Friday, November 4, 2011

Sheet Metal Romance

Around this time of year back in the 1950’s and 1960’s automobile dealerships brimmed with anticipation and excitement as time neared to debut the newest models of automobiles. With considerable fanfare and drama, television, radio, and print media presented consumers with advertisements designed to bring customers into their respective showrooms. An all-American industry, automobile manufacturers included General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, American Motors and Studebaker-Packard. Since the end of World War II, Americans had escalated their fervor and demand for the latest automobile technology, design, and comfort. Competition among manufacturers was fierce; as innovations, accessories, equipment, engines and power trains and were irresistible brought together to entice buyers to open their wallets and welcome months of payments. By the mid 1950’s, automobiles were a status symbol and personal statement of means, identity, and image.

You already know this, but guys love cars! Early on, this sheet metal romance captivates their affection. Focusing on fender skirts, canted tail fins, gracefully formed hoods, trunk lids, and roof lines; guys are swept into dream land of piston-driven engines, stick shift transmissions, dual exhausts, hardtops, convertibles, sleek-looking interiors and push-button radios. For teenagers, talking about cars is one of three major conversational topics. In the fall off nineteen fifty-six, the 1957 models arrived in dealer’s showrooms. As a 15 year-old high school junior, whose family never owned a car, checking out new models was like visiting Fantasyland. Going to Ciesar’s Chrysler-Plymouth, Swarthout Chevrolet, Hansen Buick and France Ford was idyllic. The aroma of new car perfume filled the dealership. Reflected light from highly polished Blue Coral lacquer and enamel finishes dazzled the eyes. Glistening chrome buffed to its highest luster, and whitewall tires complimented hubcaps and wheel treatments. Running one’s hand over sculptured hoods and fenders of these automotive masterpieces gave one a sense of awe. Dashboards gauges, levers and controls for accessories, floor mats, and interior fabrics of cloth, vinyl and leather, took one’s breath away. Hood ornaments, vibrant colors and manufacturer logos completed the sheet metal symphony of senses. These machines were magnificent!
Maybe it was because adolescents are so impressionable, perhaps it was being close to an unattainable desire, but the automobiles of 1957 left an indelible impression. Without question, nineteen fifty-seven was a banner year for American automakers. Many became classics and are sought-after to this day. Remembering those times makes me smile. I still recall the majesty of those cars: some favorites.

 Ford’s 1957 Thunderbird: $3408. Dual tops—standard convertible or removable glass-fiber with port window. Powered by a 285hp. V-8 with either an automatic or 3-speed manual transmission. Produced to rival General Motor’s Corvette. Sweet.

 GM’s 1957 Pontiac Bonneville: the first Bonneville available only as a convertible with fuel injection. Introduced in January, 1957, this was the fastest Pontiac ever produced. The expensive sticker price of $5782 came with every available option except air conditioning and external continental kit. The 300+ horsepower fuel injected V8 engine had a top speed of 101.6 mph. Spectacular!

 Chrysler’s 300C convertible: Equipped with a 375hp Hemi V8, dual quad carburetors, solid valve lifters and full race camshaft. In 1957, this was the fastest car in America. Priced at $4,055. Its chrome split egg crate grill dominated the frontal view. Stylish vestigial fins flowed into vertical taillights. Awesome!

 Ford’s Mercury Turnpike Cruiser: 1957’s Car of The Year! Available in 2dr or 4drhardtops models, standard equipment: power everything. Under the hood, a 290hp V8 and Holley 4-barrel carburetor and Merc-O-Matic drive transmission. Its most striking feature was the electric powered vertical rear window. Sticker: $4103.

 GM’s 1957 Super 88 two-door hardtop J-2 Oldsmobile: Three, 2-barrel carburetors fed the 300hp V8 engine. Available with brocade interior, this vehicle was elegance personified for $3200.

 Chrysler’s Plymouth Fury: Available only in 2-door hardtop, off-white color with gold spear-shaped trim. Powered with a 290 horsepower, fuel-injected engine. Classy!

 General Motor’s 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air Hardtop: Perhaps the most recognizable classic car ever produced. This car defined the 1950’s more succinctly than any other automobile. Simply put: it was the best!

Over the years, there would be other sheet metal romances: 1960 ebony Oldsmobile 98 white-topped convertible, and a muscled ‘62 Oldsmobile Starfire coupe. But the cars of 1957 have a special place in my memory: youthful, less-complicated, friendship-filled enjoyable moments. Wasn’t that a time!

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