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A Guide to 1950’s Classics

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A Guide to 1950’s Classics
A Guide to 1950’s Classics Triumph’s Herald just sneaked in the 50s but unlike the new Mini and the Anglia 105E still had it roots firmly stuck back there, as did the Oxford/Cambridge A55 and of course the Morris Minor that continued right into the 1970s
A Guide to 1950’s Classics
A Guide to 1950’s Classics Vauxhall’s wonderful PA Velox and Cresta epitomises 50s style and substance. Highly coveted to this day, but the smaller Victor missed the mark somehow
A Guide to 1950’s Classics PA interior is typical of a 50s cabin, complete with ‘friendly’ bench seats and column gear change. Don’t kid yourself, these cars will prove heavy to drive
A Guide to 1950’s Classics Standard Eight/Ten and Austin’s A30/A35 were popular small cars in their day and now make a welcome change to the more usual Morris Minor and Ford 100E
A Guide to 1950’s Classics Old Rovers are still faithful things and the P4 range, with its now trendy rear opening doors, makes an excellent value 50s classic that’s full of old school class
A Guide to 1950’s Classics The original 50s MG Magnette (along with the Riley and Wolseleys) were based upon the A55 and, in the case of the MG, better than A60 replacement
A Guide to 1950’s Classics Although most go for the MK2, the first generation Consul/Zephyr and Zodiacs do have a style of their own. Convertibles are always highly coveted and costly!
A Guide to 1950’s Classics In terms of value for money and future classic potential there’s little to touch a big old Jag like this. So if you’re tired of MK2s and want something different…
A Guide to 1950’s Classics Rootes saw the worth of making medium-sized cabriolets with the likes of the Minx and Rapier (pictured). Now virtually ever major carmaker does the same!
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Oh what halcyon days; despite materials shortages and a utility mind-set there was a wonderful variety of cars that actually looked different from each other and relatively traffic-free roads on which to drive them. It can only mean the 1950s! Robert Couldwell is your guide to the best classic saloon buys around,

What’s the attraction?

Rather like the pre and post war cars we featured in last month’s issue (back copies still available), cars from the 1950s had a unique style of their own; one that showed post war optimism in their designs and lurid colour schemes. Thanks to the demise of the absurd RAC road tax scheme and pool petrol, engines became more efficient and swifter. A decent 1950s car can keep better pace with modern traffic and not be a chore. Handling and braking improved greatly over the decade (mechanical brakes out - disc brakesin!) and the cars also became a lot more comfortable and refined.

Small cars

There was a wide choice at all levels in the early 1950s starting with the small cars: Austin offered the A30, with OHV 803cc engine growing to 948 in the A-series A35. These cars were available in two-door, fourdoor and Countryman versions while Morris offered the ubiquitous Issigonis designed Minor first with 918cc side valve, then 803cc OHV and finally the A-series 948. By 1962 the same basic shape would be offered with the 1098cc engine. Ford countered initially with the ‘sit up and beg’ side valve E93A Anglia, a truly awful car which amazingly either as Anglia or Popular lasted from 1940 – 1959 with 250,000 sales! The Anglia 100E from 1954 was visually based on the contemporary Consul and retained an enlarged version of the E93A side-valve engine. Rootes Group which included Hillman, Humber, Singer and Sunbeam did not at that stage offer a small car, unless you count the Hillman Husky which was a very basic two-door estate cut-down from the Minx. Standard, which had bought the remnants of Triumph to become Standard-Triumph, provided the 8, 10 and latterly the Pennant, successors to the immediately postwar 8. These were good solid little cars with 803 and later 948 OHV engines. Very rare is the Gold Star, a version with overdrive launched in 57. There was also a two-pedal gearbox called Standrive that was not very popular. More upmarket was the Triumph Mayflower, which was similar in size but much more expensive and was fitted with the pre-war Standard 10 engine and gearbox with bottom gear blanked off. Finally, in 1959 the innovative little Herald saloons and coupés were launched, both fitted with the later OHV standard 10 engine but with an extra carburettor on the coupé. A convertible and estate would be added later and the whole range would benefit from progressively more powerful engines. At the time Vauxhall did not have a small car in its range as the Viva would not be introduced until 1963.

Family cars

In the medium sector Austin offered a plethora of models mostly named after English counties. The Dorsetwas a two-door version of the 1200cc Devon and both had fairly lurid handling but went quite well. There was also the short lived Hampshire with Devon-based underpinnings, rear wheel spats and a big 2199cc four from the old 16 which gave way to the later Somerset-based Hereford with the same engine. The handling on this was even more scary but it was there to compete with the Standard Vanguard. Ford’s Consul was American in style and while it was up-to-date with MacPherson struts, monocoque construction and hydraulic brakes, it suffered a three-on-a-tree column gearchange and terminal rust. The Morris equivalents were initially the Oxford which looked like an obese Minor and had a sidevalve 1467cc engine. The much nicer Series II followed in 1954 with the B-series 1489 engine but still a column change. There was also the virtually identical Cowley with less equipment and a choice of 1200 or 1489 engines. The MG ZA/ZB Magnettes, while sharing the Palmer-designed Wolseley 15/50 body, benefited from a tuned B series engine and high quality interior furnishings. Rootes had several medium cars, all based on the Hillman Minx which itself came as saloon, estate car, coupé and convertible and had a 1265cc side-valve (later replaced with a 1390cc OHV) engine. The rather luxurious Singer Hunter complete with chassis had a rather interesting overhead cam 1494 engine and gave way in 1955 to the Gazelle, which looked very much like the Minx but retained the OHC engine until 1958 when the 1494 OHV Minx unit was fitted. Standard’s Vanguard Phase I and II both suffered trans-Atlantic styling but had great drivetrains (except for the column change).

