eye-catching vertical taillamps, making the vehicle the fifties’ most distinctive homegrown automobiles. Montclaire featured Mercury's best appointments; extra chrome trim, and different two-tone paint combinations to set them apart from other Mercury products. 1956 was the year Ford introduced its Lifeguard safety program, and the Mercury Montclair came standard with a deep-dish steering wheel to help protect the driver from the steering column, safety door locks, a breakaway rear view mirror, and optional seat belts and padded dashboards. The dash was redesigned with a new three-tier instrument panel.
The Montclair model line also included the Sun Valley, which featured a Plexiglas "bubble" over the front half of the roof section. While futuristic cars were often featured with clear glass tops in the 1950s (like the concept car Lincoln Futura), consumers rejected the tinted glass roof Sun Valleys (only 1,500 were produced in 1955) because of the heat buildup in the interior of the vehicles. Following lower sales of the Sun Valley for 1956, the version was discontinued for 1957. In 1956 the Montclair received some minor changes, including a new Z-shaped side spear incorporating a false vent behind the front doors, and a large, beefy, chromed "M" logo on the bonnet.
1958 Chevrolet Impala
Touted in the 1950s as ‘’Tomorrow’s Motoring Adventure and Pleasure,’’ the five-passenger interior Chevrolet Impala was an experimental car representing the creative vision of Chevrolet and General Motors stylists and designers, designed with sleekness, safety and luxury in mind. The body was made of a shell of glass fibre reinforced plastic. It had a panoramic windshield that sweeps over the driver’s head. Racing type tires with distinctive white stripes are mounted on wire wheels with knock off hubs. The Impala had a 116.5-inch wheelbase. The Dream Car was low and graceful in appearance and was powered by a 225 horsepower V-8 engine. It had plenty of elegance, comfort and convenience and was America’s next big thing.
The interior featured a padded cornering bar of airfoil shape and a wide bright metal instrument cluster dominated the interior. The speed indicator on the dash lights up progressively as more intense shades of red at higher speeds were attained. Paired at either side of the cluster face are a generator, temperature, fuel and oil warning lights, along with directional signals. The steering wheel had a wide padded single spoke outlined in bright metal. Tear drop heater outlets are at either ends of the dash.
CHEVROLET EL CAMINO
1959 Chevrolet El Camino
El Caminos still bring home the bacon, especially in the highly desirable 396-cubic-inch Turbo-Jet big-block versions, with 325, 350, and 375hp– this is a car for someone after a muscle car that doesn’t want to take themselves too seriously. As with most U.S. cars for the masses of that era, these are simple cars with a lot of parts, and swapping engines and transmissions is fairly simple.
On the face of it, the second-gen Chevrolet El Camino was nothing more than the Chevy Chevelle it was based on, albeit with a loading bay instead of rear seats, making it less practical than both a sedan and a pickup truck in one fell swoop. But over the years, this curious “coupe utility” has gained a huge cult following. The El Camino concept came from the Ford Ranchero, and boasted of a single trim level, its exterior using the mid-level Bel-Air's trim, and the interior of the low-end Biscayne. Its chassis featured Chevrolet's "Safety-Girder" X-frame design and a full-coil suspension, both introduced in the 1958 model year. The 119 in (3,000 mm) wheel-base was 1.5 inches (38 mm) longer, and overall length for all 1959 Chevrolets was up to 210.9 in (5,360 mm). The El Camino's payload rating ranged from 650–1,150 lb (290–520 kg), with gross vehicle weights ranging from 4,400–4,900 lb (2,000–2,200 kg) depending on powertrain and suspension. The somewhat soft passenger car suspension of the base model left the vehicle level without a load, in contrast the Ranchero, where standard 1100-pound rated heavy duty rear springs gave it a distinct rake when empty. The quirky Level Air suspension option, in its second and final year, was listed as available, but was almost never seen on any Chevrolet model, much less an El Camino. The 1959 El Camino was promoted as the first Chevrolet pickup built with a steel bed floor instead of wood. The floor was a corrugated sheetmetal insert, secured with 26 recessed bolts. Concealed beneath it was the floor pan from the Brookwood two-door wagon, complete with foot wells. Box capacity was almost 33 cubic feet (0.93 m3).
1955 FORD THUNDERBIRD
1955 Ford Thunderbird
Ford unveiled the Thunderbird at the Detroit Auto Show on February 20, 1954. The first production car came off the line on September 9, 1954, and went on sale on October 22, 1954 as a 1955 model, and sold briskly. The Thunderbird was a more dignified, personal luxury cruiser. It had roll-up windows and standard V-8 power, both things that were not available on the first Corvettes. Other features included a removable fiberglass top, a fabric convertible top, and fender skirts for the rear wheels. There was one engine for the first 1955 T-Birds, Ford's 292-cubic-inch OHV 292 Y-block V8, which got 18MPG of fuel economy and it came with a single four-barrel carburetor. The engine was paired either with a Ford-o-matic automatic or manual overdrive transmissions, and the car featured four-way powered seats and pushbutton interior door handles. Other unique features were a telescoping steering wheel and a tachometer.
A rare domestic two-seater for the era, it was designed to be a brisk luxury tourer and not a sports car, capable of attaining speeds of 100 to 115 mph (161 to 185 km/h) depending on the transmission ordered. With the standard 3-speed manual transmission, this engine made 193 horsepower, and with the optional Ford-o-Matic transmission, it made 198 horses. The exhaust pipes for the Thunderbird were integrated into the rear fascia and above the rear bumper, giving it an unmistakable Jet-Age look. In just the first five days of being on sale, over 3,500 orders were placed for the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, indicating hot demand. Ford had planned to build 10,000 in its first year, but ended up selling 16,155 in its first year of production, in 1955.
In conclusion, vintage cars often have more style than their modern forebears and make you look thoughtful with your purchases. Old supercars even have a magic combination of being both fast and extremely difficult to control but they are definitely worth every penny.