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The 10 Best Luxury Cars of the 1950s

1957 Chevy Bel Air Red

The 1950s saw great changes in the automotive industry.  Coming just after WWII, automakers brought up new styles and technology, making some of their brands exclusively luxury vehicles with some standing the test of time until today.

Car makers brought in a variety of styles missing from earlier car concepts. For example, in 1950 automakers were keen on making convertibles while also retaining the hard top styling.

In 1951, most car makers concentrated on producing four door sedans, while introducing automatic transmissions. 1952 saw the longest stoppage of car production in the world since leading economies like the US, were experiencing nationwide strikes in the steel industry.

Despite this, power braking was introduced later that year. Use of power steering and air conditioning systems in cars came in 1953. 1954 to 1956 saw most auto manufacturers concentrate in making the cars safer.

For example, the autotronic eye, which could automatically dim the high beams of light when an oncoming car was approaching, came to use. By 1957 most vehicles had been fitted with automatic shifts.

The late 1950s saw Volkswagen become the most popular car in the world and Chevrolet making striking changes in the rear end styling. Ford came up with the luxurious Continentals while Oldsmobile completely redesigned its body.

Here are 10 picks for the top luxury vehicles of the 1950s era:

1. 1957 Chevy Bel Air

1957 Chevy Bel Air

Nicknamed '57 Chevy, the two door convertible saw upgrades from the 1950, when it was first made available. However in 1957 General Motors made several striking changes to its design and even advertised it as the “Hot One”.

It incorporated a Ferrari inspired grille, an interior carpet, chrome spears on front fenders, stainless steel window moldings as well as full wheel covers.

The car has a super turbo fire4.6 liter V8 petrol engine ton help in the mechanical fuel injection. It also had a 2 power glide automatic transmission, with “P RN D Gr” pattern. By then, it was America’s most recognizable car, making it the number one car for the rich and enthusiasts.  At the time the car had a ticker price of $1,800.

2. 1953 Buick Roadmaster Skylark

1953 Buick Roadmaster Skylark

Built to mark Buick’s 50th birthday and the engineer behind it, this high end convertible from General Motors was selling at $5,000 in 1953.  Its production began in 1951, coming with two doors and sharing its drive train with the Roadmaster.

It had a very beautiful shade of Reef Blue against the two-tone red and white interior, a selectonic AM radio, full carpeting, power brakes and power windows.

Much of its external looks were handmade; trunk lid, convertible tub and hood that housed the 5.3 liter Nailhead V8 engine and 12V electrical system. Its seat frames and steering column were lowered little bit, in order to provide proper head room. It also came with the Skylark center emblem.

3. 1950 Jaguar XK120

1950 Jaguar XK120

It also had a 3.4-liter, double-overhead-cam inline-six that produced 160 brake horsepower. The car was originally intended to be a limited run, but high demand led to higher production.

The car's alloy bodywork housed a sturdy chassis which mated torsion bar independent front suspension to a live rear axle on leaf springs. It had a large hydraulic drum brakes at all four corners.

The Jag had a powerful four-speed manual gearbox and extremely quick, capable of sprinting from 0 to 60 mph under 10 seconds. It was originally priced at $4,000.

4. 1955 Chrysler Imperial

1955 Chrysler Imperial

Selling at a stratospheric $15,075, the Chrysler Imperial come with an internal combustion V8 engine and its hemispherical-head chamber design was introduced.

The Hemi 5.4 liter V8 engine produced 180 horsepower making it an extremely efficient luxury vehicle during that time. Power brakes and power steering incorporated into the car were standard.

Imperial, with a wheelbase of 4.0 inches, provided more backseat leg room. Its front egg crate grill was widely spaced. It had a free-standing "gun sight" taillights, installed on top of the rear section. Gun sight taillights doubled as sparrow-strainers taillights, hence keeping away birds from the jet-engines.

5. 1956 Continental Mark II

1956 Continental Mark II

Continental Mark II made headlines between 1956 and 1957 as one of the most luxurious vehicles at that time. Selling for a staggering $10,000 as of June 1956, it came as a four-place coupe, luring the wealthiest Americans into buying this Ford Motor Company unit.

Its interior had standard leather upholstery and air conditioning. A 6.0-liter V8 engine giving a 285 horsepower powered the front and rear wheels. However, as of late 1957, its maker changed its name to Lincoln Umbrella.

6. 1959 Cadillac Coupe deVille

1959 Cadillac Coupe deVille

Undoubtedly, Cadillac is one of the most classic cars to have ever existed in the world. The car's iconic shape made it popular with non-car people in the 1950s. Its V8 petrol engine offers a power of 325 hp. Its rear end got an upgrade to quiet the vehicle. It maintained its traditional smooth, wraparound decline. Original list price was $4,600.

7. 1952 Bentley R-Type Continental

1952 Bentley R-Type Continental

Bentley R-Type Continental remains one of the most popular luxury cars in the postwar era. Its flashy style, lightweight and speed made it instantly popular. It is powered by 4.6 liter V6 engine producing a 130 horsepower and attained 101 mph top speed. The engine was matted with a 4 speed manual transmission hence a better driving experience. Its original price is estimated to be $18,000.

8. 1956 BMW 503 Cabriolet

1956 BMW 503 Cabriolet

503 Cabriolet was BMW’s first postwar sports car. It came with a 3.2 liter V8 engine, with an acceleration of 190km/h. Parts of its bodywork were made from aluminum and a 2+2 seating arrangements.

The car was an icon of indulgence and luxury thanks to the excellent driving experience. It had a standard brake servo and a gearbox mated directly to the engine. The gear lever was a stick on the floor, not a gear shift on the steering wheel synonymous with the previous BMW models. Its original price is estimated to be $17,000.

9. 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

Mercedes-Benz 300SL, first in the SL-Class, stood out for its gull-wings. It was also the fastest car in the world in 1955 and also the first vehicle to use direct injection engine technology.

Built using welded aluminum tube space frame engine in order to drop the relatively underpowered carbureted engine, its designers also aimed at making the car lightweight to produce a high level of strength. Its distinctive gull-wing door arrangement made access to the car's cockpit problematic.

The designers, tilted away the steering wheel for easy accessibility of the driver’s cabin. It enjoyed great motor race success as well as high sales around the world thanks to the direct injection 3.0 liter gasoline engine hence boosting its power by almost 25%.

It had an improved clutch arm helper spring used to reduce pedal force. Its original price was USD 16,000. In recent action by the Gooding & Company, in Scottsdale, Arizona, US, the winning bidder purchased it for whooping $4.2 million.

10. 1950 Pontiac Chieftain Catalina Coupe

1950 Pontiac Chieftain Catalina Coupe

In 1950, Pontiac Motors, working under General Motors designed the Catalina Coupe with interesting features. They include a radio with seven vacuum tubes, tissue dispensers, under seat heaters and a Remington Auto-Home shaver.

Its horsepower from the 8-cylinder rose engine was 116 hp. It also had a petrol gauge, ammeter, oil pressure gauge and temperature indicator with marks for 160, 180 and 220 degrees Fahrenheit.

The coupe also introduced a red light, used in reminding drivers to turn off the parking brake. May 1952 saw Popular Mechanics, a car magazine rate the coupe at 14.9 seconds for a 0-60 mph time. Its original price is estimated to be $6,000.

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Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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