Unfortunately, owing to the narrow track and high centre of gravity, the handling was abysmal For the successful sales manager there was a wide range of large cars from which to choose. Austin’s stately Westminster was launched in 1955 and in various forms kept going until 1968. They were all fitted with increasingly powerful versions of the C-type 2639cc six, so had a good turn of speed. The A90 had 85bhp and lasted just two years before the much more elegant A95 was launched with 92bhp and a larger boot. The A 105’s engine was in Healey 100/6 tune and for one year was in A90 short body form. It then inherited the A95 body in 1956 complete with standard overdrive. The real gem, of which just 500 were made, was the A105 Vanden Plas which involved sending the standard cars without trim and upholstery to the Vanden Plas coachworks at Kingsbury where they received high quality walnut dashboards, fine leather seats and multi-coat paint jobs. The Morris equivalent to the six-cylinder Austins was the slow selling Isis which looked like an Oxford on steroids. Riley’s competitor was the rather desirable twin-cam Pathfinder and Wolseley’s the old fashioned 6/80 with the old Morris six.

Ford’s solution was to stick a sixcylinder engine in the Consul and call it the Zephyr and then add twotone paint and a few gizmos to create the ‘spiv’s favourite, the Zodiac. Rootes pitched in with the four-cylinder Humber Hawk and six-cylinder Super Snipe (4138cc no less!).

Triumph stuck with the pre-war lines of the rather conservative Renown which lasted until 1954 and wasn’t replaced until the Michelottidesigned 2000 in 1963. Vauxhall followed the Ford policy with four and six cylinder versions of the same USA-inspired body, taken in their case from a ’49 Chevrolet. The E-Type Wyvern (aimed at the Consul) was quite basic, the six-cylinder Velox (Zephyr) well-specified and the Cresta (Zodiac) quite luxurious. Up until the mid-50s, most cars had been related in some way to prewar offerings and then it suddenly changed with a raft of new models from all the major companies. BMC had discovered Pinin Farina and progressively launched Farina small, medium and large cars which, apart from their propensity to rust, werethoroughly modern. The little Farina A40 Countryman was perhaps the first ever hatchback and with the new styling came badge engineering with a vengeance; Austin A60, Morris Oxford, MG Magnette, Riley 4/68 (later 4/72) and Wolseley 15/60 were all basically the same with various levels of luxury or sportiness. The MGs and Rileys with their ‘tuned’ engines were really quite decent sports saloons. Rootes provided some much crisper Minxes and joined the badge-engineering fashion with Hillman, Singer and Sunbeam all basically the same although the Gazelle was more luxurious and the Rapier more sporting with more power. The Humber Hawks and Super Snipes were now rather desirable with varying levels of performance and luxury and continued with similar shapes until the late 1960s. Vauxhall launched the compact Victor and the avant-garde PA Velox and Cresta were still American in style.

Prestige Cars

In the early 1950s, there was far more choice for professional people and wealthy industrialists. Today, it’s Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus and Mercedes and of course Bentley and Rolls-Royce. Then there were a dozen or more : Alvis launched the 100mph TC21 which, with its bonnet scoops and wire wheels, had returned to the pre-war sporting image after the dull TA14 and 21s. Armstrong Siddeley gave the choice of sporting with the six-cylinder 2.3 litre Whitley or staid with the spacious, almost regal Sapphire. Bentley offered post-war austerity in the MK6 which was something of a bargain and was later replaced with the rather more luxurious R Type. Bristols were still aircraft for the road and as well as the twoseaters, the company also listed the unusual but very effective four-door 405. Daimler, then the preserve of Kings, were somewhat conservative with the Conquest and Century although the latter could hit 90mph with ease. The bigger One-o-Four with 137bhp was the forerunner of the ‘muscle-car’ Majestic Major and despite giving away 83bhp, still performed pretty well for the day. Jaguar had stunned the world by launching the XK120 and Mark 7 in quick succession, the latter with 160bhp providing genuine 100mph cruising in real luxury. Jensen was in the process of changing from building sports-saloons to grandtourers and its PW straight 8 was a pre-war leftover. Thanks to Gerald Palmer, the Jowett Jupiter was well ahead of its time with its flat four engine and aerodynamic body. Lanchesters were becoming badge-engineered Daimlers, but the Conquest-lookalike Sprite had just four cylinders to ensure pedestrian performance. Lagonda was a sort of rich man’s Bentley and produced beautifully built cars with pre-war dynamics. Lea- Francis also persevered with wellmade but old fashioned saloons which were pre-war in concept and wouldn’t survive the 1950s. Rolls-Royces then were expensive, de-tuned Bentleys and the standard steel offering was theSilver Dawn. Rover, the poor man’s Bentley, had launched the Studebakerinspired P4 75 and then progressively de-Americanised it over the next 14 years. They may have looked staid, but these cars with both four and six-cylinder engines of up to 123bhp performed and handled extremely well for their size and the quality was up there with the best. As the 1950s drew to a close, even these prestige cars had been transformed as the Alvis TC21 gave way to the Graber-bodied cars and Armstrong-Siddeley tried ‘compactexecutive’ with the 234 and 236, the four pot 234 being the quicker and more sporting of the two. Bentley’s S1 and the equivalent Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud were thoroughly modern but unfortunately Bristol had given up on four door saloons. Daimler wouldn’t fully modernise until the 1960s with the Turner-designed V8s, but Jaguar continued to develop their big saloons and added the ground-breaking 2.4 ‘compact’ which would blossom into those wonderful MK IIs so beloved of cads and bank robbers. Tragically, with the exception of Bristol, Bentley and Rolls-Royce (both now German-owned) and Jaguar/Daimler (American owned), none of these ‘prestige’ British manufacturers has survived…

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