In the very early days, while the small pioneer firms of Britain and the Continent were experimenting successfully with individual shapes that distinguished the motor car from any other invention, the Americans were showing a thoroughly conservative attitude by merely adapting the old horse-drawn vehicles to self-propulsion. They were rightly derided for their lack of imagination.
But the Americans did have imagination and were showing it in their assessment that the motor car was going to become the transport of the people. So, ahead of anybody else, they applied the principles of mass production to the manufacture of motor cars, and quickly made themselves the world's largest and most efficient makers of the new machines.
With their success in achieving volume came new attitudes to design. In the 1920s, the American car makers were the heralds of simplicity. A car was an engine, four wheels, brakes (sort of) and a minimum of human protection. It was simple, cheap and, by the standards of the day, remarkably reliable. It sold by the million. In 1929 came the death of Wall Street and, in its wake, the Great Depression. Suddenly the car ceased to be the right of the masses (it didn't return to that status for another 20 years) but the plaything of the dwindling ranks of the rich
Competition among car makers was fierce and they vied with each other to make something that was newer, more powerful, more desirable than anything else. It was the grand age of American car design, with even the cheapest models verging on elegance, the age when America produced its greatest classics. The war called a halt to the evolution of design and, with the notable exception of Studebaker, the four years after VP day were just a continuation of the thinking of 1939. It was 1949 that switched America to what man believed to be its worst decade of car design. The bodies took on the modern "coming-or-going" look which one, and only one, manufacturer seemed to be able to handle with grace, and that was the originator of it all.
The bulk of American cars rapidly became all bulk, with ornate chromium decoration, bulbous panels and obscenely bulging windows. Horsepower was poured on horsepower, and springs became softer and brakes less and less effective. Only the engines themselves and automatic transmissions seemed to improve. The Dollar Grin, gargantuan tail fins and acres of chrome proved too much, even for the Americans. Ten years of this was enough. Suddenly, in late 1959, some of the makers began to lose their obsessions with bulk and ornament, and the glimmerings of sane simplicity were seen.
Total passenger car sales for 1959 amounted to 5,591,243, Pontiac produced their 7-millionth vehicle and Chrysler reorganized their car sales division by forming the Plymouth-DeSoto Division, the Chrysler-Imperial Division and the Dodge Division. Following the lead of the smaller 'independents', who during the 1950s had introduced small cars with varying degrees of success (Hudson Jet, Kaiser Henry J, Nash Rambler, Studebaker Lark, Willys Aero) and the increasing impact of 'imports' (mainly Volkswagen) on the home market, the 'big three' had decided that the time was ripe to start competing in
this field and late in 1959 introduced what became generally known as the 'compacts'.
General Motors launched their Chevrolet Corvair, Ford their Falcon and Chrysler their Plymouth Valiant. They were introduced as 1960 models. It meant that from now on the two main types of American cars were 'compact' and 'regular' models (during the next decade to be joined by the 'intermediates'). Cadillac offered Cruise-Control automatic acceleration, maintaining a pre-set speed whether going uphill or downhill.
Buick 1959 models were entirely new. Four-door hardtop models had a flat roof line with large curved rear window as exemplified by the LeSabre. All had a new compound (curved in both planes) windscreen. There were three series, LeSabre 4400, Invicta 4600 and Electra 4700/4800. Two-door Buicks featured a locking device to prevent the back of the front passenger seat from suddenly moving forward.
Cadillac offered the option of two body styles in their Series 62 Sedan and Sedan de Ville series. a six-window and a four-window type, with distinctive roof contours. Both the Series 62 and Series 60 now had same 130-inch wheelbase. Total production of Series 62, 60 and 75 was 142,272.
The Impala became a separate model in 1959 in both two and four-door versions and became the best-selling car in the Chevrolet lineup. The Impala featured body-on-frame construction, using the "X" frame used on other Chevys, as well as Cadillac. The exception for the six-taillight styling was the 1959 model, which used the "teardrop" taillight shape as all other Chevy models had.
The Chevrolet Series 1500 Bel Air Sedan, Model 1519 (with V8 engine: Model 1619) Other series were low-price Biscayne 1100 Six and 1200 V8 and luxury lmpala 1700 Six and 1800 V8. All models had compound-curve panoramic windscreens, large tail fins and 119-inch wheelbase.
The Chevrolet Corvette Sports Roadster was similar in appearance to the 1958 model, the body being made entirely from plastic. The most powerful engine available was a 294-bhp V8 with 10·5:1 compression ratio and fuel injection.
