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Best Classic Cars of the 50s

Featuring American Muscle Cars, British Minis, and everything in between, here are some of the most classic cars of the 50s.

Photo by Jonas Lavoie-Levesque on Unsplash

If you ask me, the 1950s was the first golden era of sports cars. The post-World War II period invited technological advancements, stronger motors, faster cars, and a wide variety of never-before-seen features. Design-wise, car manufacturers weren't afraid to be ostentatious or reservedly creative. While the 1950s saw the unfortunate demise of some automakers, like the Packard Motor Company, the decade was a period of massive growth and improvement for most car manufacturers, from Chevy and Ford in the United States to a variety of European makers including BMW and Jaguar. If you enjoy reading about classic cars as much as I do, take a look at the best and most classic cars of the 50s.

1953 Chevrolet Corvette

Photo by Chevrolet on Wikimedia

The Chevrolet Corvette is one of the most storied and iconic vehicles in the history of the automobile industry. General Motors first commissioned a prototype of a new two-seated sports car, and the secretive "Project Opel" was launched to develop a prototype. The goal was to develop an American car to rival the popular European sports cars, and the ultimate result was the now-iconic Corvette, which actually had a rocky start. From its first production run in 1953, the first generation Corvette had multiple issues from its solid-axle construction and I6 engine, leading to poor sales. Ultimately, Chevy decided not to cancel the project, and their patience was soon rewarded with massive success, still boasting the status as one of the best American muscle cars on the market.

1955 Ford Thunderbird

Photo by Pat Durkin on Flickr

Developed in response to Chevy's announcement of the Corvette, the Ford Thunderbird, also known as the T-Bird, has no interest in subtlety. Featuring a powerful V8 engine, but focusing more on comfort than speed, the T-Bird carved a new niche for itself as a personal luxury car. Unlike the Corvette, the Ford Thunderbird was immediately successful from its first generation, and it remained a mainstay in Ford's lineup through the end of the 20th century. Easily one of the top Ford muscle cars in existence, the Thunderbird took an early lead over the Corvette by providing a powerful and production-ready vehicle in 1955, when the latter's rushed 1953 release led to various problems. It became clear, however, that the T-Bird's market was not in competition with the Corvette, which aimed to rival European sports cars. 

1952 Jaguar XK120

Photo by Brian Snelson on Flickr

The XK120 line constituted Jaguar's first sports cars since before World War II. The famed British automaker struck gold with their XK line, which included the XK140 and 150, which in their own right are both also classic cars of the 50s. The XK120 gets the nod on this list for being one of the first and most successful sports cars in the early 1950s. Technically designed at the end of the 1940s, the XK120 truly came into its own in 1950, setting the tone for what would become the most influential decade in the auto industry since the release of the Model T in the first decade of the 20th century.

1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster

Photo by Alexander Migl on Wikimedia

The Mercedes-Benz 300SL was successfully designed to be a true performance-based luxury car for affluent drivers. Developed and produced in Germany, most models of this vehicle were exported to the United States, which was experiencing a huge economic boom after World War II. Based on Mercedes' contemporary racing car, the 300SL was the world's first production car with a fuel-injected engine. The original design featured gull-wing doors and could reportedly reach speeds as high as 160mph. By the latter half of the fifties, the Roadster model replaced the original, featuring a convertible top and conventional side doors.

1956 BMW 507

Photo by Stefan Krause on Wikimedia

Max Hoffman was an influential New York-based importer of European luxury sports cars. His position gave him a unique perspective on the market, and he frequently suggested designs or concepts to European car manufacturers intended for export to the United States. In fact, we have him to thank for some of the most classic cars of the 50s, including the BMW 507.

Fresh off the massive success of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, which was also the result of his influence, Hoffman pitched the idea of the 507 to BMW with the intention of providing a less expensive option for American motorists who couldn't afford the Mercedes. BMW's model 507 ended up being far too expensive for its intended purpose, and it was discontinued after fewer than 300 models were produced. Despite the financial failure of the vehicle, the BMW 507 is considered one of the most iconic cars of all time, and paved the way for many successful BMW sports cars throughout the rest of the century.

1959 Aston Martin DB4

Photo by Michael Schäfer on Wikimedia

Aston Martin is one of the most iconic British car manufacturers, thanks in no small part to its close relationship with James Bond, who first drove an Aston Martin DB5 in the 1963 film Goldfinger. The DB5's immediate predecessor, the DB4, shared a similar body of Italian design, and was the world's first introduction to one of the most iconic car silhouettes of all time. The continental design was lightweight, allowing the car to drive at high speeds for long distances. Though production on the DB4 didn't begin until the final couple years of the decade, this Aston Martin vehicle is without a doubt one of the best classic cars of the 50s.

1959 Morris Mini-Motor

Photo by DeFacto on Wikimedia

In an era when American motoring enthusiasts fawned over muscle cars and large, family-friendly sports cars, a sect of British motorists flocked to a somewhat countercultural line of vehicles: the Mini. While the name "Mini" has been a marque since 1969, producing iconic designs such as the Mini Cooper, the design was originally produced under the names of two other companies. Austin and Morris (merged under the British Motor Corporation) both produced similar versions of the Mini near the end of the 1950s. In a decade dominated by larger vehicles, the economic design of the Mini attracted waves of younger drivers. This design was voted the second most influential of the 20th century, trailing only behind the Ford Model T.

1955 BMW Isetta

Photo by Mick on Wikimedia

Before the British Mini revolutionized the world with its economy car design, a number of car manufacturers dabbled in the Italian-designed bubble car known as the Isetta. A most unusual car, it has only three wheels and opens from the front—as in, the entire front body of the car, including the windshield and steering wheel, opens outward for entry into the vehicle. First produced by Italian company Iso in 1953, the designed was licensed by several other brands across the world. The most successful was the Isetta produced by BMW from 1955 to 1962, with over 150,000 units sold.

1957 MG MGA

Photo by Bull-Doser on Wikimedia

Morris Garages (MG) is one of the most historic, if underrated, British car manufacturers of the 20th century. Their MGA, produced from 1955 to 1962, was a relatively underperforming vehicle. It was especially unpopular in its home country, with fewer than 6,000 models sold on the domestic market. Thanks to its affordability compared to most post-war sports cars, the MGA performed significantly better in the United States, nearing 100,000 models sold. More than its numbers, however, the MGA is important for helping usher in the modern era of car bodies, featuring a much more familiar silhouette than the "old-fashioned" open body vehicles that preceded it.

1956 Citroën DS

Photo by Ralf Roletschek on Wikimedia

The Citroën DS is one of my favorite sports cars of any era. Produced from 1955 through 1975, the DS combines an iconic retro-futuristic silhouette with some of the most advanced features of the auto industry in 1955. Developed by an Italian industrial designer and a French aeronautics engineer, this luxury car was truly space age. This vehicle, produced by French automaker Citroën, had several pioneering advancements that revolutionized the auto industry. The DS was the first production car to be fitted with disc brakes and featured a hydro-pneumatic, self-leveling suspension. These features set new standards for braking, handling, smoothness, and overall ride quality, cementing the DS as one of the most classic cars of the 50s, and one of the most important vehicles to ever be produced.

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