The 'Fifties were to bring even more drastic changes. America, as never before, moved out on the open road. New highway systems were conceived and constructed, bringing main cities and all states nearer to one another - and Americans, thanks to the freedom the automobile provided, began to discover their own country. Vacation trips became longer in actual distances covered and that meant more time spent in the family car. Interior comfort came to be of prime importance.
Due to general speed limits, active driving was never a major requirement, and underneath the then new sheet metal was a suspension system of the Nineteen-Thirties, with live-axle leaf-spring rear suspension, soft springing and damping. Seats didn't need to provide lateral support for fast cornering speeds since no one ever thought of cornering rapidly. They had, however, to be extremely comfortable.
The 'Fifties witnessed a further revolution: that of interior design. If the buyer could afford it, all effort other than directing and stopping the car could be handled automatically. Electric power windows moved silently up and down at the touch of a button, six-way power seats could be adjusted for height, rake and reach automatically, and the inside temperature was cool during the hottest, most humid weather conditions if an air-conditioning unit was fitted.
Big, new V8 engines with an excess of power and torque made it all possible, and power steering
and braking further reduced physical effort, encapsulating driver and occupants in a silent, smoothly curved envelope body. At moderate speeds the American cars of the Fifties were predestined for day-long journeys on smooth roads. Since technical development concerned itself more with comfort and straight-line acceleration from traffic lights-and also with a good acceleration potential when feeding onto a divided highway-a large portion of time and budgeted money could be spent on styling.
With the main exceptions of Buick and Cadillac most United States auto makers continued production of their 1949 models, albeit with distinguishable detail changes. This was hardly surprising since for the 1949 model year they had introduced their first real post-war designs. There was as a consequence little or no reason for extensive changes, especially as the American public continued trading their pre-war cars in for new ones. Buick and Cadillac, as well as Oldsmobile for its 98 Series, had entirely new Fisher bodywork. But Detroit styling departments were about to come into their own in the coming years. The 1950's was the decade of the G.M. 'Motoramas', Bill Mitchell having taken over the helm of G.M. styling from Harley Earl. Trend-setting dream cars such as Chevrolet's Corvette
made their appearances in these wandering car shows combined with staged song dance numbers, testing public opinion throughout the United States.
The Ford styling section also created a line of future-orientated 'one-off special bodies, while Chrysler left the realization of their dream-car schemes to Ghia, in Turin. During January, 1950, a little two-seater toured the country to test public reaction to an interesting design. It was Nash Motors' NXI (for Nash Experimental International). The car met with success and was to become the prototype
for the Austin A powered Metropolitan of 1954
, sharing a fender-less envelope body and one-piece curved wind shield with its larger relations from Kenosha.
The Nash Rambler
Nash pioneered another new car type in 1950, the compact Rambler, on a 100-inch (254 cm) wheelbase. Apart from the Crossley, it was America's first post-war compact car and unique in that it was initially offered as a convertible sedan, i.e. with fixed side-window frames. Other manufacturers, e.g. Chevrolet, Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge and Pontiac, introduced additional body styles, particularly hardtops, and automatic transmission
became available on more models. Sales of new cars in 1950
were over 1½-million units up on the previous year and totalled 6,665,863. This figure was to be exceeded only once during the decade, in 1955, when almost eight million were sold. The Korea hostilities, which started in June 1950, meant that the automotive industry became involved in defence production yet again. Most car and truck manuufacturers were awarded contracts for military hardware.
Buick Super had a notably ugly radiator
grill resembling chrome-plated-dragon's teeth. The Buick was also an interesting car from the point of view of the wings: although they were an integral part of the body and incorporated the headlamps, they were sufficiently pronounced to be regarded neither as a separate wing or a fully integral one. By 1950
the American motor-car-fashion cult was getting firmly into its stride, and at about the same time the label syndrome occurred. This basically was the result of the manufacturer's efforts to ensure that everyone was aware that it was their product that they were looking at, and the identity of the model.
Although manufacturers had always had the name of their car somewhere in a fairly obvious position such as on the radiator
or the hub caps, the streamlining
and the complete enclosure of the car, often with the loss of any identifying shape, meant that they were now unrecognisable without a label. Door handles had become push-button types; headlamps were incorporated into the body, the radiator
was lost and one pressed-steel wheel looked much like another. Hence it became necessary to stylise the car with the maker's labels. These were supplemented by various other embellishments, usually of chrome. Although the excessive use of chromium plating moderated over the next few decades, the rear of a number of otherwise good-looking cars become a receptive area for many of the manufacturer's labels and odds and ends that it had not been possible to place elsewhere.