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50’s Classics

50's Classics Published: 12th Aug 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

50’s Classics
50’s Classics
50’s Classics
50’s Classics
50’s Classics
50’s Classics
50’s Classics
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Brylcreem, Teddy Boys and traffic-free roads – well, it can only mean the 1950s! Let Classic Motoring be your guide to some of the best fifties’ classic and sporting buys around in 2016

What’s the attraction?

Cars from the 1950s had a unique style of their own, showing 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 1950’s car can keep pace with modern traffic and should not be a chore. Handling and braking improved greatly over the decade (mechanical brakes out – hydraulic and later disc brakes in!) plus the cars also became a lot more comfortable and refined. Just try one!

Small cars

There was a wide choice of small cars in the early 1950s: Austin’s A30, with OHV 803cc became the 948cc A35 in 1957 both available as two-door, four-door, estate and pick-up. The same bodies were offered by Morris in the ubiquitous, Issigonisdesigned Minor first with splitscreen and 918cc side valve, then 803cc OHV and in the Minor 1000, the A-Series 948 and 1098 (See our buying guide elsewhere in this issue). The A40 is arguably the better car but lacks the character.

Ford countered with the truly awful, ‘sit up and beg’, side-valve E93A which amazingly, with its Popular successor lasted from 1940-1959 with 250,000 sales! The Consul-inspired 1954 Anglia/Prefect 100E retained 1172cc version of the E93A side-valve engine and was a much better car and it also overlapped the 105E Anglia by three years. Apart from the saloons there’s the Thames, Squire and Escort van derived estates.

Rootes Group included Hillman, Humber, Singer and Sunbeam and did not offer a small car, apart from the Hillman Husky which was a very basic two-door estate cut-down from the Minx – when did you last see one?

Standard, which had bought the remnants of Triumph to become Standard-Triumph, provided the 803cc, 8 and 948cc, 10 and Pennant. Very rare is the Gold Star, with overdrive launched in 1957. There was also the unpopular Standrive two-pedal option (avoid).

The upmarket Triumph Mayflower was fitted with the pre-war Standard 10 engine and gearbox with bottom gear blanked off. The innovative little 948cc Herald saloons and coupés were launched in 1959 with an extra SU carb for the coupé. A convertible and estate would be added later and the whole range would benefit from progressively more powerful engines during the 1960s. Early Heralds with their more basic interiors are becoming collectable. The Mini just creeps in although the price of very early ones may well put most of us off the idea and go for a later car.

Family cars

Austin’s plethora of family cars were named after English counties. The Dorset was a two-door version of the 1200cc Devon, both with lurid handling but good performance. A short-lived Devon-based Hampshire with rear wheel spats and a 2199cc four which gave way to the later Somerset-based Hereford with the same engine. There’s wasn’t an Essex…

Ford’s American-styled Consul was arguably the most up-to-date mid ranged saloon featuring MacPherson struts, monocoque construction, overhead valve engines and full-time hydraulic brakes, but suffered a three-on-a-tree column-change and terminal rust – as did most vehicles of that era to be fair.

The Morris Oxford looked like an obese Minor and had a side-valve 1467cc engine. The much nicer 1954, Series II came with the B-Series 1489 engine and column change. The virtually identical Cowley had less equipment and 1200 or 1489cc engines. The Wolseley 15/50 was a more luxurious Oxford with a Gerald Palmer designed body.

Back to your rootes?

Rootes’ medium cars were all based on the Hillman Minx which came as saloon, estate, coupé and convertible with a 1265cc side-valve (later 1390cc OHV) engine. The rather luxurious Singer Hunter, complete with chassis had a rather interesting overhead cam 1497cc engine and gave way in 1955 to the Minx-like Gazelle and retained the OHC engine until 1958 when the lesser but easier to run OHV Minx unit was fitted.

Standard’s Vanguard Phase I and II both suffered trans-Atlantic styling but had great drivetrains (except for the floppy column change). Alas, owing to the car’s 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 launched in 1955 kept going until 1968 and was fitted with increasingly powerful versions of the C-type 2639cc six, with good performance. The 85bhp A90 lasted just two years before the much more elegant 92bhp A95 was launched with a larger boot. The A105’s engine was in Healey 100/6 tune and for one year was in A90 short body form. It 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.

