1950s Classic Cars
THE 1956 cars, as you already know, are even bigger, sleeker, more powerful and more expensive than their predecessors. What you may not know—and what is the significant news for you this year—is that the industry intends to sell 8,000,000 of these cars. This is an astronomical figure, and it means that selling methods will have to change, which in turn means that you should keep a wary eye on yourself when you buy a car.
Before World War II auto makers used to say that their “plateau” of selling was around 3,500,000 new cars a year. The plateau now is placed at 7,300,000 a year, and by 1960, say industry leaders, it will be even higher-10,000,000 cars a year. Some of the reasons are increases in population, savings, suburban living and the number of two-car families.
The automobile, in other words, has definitely become a product to be mass-merchandised. A dealer who used to be satisfied with selling, say, 200 cars a year at a clear profit of $300 to $400 on each deal, must gear his operation to a volume basis. The same dealer may now be forced to sell, say, 400 cars at a profit of perhaps $100 to $150.
Will you benefit by this new, mass-volume concept of automobile retailing? Not necessarily. The rugged competition generated by the drive for high sales doesn’t mean that car prices will be lower. Indeed, most prices are higher this year, by 3% to 7%. But it does mean that the discount and the extra-big trade-in allowance will remain. So will the price pack, the extra dollars the dealer tacks on the suggested factory price so he can give you that discount or overallowance.
You will have to shop prudently and watch prices carefully. If you do, you can get a good deal, if not a cheap one.
The fight for the market
FIGHTING for top position in sales for 1956 are Chevrolet and Ford, which finished first and second last year. Ford, which said it couldn’t supply all the cars its dealers wanted in 1955, is increasing production this year by 250,000 automobiles. Chevrolet has expanded the capacity of its engine plant to prevent a repeat of the trouble it had meeting demands for its new eight-cylinder motor at the beginning of the 1955 model-year.
A newer and even more intriguing battle is being joined in the industry right now. This is a determined assault by Ford, Packard and Chrysler on Cadillac’s dominant position in the luxury market.
Newest entry in the lists is the Ford Motor Co.’s luxury-priced Continental, to be delivered to dealers in fleece-lined canvas and plastic coverings. Buyers may have their names engraved on gold plates fastened to the front floor mat at no extra charge, and they will find such other refinements as chromium-plated dip sticks for checking the oil.
Ford also has restyled and enlarged the Lincoln, dropping the lowest-priced Lincoln line and adding the new and more expensive Premier series.
Packard, whose name was once as indicative of a top prestige car as that of Cadillac, has further separated itself from its lower-priced Clipper and has refurbished its big hardtops, convertibles and sedans.
Chrysler has upped its advertising budget, especially for the big New Yorker series and the bigger Imperials and Crown Imperials, and is promoting these three can heavily.
In answer to all this growing competition, Cadillac merely announces that it made and sold 152,000 automobiles last year and expects to make and sell 156,000 in 1956. Lincoln sold an estimated 34,000 cars in 1955, and Packard an estimated 56,000. Chrysler and Imperial sales, including sales of the lower-priced Windsor line, were approximately 173,000.
Among the independents, Studebaker is forgetting its role as an offbeat-style pioneer and is now going in for body lines that will increase sales. American Motors, encouraged by 1955 sales of Nash and Hudson Ramblers, thinks it will do even better in 1956. There has been one casualty. Kaiser-Willys has withdrawn from the passenger-car market and is now concentrating on jeeps and other four-wheel-drive vehicles.
The Ford Motor Co., on the other hand, is preparing two new cars for 1957, to line up with General Motors’ five makes and to “put us in the rest of the automobile business.” It is expected that these cars will compete with Oldsmobile and Buick.
Price, style and safety
PRICE increases in this year’s cars have been blamed on higher labor and material costs. But several makes offer “economy” two-door sedans, and in some cases increases on cars will be offset by reductions on optionals.
No matter what automobile you buy, it is likely to make last year’s model seem sluggish by comparison. Several manufacturers are emphasizing increased torque performance—the ability of a car to step away quickly and to give fast acceleration while in motion. Horsepower is up, too, in all makes.
For the first time Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth are in the 200•horsepower class, a category that only two short years ago included luxury cars exclusively. Horsepower leadership this year is claimed by Packard, which has 310 in its Caribbean models.
