1950 Year In Review

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Volkswagen Microbus
Originally designed to be utalitarian, the Type 2 would quickly become more luxurious and passenger friendly throughout the 1950's.

Porsche 356
The 1950 356 weighed in at an incredibly low 600kg.

Cunningham Le Monstre
The ugliest car to ever grace the Le Mans track was arguably the Cunningham "Le Monstre".

Aston Martin DB2
The 1950 DB2 set the stage for all future Astons.

Holden 48/215
Production of the Holden 48/215 was increased to 80 per day in 1950, but this was still short of being able to fill orders being taken at the showrooms around Australia.

ANA DC4 Amana
Australia's worst air disaster - the crash of the ANA DC4 "Amana", would occur in 1950.

A Desperate Britain

The flamboyance of the Triumph 1800 and 2000 Roadsters released a few years earlier (1947) was in stark contrast to the state of Britain at the time. Londoners had to queue up for coal rations and the country was enduring unrelieved austerity. Politicians were appealing for a return to the 'Dunkirk spirit'. Britain desperately needed money. Each of these cars, and every other British make, were produced first and foremost for sale overseas.

The number of British produced cars actually available to Britons was restricted by the Government. At the end of 1949, there were unfulfilled domestic orders for 500,000 to 750,000 new cars. A cartoon of 1950 showed a husband saying to his wife as a car pulls up outside their house, 'Good heavens! I'd forgotten we'd ordered a car six years ago.'

Don't Think You've Been Forgotten

'Don't think you've been forgotten,' Austin Cars advertised. 'We are looking forward as eagerly as you to the day when we shall be allowed to supply you, and meantime we crave your indulgence and commend your patience.' Their patience paid off. In those few years, Britain became the largest exporter of motor vehicles in the world - and Australia was its biggest customer, buying 64,000 vehicles in 1949 compared to 25,000 in Canada and 5000 in the USA.

The Triumph appealed to the single young. Its pre-war dickie-seat might have once been nick-named the 'mother-in-law seat', but few in-laws would have sat in the Triumph's. The 1800 was for going to dances and to the pictures. The stars of Bill Collins' Golden Years were at their peak - Humphrey Bogart in 'Key Largo', Elizabeth Taylor in 'Little Women', and Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were in their fifth Road' movie - 'Road to Rio'.

Crosby's crooning, Frank Sinatra, the Andrew Sisters and 'Hit Parades' were available at the click of a switch to those motorists who could afford the luxury of a car radio - with valves - as was the quick-witted Jack Davey and the irreverent Roy Rene. For those for whom the 'hits' had no appeal, the popular Australian baritone, Peter Dawson, returned to Australia to tour in 1949, singing old favourites like 'On the Road to Mandalay' and 'The Sergeant Major's on Parade.'

The Atomic Age

While the 1950 Riley described itself as 'sleek and graceful' and Ford boasted 'English styling' for its V8 Pilot and integrated headlights for its Prefect, their bodies could not hide their pre-war origins and, in the wider world, fashions were changing. Christian Dior had created the 'New Look' for women - natural sloping shoulders, tiny waists and rounded hips. Soon, cars would have to change too.

The Riley also claimed to be 'dynamic'. It was a word of its time - Oldsmobile introduced Dynamic series in 1946 to which was added the Futuramic in 1949. However, no manufacturer made play with the word 'atomic'. In the wake of the atom bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 and the detonation of more on the Bikini atoll in the Pacific in 1947, the world was afraid. A new age, the Atomic Age, had dawned. Life went on, though, and choosing a new car in Australia after so long a shortage was a serious matter.

The dynamism of the Riley was relative. The 2.5 litre model produced 70 bhp, could do 0-60 mph in 18.4 seconds and had a top speed of 92 mph. Other makes, like the Jaguar XK120, were more 'dynamic'. However, in contrast, the Triumph, in its 1800cc 68bhp version before it got a larger engine, took 25 seconds to reach 60mph and its top speed was only 77mph - but it was cheaper than the Riley. Of course, if the British cars seemed esoteric or dated, the new car buyers could always choose the newly released Holden - if they were prepared to go on a waiting list.

The Ford Prefect

Perhaps, the Ford Prefect was the car least likely to have a radio. Low price and value for money was the Prefect's appeal. What it lacked in performance and luxury it made up for in low maintenance costs, reliability and low fuel consumption. Petrol rationing was carried over from the War until abolished by the Liberal Government, under Robert Menzies, which defeated the Labor Government of Ben Chifley at the 1949 Elections. A Time of Transition. No one expected the post-war world to stand still. Prosperity and the resumption of Progress had to be around the corner. It was inconceivable that cars would continue as the younger brothers of a pre-war family.

The transition was not without pain. Australia experienced a nation-wide strike by coal-miners in 1949 for better wages and conditions. It ended when, unprecendently, the Labor Government used soldiers to work the open-cut mines and brought down legislation against the strikers. On the other side of the world, the new 'coming or going' Studebaker with its short bonnet and long boot was delivering a shock to traditional styling.