The Chrysler Windsor, Series MC1-L, two-door Hardtop was powered by a new 305-bhp Golden Lion 383 engine. New two-tone roof, push button air conditioner and heater controls, torsion bar front suspension and extra large rear window were among its features. Swivel front seats were optional on many Chrysler Corp. cars.
The Chrysler New Yorker, Series MC3-H, had new 350-bhp Golden Lion 413 engine. The new power units, all V8s, had wedge-shaped combustion chambers, replacing the 1951-58 'hemi-head' FirePower. Back-up lights were made standard equipment. A new optional first was an electronically controlled rearview mirror which automatically adjusted to a dim or nonglaring attitude when a head lamp beam crossed its surface. Pictured left is the four-door Hardtop. Like the intermediate Saratoga, Series MC2-M, they had 126-inch wheelbase.
Chrysler cars ceased to be available in Australia in 1952 but in 1957 an Australian-built range, named Royal AP1, was introduced, originally with 25·35 and 28·35-HP (RAC) L-head Sixes. Later a V8 (48·05 HP. 220 bhp. 313 CID) was added and the small Six dropped. Pictured left is the Royal Big Six Series AP3 with 28·35-HP (117-bhp) PowerFlow engine. The TorqueFlite transmission was standard on the V8, and optional on the Six. All had a 115-inch wheelbase.
DeSoto Diplomat Six Series MF1 and V8 M F2 export models had a 132 bhp PowerFlow 6 and Fury V-800 engines resp. Certain models were optionally available with 4-cyl Perkins
P4 diesel engines. Manual, overdrive and automatic transmissions were offered.
The DeSoto Firedome MS2-M, and Fireflite and Adventurer MS3-H had 126-inch wheelbase and larger V8 engine of 383 CID with 10·1:1 compression ratio. Power output ranged from 305 to 350 bhp. This engine was now also available for the 122-inch wheelbase FireSweep, which had 361 CID unit as standard equipment.
The Dodge Custom Royal Series MD3-H four-door Hardtop was the top-of-the-range model. The standard engine developed 305 bhp; 320 and 345-bhp units were optional. The image at left clearly shows how fashionable tail fins of the period had become. Dodge called it Swept-Wing styling. Note the jet-style tail lights and dual radio antennas.
The 1959 Edsel range was revised and comprised three series: Corsair (4 models, four-door Hardtop), Ranger (4) and Villager Station Wagons (2). An OHV 223 CID 145-bhp six-cylinder engine was made available for Rangers and Villagers. Ford formed a new division, the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln (M.E.L.) Division, but the Edsel was soon to be dropped. As a result of unexpectedly poor sales the Edsel line, after a final facelift for the 1960 model year, was discontinued in November 1959.
Ford introduced new bodystyling for 1959 and in addition to Custom 300, Fairlane and Fairlane 500 models there was a new top-line range named Galaxie. Compared here, the Galaxie Town Victoria, Model 75A Fordor Hardtop in the foreground bore a strong resemblance to the contemporary Thunderbird, especially in the roof area.
The Ford Thunderbird had a revised radiator grille, and side ornaments - 'bright metal spears on the side panel projectiles', Ford said.
The Imperial Crown MY1-M Southampton two-door Hardtop featured a stainless steel roof. In common with the DeLuxe MY1-L and LeBaron MY1-H it had 129-inch wheelbase and an improved 413 CID engine, developing 350 bhp at 4600 rpm. Auto trans., power brakes, power steering, reversing (back-up) lights, windscreen washers and dual exhausts were standard equipment. Air suspension (at rear) was optional.
For 1959 Lincoln offered a Coupe, Landau (4-door Hardtop) and Sedan models in its regular, Premiere and Continental lines. In addition there were Continental Convertible, Town Car and Limousine variants. All had 350-bhp 430 CID engine and 131-inch wheelbase. The Continental Mk IV Town Car and Limousine (with formal division)
were ultra-luxurious motorcars, finished in 'Presidential Black'. Interiors featured subtle contrasts of grey broadcloth, black Scotch-grain leather and deep-piled carpeting. Standard equipment included air-conditioning and other conveniences.
Mercury celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1959 and offered 15 new models in four series: Monterey, Montclair, Park Lane and Country Cruisers (station wagons). The Monterey four-door Sedan came standard with a 312 CID 235-bhp power unit (280-bhp Marauder engine optional).
