Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Class of 1947

I don’t write about my mom that much on here. She’s not really that into cars, and this is obviously a car-themed website. She certainly lived through some great times in the history of the automobile, though. Mom was born in 1947, and she was there for the futuristic ‘50s, the muscle cars of the ‘60s, the broughaminess of the ‘70s, and the technology of the ‘80s. The difference between the cars that are built now and those that were out there when she was born are immense. So, in honor of my mom, I’ve decided to take a quick look back at the cars of 1947.

1947 wasn’t exactly the high water mark for automotive design and creativity. The automakers were just restarting auto production after World War II, and most cars were simply mild refreshes of the models produced before the war. Take the Dodge in this picture. Sure, it looks interesting today by virtue of being an old car, but in the context of 1947, this was about as exciting as a new Mitsubishi Gallant. It was pretty solid and reliable, though, and people were hungry for anything new. The idea that it was a tall, squatty, ultra-conservative appliance with a flathead six-cylinder engine didn’t hurt it too bad.

Ford’s cars weren’t that much fresher, but somehow, they seemed better. That’s probably because the pre-war versions were more modern in the first place. The grille and trim were all redesigned, but overall, the ’47 Ford wasn’t hugely different from the ’42. They are still good looking cars, though. No one ever said Biff Tannen’s ’46 convertible in Back to the Future was ugly. You could even get a flathead V8 in a Ford. These cars are still popular among collectors today, although the “all new” ford in 1949 was long overdue. And here’s another interesting little fact: Ford Motor Company’s founder, Henry Ford, passed away in 1947.

Let’s give a little love to another Ford product; the Lincoln Continental. These have the distinction of being one of the newest cars ever to receive the designation of “Full Classic” by the Classic Car Club of America. They were also the last American cars to be built with a V12 engine. Yes, they were warmed-over versions of the pre-war Continental, but they were pretty. These things are classy, stately, sporty, and presidential, all at the same time. When you see one of these at a car show, it still makes a big impression to this day.

Chevrolet was the most popular make in 1947, selling more than 684,000 cars. Again, we’re looking at technology and styling that was around before World War II. But the overhead-valve design of the 90-hp Stovebolt-six was still relatively advanced for the day. Compared to the cars from Dodge and Plymouth, Chevy was lucky that their designs were already appealing to the buying public. And since they were the bread-and-butter division of General Motors, the greatest company in the world, they had the resources to offer a wide variety of trim combinations and market these cars like no other.

For many Americans, Chevrolet was the first step in the automotive ladder of success that went through Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, and the pinnacle, Cadillac. The Standard of the World may have been mostly a carryover from before the war, but it was still the most aspirational vehicle on the road. They were equipped with a 348-c.i. V8, utilized the same Hydra-Matic transmissions that were used in M-5 tanks, and they looked like a million bucks. The Cadillac pictured in that old promotional photo is a Sedanette, one of 7,245 of that style built in 1947.

Not every car was a carryover from before the war, though. 1947 was the first year of automotive production for Kaiser-Frazer, an upstart company created by steel magnate Henry Kaiser and automotive industry-lifer Joseph Frazer. At the time, there were two cars, appropriately named the Kaiser and the lower-level Frazer. These cars were actually very modern for their time, with fresh styling, aluminum pistons, independent suspensions, hydraulic brakes, and curved glass. This company would never sell in volumes that matched the Big Three, but they did manage to create a reputation for innovation and safety that kept them in business through the mid-1950s.

Change was coming, though. In 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the X-1 Rocket Plane, a “U.F.O.” crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico, and suddenly the future was looking a lot more interesting. The conservative designs of the ‘40s were about to be replaced with something much different. Mom was born in a very transitional time in history. Things would never be the same after this, as evidenced by the “Tasco,” a futuristic car built from a ’47 Mercury. Check out more promotional photos of all kinds of 1947 cars and trucks below, or click this link for a nicer version.


  1. I always enjoy your articles
    Dean Call

  2. Craig, this article popped up today so I re-read it.Loved it and I love you too.