Americans Used To Think Sports Car Owners Were 'Freaks'

It's sort of strange to think about now, but there was once a time in America when the very idea of a sports car was considered confusing and strange. And I'm not talking about 1784, when having a sports car would probably get you burned as a witch; I'm talking about the 1950s.

This certainly wasn't the case with all Americans, however. GIs returning from the war in Europe came back having seen a vast number of things — most of them were the horrors of war, but one of the few bright spots was their first introduction to the smaller, lighter, nimbler cars being built across Europe at the time. Some were able to bring these back, and those people became the first "sports car" enthusiasts.

To American eyes, most of these cars seemed like flimsy, underpowered things, and most people had no intention of giving up their massive, powerful, air-conditioned, couch-seated cars. Americans knew about hot rods and race cars, but the idea of something quick and small and still usable as normal transport was absolutely alien. That's why articles like this one in the 1953 edition of Sports Car Album are so fascinating. Here it is. It's as worth reading today as it was then:

A sports car is a car built to be enjoyed for its own sake. Although it isn't intended for utility, this doesn't mean it isn't useful. Use can be a pleasure as well as a routine. Many people don't like sports cars; many people don't really like being alive, either. Sports cars make a positive statement. They're thoroughbreds with style, temperament and character. They compare to American family cars the way a sailboat compares to a coal barge.

To enjoy sports cars for their own sake requires a certain participation by the driver. He must be willing to regard comfort as a combination of physical and mental security, since control can't co-exist with living-room luxury. He must be immune to insolent jibes from the public, who think he's a freak, who like to poke or kick his car when he leaves it parked, and who strive to beat him away from every stop light just to show the superiority of the Sad Six with Mush-o-Matic. He must be stalwart, too, when The Law leers down from a motorcycle with "American cars ain't fast enough for you, eh?" after a hair-raising chase at 32 m.p.h. in a 25 m.p.h. zone. The driver, as well as the car, needs strength of character.

Sports cars are — contrary to the most common criticism — less specialized and more versatile than family cars. Most of them can be used for daily transportation in traffic, or for road-racing in competition. Unlike the track racer or the "hot rod," which are designed for maximum speed in a straight line, the sports car is intended for performance at all speeds, under all conditions.

The author of this (I think a guy named Lloyd Mallan?) hit the nail on the head, and it makes sense for so many of us out there today who, say, still prefer to shift our own gears or value agility and fun over raw power, or are willing to put their kid in the car they want instead of defaulting to a minivan.

Americans Used To Think Sports Car Owners Were 'Freaks'

Also, people would "poke or kick" sports cars when parked? What the hell, anti-sports-car '50s-era Americans? Couldn't you just smoke and drink and leave the cars alone? Also, anyone with a Sad Six that has a Mush-O-Matic, please contact me for a classic review.