The Mercury Park Lane four-door Hardtop Cruiser. Note compound-curved windscreen and difference in roof styling with Monterey. Standard engine for Park Lanes was the 345-bhp Marauder V8. Wheelbase was 128 in (126 in for other series).
Meteor was the Canadian-built Ford and came in a full range of body styles, such as the Rideau 500 four-door Sedan. Engine options: 145-bhp 223 CID Econ-O-Fuel Six or 225-bhp 332 CID or 303-bhp 361 CID Tempest V8s. Transmissions: 3-speed manual or 2-speed automatic Econ-O-Drive or dual-range Multi-Drive Merc-O-Matic, the latter for V8s only.
The Monarch Mark II was Ford of Canada's Mercury-based line and comprised 126-in wheelbase Lucerne and Richelieu and 128-inch wheelbase Sceptre series, each with two and four-door Cruiser Hardtop Sedans, as well as conventional sedans in the 126-inch wheelbase series. Engines included the 280-bhp 383 CID V8 for Lucerne, 322-bhp 383 CID V8 for Richelieu and 345-bhp 430 CID V8 for Sceptre.
Metropolitan Convertible and Hardtop had several improvements for 1959, including outside trunk (boot) lid, side window vents, improved adjustable seats, larger tyres (5·20-13), etc. Austin of England, who made it for American Motors. called it the A50 Series IV and it was produced from 1959-61. From December 1956 until January 1959
and again during 1960-61 it was also marketed outside North America, as Austin Metropolitan 1500.
Oldsmobile, like the other General Motors car-producing divisions, offered entirely new models for 1959 with about 40 per cent more glass area and a new flat roof line for Holiday Sport Sedan four-door Hardtops. The latter body style was available in the 98 Super 88 and Dynamic 88 Series. Hydra-Matic was standard on the 98, optional on other Series. Air suspension was optional also.
The Oldsmobile Super 88 Holiday SceniCoupe was a two-door hardtop coupe with extra large heat-resistant rear window which, like the Vista-Panoramic windscreen, contoured into the roofline. The 6·55 litre Rocket V8 developed 315 bhp.
Plymouth for 1959 was the Sport Fury, equipped with 260-bhp V8. Hardtop and Convertible models were available. Their front seats swivelled outward for ease of entry (optional on other Plymouths). A Golden Commando 361 CID engine with 10:1 compression ratio and 305 bhp was optional. Series designations were
M P1 for Sixes, M P2 for V8s.
The Pontiac Catalina Vista four-door Hardtop with Vista-Panoramic windscreen and large wrap-around rear window. Vista models were also available in the Bonneville and Star Chief Series. A wide range of V8 engine options was available.
Pontiac six-cylinder models were produced by GM of Canada for domestic and export sales. Mechanically they had much in common with the Chevrolet, including the OHV Six engine (except for slightly larger bore) and optional Powerglide auto. trans. There were Strata Chief, Laurentian and Parisienne, all with 119-inch wheelbase.
The Rambler American two-door Sedan continued virtually unchanged but the Station Wagon variant, Model 5904, was new. It was available with either DeLuxe or Super trim and helped AMC to sell a record 368,464 cars during this year.
The Rambler Six Super Sedan, Model 5915-1, had 108-inch wheelbase and 127-bhp engine. Hardtops and Station Wagons were available also. All Ramblers, except the American, had four doors. Rebel models also had 108-inch wheelbase but 250 CID 215-bhp V8 engine.
Rambler Ambassador Custom Country Club Hardtop, Model 5989-2, with 327 CID 270-bhp V8 and 117-in wb. The top-line
Ambassadors had a grille different in design from the 108-in wb Six and Rebel models.
Studebaker completely revised their programme and concentrated on the new compact Lark (striking a smart, sensible balance between the size of European cars and the oversized US models) and the Silver Hawk. In the Lark range there were two- and four-door Sedans,
a two-door Hardtop and a Station Wagon. There was choice of engines: 90-bhp 169·6 CID L-head Six and 180 or 195-bhp 259·2 CID OHV V8. The wheelbase of all Larks was 108·5 inches, except for the Station Wagon, which had a 113 inch wheelbase.
Willys introduced an additional model for 1959, aimed at fun-seeking Americans. Named Surrey it came complete with fringe on its canvas top and was trimmed in a choice of colours: pink, green or blue candy stripes. Basically it was a 4 x 2 Model DJ 3A fitted with chrome bumpers, wheel discs and other brightwork. It was similar to the Jeep Gala, a beach resort rental car, which was an export model.