America has had a rough week. The tragedies in Massachusetts and Texas are still firmly on everyone’s minds, despite the jubilation last night, and it can begin to weigh on a country. With all that’s been going on, why don’t we take a brief respite and work up a bit of nostalgia?
Whether real or imagined, the 1950s are thought of almost as a golden-era for the United States. Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, and we liked Ike. The economy was also returning to proper form, after decades of Depression, and we liked that too. Sure, there were things we didn’t like, such as segregation, a dramatic increase in nuclear weapons, and the Korean War. But for a small time, at least, there was a bit of a renaissance in the American automobile industry.
Everyone already knows the Big Three of Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Those have continued in some form or another to this day, but back in that illustrious decade the motoring landscape was dotted with other carmakers putting their products on the new Interstates.
We had Hudsons, Kaisers, Packards, Studebakers, even your occasional Crosley and Nash. Cruising down the street on a weekend or at a local car show today you might think the cars were produced by some other defunct brand, a Pontiac or an Oldsmobile. But no, they were distinct in their own right, and often independent, too. Let’s take a look at a couple of these hunks of iron that trundled across the country back then:
I’m starting off with Hudson for a very simple reason: I like it the most. Though it didn’t last long into the decade, it was perhaps the baddest of any carmaker of that era. Perhaps the quintessential car when you think “classic,” the Hudson Hornet dominated NASCAR in its early days, winning four times from 1951-1954, and was even enshrined as the character "Doc Hudson" in Pixar's Cars.
Unfortunately, the whole concept of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” hadn’t had its kinks worked out yet, and sales declined every year of the 1950s. The company was only kept afloat by its Korean War contracts, and when those dried up, the company did too. Although Hudson continued as a nameplate until 1957, by 1954 the company was acquired by the next entrant on our list, Nash-Kelvinator.
Photo credit: Jack Snell
Despite the name, “Nash” was the nameplate the company was known for the in the motoring world, as Kelvinator was primarily a brand of refrigerators and other appliances. Back then, car companies were either diversified, or had too many non-core products, depending on how you look at it. Either way, it doesn’t matter, as the company is dead.
But before it was dead, it made cars like the Nash Statesman, pictured above, which actually looked a bit like the muscular Hornet’s chubby little brother. Nash wasn’t all about small fat children, however, as they also made sports cars like the Nash-Healey from 1951-1954.
With an American engine, British chassis, and Pininfarina-styled body, it’s a wonder there aren’t more of these around today. Nash-Kelvinator went through a series of mergers, eventually becoming a key component of the American Motors Corporation, or AMC.
Photo credit: Roadsidepictures
Crosley was the pluckiest of them all. Producers of the original American sub-compact, it predated cars like the Chevy Spark by a whole lot. Though the cars had awesome names like the Super Sedan and the Hot Shot, the vehicles themselves weren’t so awesome, at least by 1950s standards.