The big sales emphasis in 1956, however, is focused on style and safety features.
Forty years ago the thing to know about an automobile was how well it would run. Now nobody makes a bad car. Engineers, who once ruled the roost, now have to compromise with the styling experts. The reason is simple. If the cars don’t catch the public’s fancy, they don’t sell. That’s a lesson Chrysler learned when its traditional 20% of the new-car market dropped to 13% in 1954. Restyled last year, Chrysler products made a comeback, accounting for 17% of the market.
This year several makes have joined the move toward longer, lower ears–a trend you will see more of in the future. A number of cars have undergone extensive restyling. But most manufacturers have settled for “face-lifting” front-and rear-end changes.
Safety features that are being boomed include “deep-dish” steering wheels in which the hub of the steering column is three to six inches below the rim of the wheel. The purpose is to keep the steering column from piercing the driver’s chest in the event of an accident. Other safety advances include latches that will keep doors shut in a crash, rear-view minors that will not shatter, crash cushioning on dashboards, and seat belts. But one company, which says its customers cut off seat belts when it offered them half a dozen years ago, still considers the belt and other such items as “hang-ons” and declares that automobile safety would be better promoted by strengthening frame and body construction. Other companies say that better roadi and better driver training are more important factors in car safety, and automobile clubs have asked that manufacturers put an end to the annual increase in horsepower ratings.
Tubeless tires and wrap-around windshields were the big, new standard-equipmcnt items in 1955. This year the 12-volt battery is standard on all makes. Chrysler offers push-button shifting as standard equipment on all its automatic-transmission models, and Packard has it as an optional extra on Packards and Clippers. Several cars offer instant-acting aircraft-type heaters.
The ’56 years–make by makes
NOW for a rundown of what is new and important in each make of car:
Buick. Four-door hardtops are new in all Buick lines. Front ends. grilles and instrument panels have been restyled. Automatic transmission is now standard equipment on all but the Special, the model that accounts for more than 50% of Buick sales. Horsepower is up to 220 in the Special (from 188 last year) and is up from 236 to 255 in the other lines. A new foot-operated jack that sits on two nonsliding bases comes with all Buicks—a boon for tire changers.
Cadillac. Cadillac has redesigned the grilles, side panels and rear fenders and offers two new models—a four-door hardtop, called the Sedan de Ville, and a two-door Eldorado hardtop. Horsepower in the Eldorado series is 305 this year, up 35 from a year ago. All other Cadillacs are powered at 285, compared with 250 in 1955. Power brakes and steering are standard on all models, and air conditioning is available for the first time in convertibles. Scheduled to appear this summer is the costliest car in recent Cadillac history, the Eldorado Brougham, a four-door hardtop that will sell for $8,500 plus tax. Production of this model is expected to be limited to 1,000 cars.
Chevrolet. Nineteen models, including two new four-door hardtop sedans, make up the 1956 line. Style changes include lower and longer hoods and redesigned taillights. Chevrolet’s six-cylinder engine is now at 140 horsepower, compared with 123 and 136 last year. Horsepower in the V-8’s is at 162, in cars equipped with conventional transmission or overdrive and at 170 in automatic-transmission models. Top Chevy V-8 horsepower of 205 is achieved with a power pack. Air conditioning has been reduced to $400.
Chrysler. Chrysler showed the biggest percentage gain in Wes of all Chrysler Corp. cars last year. Over-all length has been increased by more than two inches on the Windsor and the New Yorker series and by five inches on all hardtop and convertible models. Windsor horsepower is up from 188 to 225 and a power pack will raise this to 280. New Yorker power is up from 250 to 280. Automatic transmission is now standard equipment on the Fireflite.
Dodge. As is the case with all Chrysler-built cars, four-door hardtops, push-button shift and record players that cost an extra $75 arc available in Dodges this year. Flaring rear-fender fins are the principal styling innovation. Horsepower, which ranged from 123 to 193 last year, goes from 131 in the Coronet six to 218 in the top line of V-8’s. A power pack will boost the bigger engine to 230.
Ford. Ford offers nine engines, ranging from the 137-horsepower six to the 202-horsepower ‘Thunderbird Y-8 motor, which is standard in the top Fairlane series. Horsepower last year ran from 120 to 182. The 18 body styles arc lower by one to two inches, and appearance changes include restyled grilles. Front and rear shock absorbers have been improved, and clutches for overdrive and conventional transmissions have been redesigned. Great emphasis is being placed on seat belts and other safety features.
