JANUARY 14, 2013: WE DISCUSS WHAT DEFINED THE STYLE OF CARS IN THE POST-WAR DECADES

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Every decade from the 40s to the 80s had a distinctive style for North American cars that placed them squarely within the particular time frame of those decades.

 

Most car guys will find an automotive era that reaches them for a variety of reasons from sentimental to cool.

 

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We will concentrate on post-war cars in this article, but we recognize that pre-war cars like the Hi-Boys are still very popular with many car guys.

 

The 1940s were a difficult period for the automotive world because most of the effort from Detroit was directed toward a much bigger cause, namely a battle for freedom that required an all-out dedication to the war effort.

 

The result was a post-war car that looked a lot like the cars produced at the start of the war. The gold standard for car guys would still be the 1940 Ford or Willys from the 40s era, but the 1946-48 Chevy still has a strong low-rider following in California.

 

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The style changes to a modern look began in 1949 and continued until 1954 with a basic style that became a signature design of that period. The early Mercury or Monarch from this era became a customized dream for legendary builders like George Barris with his famous lead sleds.

 

The 1949 and early 50s Fords were also a favorite for car guys who loved the rounded look of the cars.

 

One of the most famous cars in automotive history changed the game from 1955 to 1957 because the Chevy brands from this era are still hugely popular in car guy circles. In fact, these Tri-Fivers are even more popular in 2013 than they were during their actual production run.

 

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The fins got bigger and better in the late 50s and Virgil Exner led the charge at Chrysler where his brute force push button drive finned fleet defined the look as a brand identity and provided convincing evidence that muscle cars were around before the 1964 Goat.

 

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The fins were gone by the early 60s on most Detroit cars because a new decade required a newer style. The ’61 Fords and Chevys led the charge into the Kennedy era with their lower and sleeker designs, some of which were coupled with serious big block horsepower.

 

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The back half of the 60s was a pony race and a horsepower race as Detroit rolled out Mustangs, Camaros and Cudas with plenty of lightning under the hood. Detroit also introduced big block horsepower to many of its intermediate sized cars like the Chevelle, Le Mans and Belvedere during this time frame because it was an all-out war on the streets.

 

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The horsepower war was over by the early 70s because a real war in the Middle East had crippled oil supplies in North America and re-channeled Detroit to build horrible sub-compacts like the Vega and Pinto. Big cars were still around, but they had anemic horsepower big blocks that were choked by emission controls.

 

The most stylish of the 70s cars were the 2-door hardtops with their signature big front ends and small decks and some of them offered a T-top option that could also be found in the Trans Ams or Camaros from the 70s.

 

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The 80s look from Detroit became smaller and more stylish, plus the carmakers began to tinker with bigger horsepower from small blocks like the high performance V6 found in the legendary Buick Grand Nationals or Hurst W-40 Olds in the mid to late 80s. The T top was even more popular in this decade and added a signature look to the era.

 

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The end of the 80s decade marks the end of our brief review of the car styles from the post-war era because the 90s are still a little too new for us at MSCC.

 

Jim Sutherland

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