10 Of The Weirdest Cars That Could Only Be From The ’50s
During the 1950s there were some truly odd cars around, including a luxury sports car developed by the heirs of the bobby pin fortune. Check out these 10.
Some are the product of enthusiastic entrepreneurs, others the outcome of a company at the end of the line. Over-confidence, marketing miscalculation, and under-financed often played a role as well.
1955 Gaylord Gladiator
Gaylord Car Ltd. was formed by the heirs to their father’s bobby pin fortune (seriously). James and Edward Gaylord wanted to built the ultimate personal luxury performance car, which they’d name the Gladiator. To build the first prototype, they turned to Spohn coachbuilders in Germany, but they were unhappy with their work. The next group of three cars were assigned to the Zeppelin company (yep, same one) but the brothers weren’t happy with their work either. For the first year of 1955 their goal was to produce and sell 25 Gladiators at $10,000 each ($88,500 in today’s money). Despite taking deposits from movie stars and royalty, the brother just couldn’t pull the business together and gave up the effort by 1956.
1950 Studebaker Starlight Coupe
In 1950, new styling was introduced on the Studebaker Champion, with one of the new styling features the wraparound, “green-house” rear window that was on two-door cars from 1947–1951, at first just an option, in 1950 it was given its own trim line, the Starlight coupe. While great for visibility, as the C Pillar was so far forward, it created an extremely awkward looking rear section. The 1950 front wasn’t much better, with a “nose” one assumes was to look like an aircraft with a “spinner” grille that looked like it had been removed from the nacelle of a B-29. The “spinner” was dropped for the 1952 model year.
1948 Tucker 48
The Tucker 48 was an automobile conceived by Preston Tucker and briefly produced in Chicago. Only 51 cars were made before the company folded due to a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and a heavily publicized stock fraud trial (which ended in acquittal). Though there’s plenty of rumors about why Tucker failed, in reality the design was too complicated and had too many new features for the technology and manufacturing of the time, and Tucker didn’t have the capital to properly engineer even those advanced features that made it onto the 51 cars. For example his own engine design was so heavy it took 60 volts just for the starter to turn the engine over. There were other issues with the engine as well, so helicopter engines were adapted.
In 1954 the once proud Packard company had become part of Studebaker. Worst yet, by 1957 all Packard engineered cars had been dropped from the line-up. Packard now had to build cars out of whatever else Studebaker was manufacturing. So as Studebaker was calling the shots, they determined the design direction and left it to Packard to figure out afterwards how to create a unique Packard identity out of a Studebaker design (without spending an real money). What followed were some of the most ghastly cars of the 1950s. The design inspiration for the1958 Packard, in particular, must have come during a fishing trip. With the possible exception of the British Daimler SP-250 sports car, no vehicle has looked so much like a fish without intending to do so. The grille resembles a gaping fish mouth and the tail fins, well, you get it.
Edsel was brand of the Ford Motor Company during the 1958 through 1960 model years. With Edsel, Ford had expected to close the gap between itself and GM in the domestic American automotive market. But contrary to Ford’s plans, the Edsel never established itself firmly in the marketplace. The Ford Motor Company lost millions of dollars on the Edsel’s development, manufacturing and marketing. The very word “Edsel” became a popular symbol for a commercial failure. The reasons for its failure actually had little to do with it’s styling (but it didn’t help). Nor was the name much help (Edsel was Henry Ford’s son). Primarily Edsel models were positioned so they ended up competing with Mercury models. Also the entire country was suffering through a recession. People were buying car brands that they knew at discounted prices. However, the Edsel’s most memorable design feature was its trademark “horsecollar” or toilet seat grille, which was original slim and graceful until engineers needed to open it up to accommodate more airflow into the radiator. A popular joke at the time was that the Edsel “resembled an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon”.
1956 Dodge La Femme
The idea for the Dodge La Femme, produced by Dodge between 1955 and 1956, came through Chrysler’s marketing department. They had observed that women’s opinions on color was becoming part of the decision making process for couples buying an automobile. So they designed an automobile specifically for women. In the advertising of the day, Dodge described the car as being “America’s most glamorous car – Designed with the ladies in mind!” As standard equipment, the 1956 La Femme came equipped with exclusive accessories: a rain cap, rain coat, and umbrella.It was offered in only one color combination — two-tone Regal Orchid over Misty Orchid. The interior was unique to the La Femme as well. It featured gold vinyl with two-tone orchid fabric inserts on the seats and door panels. It also had orchid carpet and an ivory headliner with gold colored speckles – which matched the fabric of the accessories.
1951 Muntz Jet
The Muntz Car Company was created by Earl “Madman” Muntz, a an LA area used car dealer and electronics retailer known for his TV commercials. In 1951, Indy Car builder Frank Kurtis sold the license to manufacture his sports car design to Muntz, who quickly renamed them the design “Muntz Jet”, extended the body and chassis to make it a four-seater, and installed a Cadillac V8. A less expensive Lincoln side-valve V8 would be installed in later cars. The car was manufactured in Chicago and featured its own unique design, with aluminum body panels and a removable fiberglass top that were manufactured in-house. The company managed to produce only about 400 cars during 1951-1954, losing about $1,000 on each car ($9,100 in today’s money). Unable to sustain the lose or envision a plan to increase sales in the future, the company was closed.
1952 Woodill Wildfire
The Woodill Wildfire was an American sports car built by Dodge and Willys dealer Blanchard Robert “Woody” Woodill from 1952 to 1958 in Downey, California. The Wildfire used a Glasspar fiberglass body and a custom chassis constructed by a noted hot rod builder of the time. While intended to be a sports cars car, there was nothing sports car about it, beyond its appearance. The suspension was Willys Jeepster, with a transverse front leaf spring suspension, and a Willys solid axle in the rear. Engine was typically a Ford flathead V8. The Woodill is credited as being the first complete fiberglass car delivered with 21 factory-produced and another 285 sold as kits.
1952 Sears Allstate
Sears has been in plenty of different businesses over the years, including “kit” houses, but from 1952 through 1953 Sears sold a version of the Kaiser Henry J as an Allstate through their stores. The Allstate was distinguished from the Henry J by a number of details including Allstate badges on the hood and rear deck, more upscale interior fabrics, special wheel covers, a locking glove box and trunk lid, custom armrests and sun visors, and special parking and tail lamp assemblies. Most notably, the Allstate featured a unique two-bar grille and jet-plane hood ornament designed by Alex Tremulis, who had come to Kaiser-Frazer from the Tucker Corporation. While some Sears outlets tried to stock at least one sample of the car, most were built on demand by Kaiser-Frazer, which made delivery to the store where they were sold. Only 2,363 Allstates were sold in two model years before the marque was discontinued; 1,566 during 1952 and 797 in 1953. Kaiser soon discontinued the Henry J as well.
1950 Crosley Super Sport
A manufacturer of appliances, Crosley entered the automotive business before WWII to sell the most inexpensive (and usually smallest) cars in America. After the war, they picked up where they left off, using a small but sophisticated OHC four cylinder developed for the US Navy. When it proved unreliable in automotive use, Crosley develop an engine around a cast iron block. The Hot Shot sports car was introduced in 1949 as a 26.5 hp version of the tiny Crosley passenger cars. In 1950, with the new engine, Crosley introduced a version of the Hot Shot with working doors called the Super Sport. Upon its introduction, the Super Sport won its class at the very first 12 Hours of Sebring. Hot Shots and Super Sports could be ordered with the Quicksilver engine option, which produced 30 hp. Unfortunately America wanted bigger cars (not smaller) in the 1950s and Crosley closed its doors in 1952.
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