Hudson. The 1956 Hudson is almost completely restyled, with a new grille and chromium strip outside and a new, crash-padded clash panel inside. Horsepower has been increased from 208 to 220 in the Hornet V-8 series—which includes a four-door sedan and a new two-door hardtop—and is tip to 165 and 175 in the Hornet six series. The six-cylinder Wasp has optional 120- and 130-horsepower engines. Seats in all models am be let down to make twin beds, and radios come with a speaker at each end of the dashboard.
Imperial. “Longest car in America” is Chrysler’s claim for its 243.6-inch Crown Imperial, an eight-passenger sedan intended to be chauffeur-driven. Horsepower on both this monster and the 229.6-inch Imperial is 280-30 higher than a year ago. Four-barrel carburetion, power brakes, power steering and power seat adjusters and window lifts are all standard equipment. In the Imperial’s second year as a separate line, five models arc offered.
Lincoln. LincoIns are lower and longer than ever before. Height has been reduced by two and
one-half inches. Wheel base has been increased from 123 to 126 inches. Over-all length has been
increased by seven inches to more than 181/2 feet. Lincoln also offers an all-new V-8 engine of
285 horsepower (60 higher than last year) and claims quicker acceleration from a standing start
than that of any other American car. Automatic transmission and power steering are standard
Oldsmobile. Thirteen models are offered in the 88, Super 88 and 98 series, and styling changes
include new grilles and side moldings. New mechanical features include improved ignition and
higher compression ratios. Horsepower has been increased from 185 to 230 in the 88’s, and from
202 to 240 in the Super 88’s and the 98’s. Automatic transmission and power steering are now
standard on the 98’s.
Packard. Packard’s 10 to 1 compression ratio, new this year, is highest in the industry. Carib- bean models are driven by 310-horsepower Carribean models are driven by 310-horsepower engines, and Patrician and 400 models have 290 horsepower, 30 more than last year. A new, non-
slip differential system keeps rear wheels from spinning on rough curves and uneven road sur-
faces. Caribbean hardtops and convertibles have reversible seat and back cushions—leather on
one side and brocade on the other.
Plymouth. This volume car of the Chrysler line is an inch longer and has an inch more
head room. Horsepower of the six is up from 117 to 125 and can be raised to 131 with a power
pack. Plymouth’s all-new eight-cylinder motors develop 180, 187 and 200 horsepower, compared
with a top of 177 in 1955. Red lights that flash when something goes wrong replace the am-
meter and the oil-pressure gauge on the dashboard. The grille, side panels, rear fenders and
instrument panel have been restyled. Pontiac. Pontiac offers General Motors’ new,
smoother automatic transmission on its Star Chief line and has increased horsepower in this
series to 227. Horsepower in the 860 and 870 series is set at 205, compared with 180 to 200 on
1955 models. The over-all length of each Pontiac line has been increased two inches, and the 15 models available in 1956 include three new four-door hardtops. New power steering, power
brakes and power window lifts also are offered.
Rambler. American Motors sold some 75,000 Ramblers in 1955 under Nash and Hudson
names and hopes to sell 100,000 to 150,000 of the 1956 models. The car is longer and lower
outside and bigger inside. Brand-new is a model combining station wagon and four-door hardtop
designs. Station wagon seats are retained, but door center posts have been removed to increase
visibility and facilitate loading. All Ramblers now have a 108-inch wheel base, and horsepower
is up from 90 to 120. Power brakes and power steering are available for the first time.
Studebaker. Bigger is the word for Studebaker. The company has spent close to $100,000,000
in redesigning for 1956. New models are longer and wider, and their hoods and rear decks are
higher, giving a more massive appearance and more trunk space. A new President Classic four-
door sedan, powered by a 210-horsepower V-8 engine, is over 17 feet long. Horsepower in the
Commander series is up from 162 to 170, and in the regular President series is up from 185 to 195. Studebaker’s horsepower leader, at 275, is 195. Studebaker’s horsepower leader, at 275, is
the Golden Hawk. top car of a new, low-slung (less than 5 feet high) sports series.