A Brief History of the Automobile - The Post War Era

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A Brief History of the Automobile




The apocalopse of war did little to help the struggling automobile manufacturers, many of whom had struggled to survive through the depression years of the 1930's only to find demand for their products disappear overnight. And in what we believe at Unique Cars and Parts to be a cruel twist of fate, it seemed the phrase "To The Victor The Spoils" did not apply to the British automotive industry.

Nevertheless there was some pretty impressive sheet metal to emerge following the war, and while much has already been written on this site of cars built in the 1960's and beyond, the following are what we believe to be the most significant post war automobiles of last century (prior to 1960):

Lancia Appia
Few cars with a modest capacity of 1.1 litres could exploit that power as well as the Lancia Appia ...


Facel Vega
Powered by a US sourced bent-8, the Facel Vega was both heavy, fast, and beautiful...

England



One of the most expensive and best cars in the world was the Bentley Continental - and for high speed luxury it took top honours. It was powered by a V8 aluminium engine of nearly 4.9 litres, helping the Continental reach an impressive top speed in excess of 125 miles per hour.

The Jaguar 3.4 litre cost much less, but it, too, combined high performance with luxury. It appealed to the business' man as a prestige car, as well as to the sportsman who likes to travel fast in comfort.

The Jensen 541/R was also comfortable, but it was unique in that it had streamlined and wind-cheating fibreglass bodywork. Impressively for the time, disc brakes were fitted to all four wheels. Petrol consumption was therefore comparatively low for a big car, it reportedly capable of 20 miles to the gallon, and, like the Bentley Continental, it too boasting a top speed of in excess of 125 mph.

More within the realms of the affordable was the 1.5 litre Sunbeam Rapier, a high performance cousin of the familiar Hillman Minx. The Rapier was one of the few small cars to be placed in the high performance class at the time. It could accelerate to 70 mph in 25 seconds, an excellent achievement for such a small engine capacity.

Sweden



Sweden's manufacturers were well known for their precision engineering long before World War 2. Perhaps that accounted for the quality of the Volvo 122S. The 1.6 litre saloon offered very high performance in relation to its engine size. Its well-designed 4 cylinder engine gave the car a top speed of 95 mph. Although in shape it is a little old fashioned, the Volvo 122S was roomy, well built and afforded the lucky owners with a great drive.

Italy



The Lancia Appia had a low, streamlined design with a high powered 4 cylinder engine of 1.1 litres, giving it a top speed of 82 mph. In the traditional Lancia manner, it had no separate chassis frame, but used a pressed-steel hull with independent front suspension. Lancias were the first to use this method of construction. The larger model, the Aurelia, had a 2 litre six-cylinder engine and a top speed of 115 m.ph.

France



Famous Parisian coachbuilder, Facel, gave us the Facel­Vega, lavishly elegant and extremely fast. From its tubular frame to its soft hide upholstery, it was both expensive and impressive. A heavy car - it weighed more than 35 cwt., it could wind the speedo past 130 mph in near silence. The power came from a big eight-cylinder American engine. In fact, the Facel-Vega's sales far exceeded the wildest hopes of the manufacturers, and what a shame that the Facel concern would eventually fail. The rear-engined Renault Dauphine-Gordini was one of the leaders amongst small cars. The engine was perfected by the famous racing car designer, Amedee Gordini, of Paris, after whom the car was named.

United States



American cars were always big and comfortable, making little concession to allow proper handling. And few would disagree that what Hollywood is to movies, Detroit is to cars. Few immediate post war vehicles came close to the DeSoto Fireflite, the two-ton monolith able reach 80 miles per hour in a staggering 13 seconds, and capable of a top speed in excess of 115 mph.

The Ford Thunderbird was another of America's fastest cars. Long and sleek (over 17 feet), it could do 115 mph easily. Powered by a 5 3/4 litre engine V8 engine, the Thunderbird boasted both power-assisted brakes and steering. And just as glamorous was the Pontiac Bonneville. It too was long and low, and extremely wide, providing plenty of comfort for the passengers, but parking headaches for the driver. Its powerful 8­cylinder overhead valve engine developed 318 brake horse-power.

The Buick Electra, another giant, had a 325 horse-power engine with four-barrel carburettors. One unusual feature was the lighting, automatic headlights switching on when daylight faded, then turning themselves off as daylight returned. A feature on some modern day cars (particularly French), some 60 years later.

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