The Ford Pilot, big though it was, reasonably powerful though it was (3.6 litres and 85 bhp), could only be seen as transitional until Ford's own 'coming or going', single-spinner Ford Custom took over the Australian V8 market. By then, the trickle of migrants into Australia after the War had grown to a rushing stream and the start of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme heralded 25 years of development and progress to come.

The upright Prefect was to disappear, to be replaced by the 'three-box' 100E and, for buyers with more money, the Consul Four and the Zephyr Six. And, of course, there was a new small car alternative, Morris Minor. The Triumph Roadster was to run its course of 4,500 units and, before it was over, adopt the Standard Vanguard 2 litre engine. The Triumph marque was to be re-established in the '50s by the faster, more compact, but still somewhat traditional Triumph TR series.

Back in England, the motor industry was on the brink of rationalisation. By 1952, the Nuffield Organisation (Morris, Wolseley, Riley, MG) would merge with Austin to form the British Motor Corporation. The Riley 2 Vi litre was to survive until 1954 after which this historic marque lost its distinction, becoming no more than a different badge and radiator on a Wolseley or a Morris/Austin Mini.

The Type 2 Volkswagen

The Type 2 Volkswagen, or "bus" was born in 1950. It was designed as a spartan vehicle for new businesses starting up after the second world war. The earliest buses didn't even have a rear window or bumper. Originally, the bus was to be built on the Beetle chassis, but it proved too weak for the larger bus. A new chassis was designed specifically for it. The buses built before 1956 are called "barndoors" because of their large rear engine lid. Soon after its introduction, there seemed to be a market for a more luxurious, passenger-friendly Type 2, and so the variations began.

The Porsche 356

While the original prototype of the Porsche 356 was completed in 1948, it wasn’t until 1950 that commercial production commenced and they started appearing on the showroom floor. Perceived as a rather dumpy-looking rear-engined sports car, the 356 was modelled on the VW Beetle, another Ferdinand Porsche design. Early editions of the 356 had split windscreens and an 1100cc flat four motor that produced a mere 40 bhp, although the power was to steadily increase over time. For Porsche, the power to weight ratio was considered far more important then than readily available horsepower. While their target weight of 555kg was never achieved, the original 1950 model 356 only weighed in at a mere 600kg!

Briggs Cunningham

1950 was also the year Briggs Cunningham finally had his chance to race at the French Le Mans circuit. Le Mans had been Cunninghams Holy Grail for many years, but race regulations stated that prototypes could only be entered by an established motorcar manufacturer. Undaunted, in 1949 he hooked up with Phil Walters and Bill Frick who had also experimented with engine swapping, and in 1950 they formed Cunningham, Inc. With his newly formed company Cunningham was ready to make his first assault at a Le Mans podium finish. He entered 2 cars in the 1950 race, the first being a standard bodied Cadillac two-door coupe that, much to the amazement of both the crowd and commentators, was to finish 10th. But it was his “Le Monstre” entry which most people still remember.

Le Monstre

The aptly named “Le Monstre” was Cunninghams first-ever prototype sports car – although it shared much in common with his other entry. Cunningham and his team had simply removed the Cadillac body shell and draped it in their own peculiar and rather ungainly version. Dubbed the “C-1”, it would remind you of the saying “a face that only a mother could love”. The story of Briggs Cunningham makes for a good read, and if you would like to know more you can read the feature from the "Lost Marques" section of the site.

The Aston Martin DB2 of 1950 was seen as the benchmark car for all future Astons, successfully blending a mix of old world charm with a silky smooth and powerful six-cylinder twin-cam 116bhp engine from the Lagonda 2.6 saloon. The DB2 could top 185 km/h with the standard engine, but more than 193 km/h with the high-compression Vantage engine, which in its time, represented amazing car performance.

Australia's Own

By now, "Australia's Own" Holden 48/215 "FX" was established as a favourite mode of transport with most Australians. GMH had been increasing their production capacity every year since the cars launch, and by 1950 there were over 10,000 employees, output was around 80 cars per day, and some $43 million dollars was being paid to outside suppliers for materials, components and services. Mid year (June 26th), Australia would suffer its worst air disaster when the ANA DC4 "Amana" would crash near York in Western Australia, killing all 29 passengers and crew. Believe it of not, it would take until 1950 for the Northern Territory government to establish formal schooling for the territories Aboriginal children. The lack of facilities, until then, had been rationalised by the claim "beyond the age of 10 they couldn't keep up with white children anyway".

Formula One Championship:

Guiseppe Farina (Italy) / Alfa

NRL Grand Final:

VFL/AFL Grand Final:

Melbourne Cup:

Comic Court (P. Glennon)

Wimbledon Women:

Louise Brough d. M. duPont (6-1 3-6 6-1)

Wimbledon Men:

Budge Patty d. F. Sedgman (6-1 8-10 6-2 6-3)

The Movies:

  • Sunset Boulevard
  • All About Eve
  • Born Yesterday
  • The Third Man

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture - All About Eve
  • Best Actor - Jose Ferrer (Cyrano De Bergerac)
  • Best Actress - Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday)


  • Al Jolson (Jazz Singer)
  • George Orwell (British author)
  • George Bernard Shaw (Irish dramatist, literary critic and socialist spokesman)
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