NOVEMBER 8, 2013: WAS 1959 THE MOST SPECTACULAR YEAR FOR FIFTIES AUTOMOTIVE STYLE?

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The 1950s were an incredible decade for cars because it began with the shoebox look of cars like the ’50 Ford or Merc and ended with the Jetsons look of Exner Mopars and Cadillacs.

 

Was 1959 the pinnacle of 50s automotive style?

 

 

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The last year of the rock and roll decade was a goldmine for major events. It began with a bearded guy named Fidel Castro in a country called Cuba. He took over a tropical paradise and turned it into a communist paradise overnight.

 

The cool part was that his adventures in political upheaval left a lot of 1959 American iron in a Caribbean time warp that lives to this day.

 

 

American Pie was a song about “the day the music died” and that precise day was February 3 1959 when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash.

 

Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500 in a ’59 Olds before he switched to Plymouths later that year and the Soviet Union sent Luna 1 past the moon in the first man-made object to leave Earth’s orbit.

 

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The Space Race was real in 1959 and the cars reflected this emphasis on all things chromed and finned. The fin craze peaked with the Mount Everest-sized 1959 Cadillac rear stabilizers.

 

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Prior to this pinnacle year in the history of 50s fins there was a guy named Virgil Exner and he was solidly behind the jet-age look at Chrysler.

 

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Dodge, Plymouth, DeSoto and Imperial had some of the most spectacular lines in the history of North American cars under Exner’s watch.

 

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1959 was a more refined look for Exner fin cars but the tradition of all things push-button and ready to launch continued in Mopar world.

 

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General Motors was definitely in the space-age game and it was reflected in some of the coolest rides to ever come out of the gate at GM. The ’59 Impala was a great example of how far you could go with a completely re-skinned look in the fifties.

 

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Olds retained its understated (in 1959 terms) cool factor with a long, low and wide definitive turnpike super star.

 

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Oldsmobile cousins like Pontiac and Buick also had their own distinctive look in an automotive era that had legendary individuality from bumper to bumper.

 

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Ford also brought the “A game” in 1959 in the Mercury division after the 1st Gen Turnpike Cruiser era ended because these next-Gen Mercs were lower, wider and a little more refined.

 

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The bread and butter Ford line kept the retractable hardtop option and added some giant taillights to the package. There were a few more distinctly ’59 touches to the entry-level Fords so they kept right up with the competition.

 

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Last, but certainly not least was the Rambler line at American Motors. They didn’t have the same kind of financial clout at AMC but they certainly kept pace with the Big Three.

 

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The biggest thing about 1959 was that it was the last year Detroit went flat-out in styling because the next year produced milder versions of the previous year. They knew that the 60s were destined to leave the 50s behind for a more functional design so excess would give way to cleaner, non-finned cars.

 

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That’s a travesty because there wasn’t an automotive era that defined change and optimism more than the 50s. The pre-war styling shackles were tossed away and replaced with designs that reflected a new age of jet-age travel and rocket ships.

 

 

1959 was the last, best year of an incredible decade.

 

Jerry Sutherland

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