The slow-selling six-cylinder Morris Isis, looked like an Oxford on steroids! Riley’s competitor was the rather desirable twin-cam four-cylinder Pathfinder and 2.6 with the BMC ‘C’ Series. The Morris Six-inspired Wolseley 6/80 gave way to the 6/90 with C-Series and Pathfinder-style body.

Ford dropped a six-cylinder engine in the Consul to create the Zephyr and added two-tone paint and a few gizmos to create the ‘spiv’s’ favourite the Zodiac, and top ones are now selling for well into five figures, especially the convertibles.

As the fab 60s dawned

Vauxhall followed Ford’s policy with four and six-cylinder versions of the same USA-inspired body; the basic Wyvern (aimed at the Consul), the well specified, six-cylinder Velox (Zephyr) and the Cresta (Zodiac).

Until the mid-50s, most cars had been related in some way to pre-war offerings. 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 engines were quite decent goers.

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 much more powerful and sporting into the bargain.

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 but horrible and horribly rust prone Victor with the avant-garde PA Velox and Cresta which were still American in style but much bigger and better than their predecessors.

As you can see, that apart from the VW Beetle and Renault’s Dauphine, foreign cars were few and far between back then and owning a continental car made you an outcast. How times have changed…

Prestige cars

In the early 1950s, there was far more choice for professional people and wealthy industrialists. Today, it’s Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus, Mercedes, 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 21. Armstrong Siddeley gave the choice of sporting with the six pot 2.3-litre Whitley or staid with the spacious, almost regal Sapphire. Bentley offered post-war austerity in the good value MK6 which was later replaced with the more luxurious R Type. Bristols were still aircraft for the road with two and four door options. Daimlers, then used by 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’s 160bhp, Mark VII provided genuine 100mph cruising in real luxury. Jensen was in the process of changing from building sports-saloons to grand-tourers 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 but sadly it was not reliable and ruined the company.

Lanchesters were becoming badgeengineered Daimlers, but the Conquestlook- alike 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 well-made, old fashioned saloons which were pre-war in concept and wouldn’t survive the 1950s.

Rover, the poor man’s Bentley, had launched the Studebaker-inspired 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.

As the 1950s drew to a close, even these prestige cars had been transformed as the Alvis TC21 gave way to the Graberbodied TD and Armstrong-Siddeley tried ‘compact-executive’ 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 big saloons then added the 2.4 ‘compact’ which would blossom into those wonderful Mk2s.

Tragically, with the exception of Bentley and Rolls-Royce (both now Germanowned) Bristol and Jaguar/Daimler (Indian owned), none of these ‘prestige’ British makers have survived…

Sports cars

While we imported American styling for our saloons after the war, we exported British sports cars with British styling with a little Italian input. We have the Americans to thank for the proliferation of 50’s sportscars as Jaguar, Austin Healey, Triumph and MG all identified the States as a huge sports car market.

Jaguar was first with the stunning 3.4-litre XK 120 in 1949, all-aluminium at first and then steel which would progress through 140 and 150 with open top sports, drophead or fixedhead coupé bodywork. Power outputs ranged from 160 to the same 265bhp of the E-type. Austin-Healey’s 100 and Triumph’s TR2 were a rung down, not so the Italian-inspired, independently sprung AC Ace, although arguably the engines lets the car down; the big Ford six being the pick of the bunch. The MGA from 1955, honed at Le Mans, was a step change from the pre-war style T-Type.

A fixedhead coupé was added plus a wonderful, if fragile twin-cam version. The Daimler Dart (SP250), despite looking rather strange sported the fabulous 2.5-litre Turner V8 and was gradually sorted over the next few years and is now – rightly – rapidly appreciating. Hardly a sports car the Sunbeam Alpine of 1959 was more an open topped cruiser, but today it’s a nicer, smoother alternative to an MG or Triumph. Just try one!

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