Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Class of 1957

Not long ago, I put up an article about the cars of 1947. It wasn’t the most dazzling time in automotive history, as most of the cars featured were rehashes of cars that originally appeared on the market before World War II. I thought it would be interesting to jump ahead ten years and take a look at 1957. In just a decade, there was an immense change in the automotive landscape. Gone were the drab, muted designs of the ‘40s. Suddenly, things were brighter, more colorful, and more stylish. It was one of the most extroverted, optimistic periods in automotive history. Let’s take a look at some of the standouts.

When you’re talking about the cars of 1957, you almost have to open with the iconic ’57 Chevy. It actually lost the sales race to Ford that year, but history has made the ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air likely the most popular single make and model vehicle ever. This was the third year of the available small-block V8 engine, and exotic options like fuel injection enhanced the mystique even further. That baby Cadillac styling has endured the test of time like nothing else. When was the last time you saw a ’57 Chevy? Probably the last time you went to a car show.

And speaking of Cadillac styling, feast your eyes on the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. At the time this car came out, it was the most expensive production car ever built. A Rolls Royce could be purchased for $9,500. This car was $13,500. Of course, they came with a perfume atomizer, a cigarette case, a lipstick holder, and champagne glasses. This was a GM concept car that went into production for the very wealthy. They only made 704 of these between 1957 and 1958.

Ford Motor Company had their own ultra-exclusive personal luxury car. The Continental Mark II was built between 1956 and 1957, and it had a price tag of $10,000. The average annual salary in America was only $5,500. This car didn’t go for the glitz like the Eldorado Brougham. Styling was arguably more understated than a Lincoln. These were more like a fine, tailored suit. Chrome was minimal, the leather was leathery, and when you drove one of these, you were driving class. They only built about 3,000 of these during their two-year run, but you do see them at car shows once in a while today.

White Ford and GM were riding the luxury train, Packard’s light was starting to fade. Packard had merged with Studebaker a couple of years prior, and the last Packard that had been actually designed by Packard rolled off the assembly line in 1956. The Packard Clipper that came out in 1957 was a thinly disguised Studebaker. They may have been decent cars, but the way they tried to Packardize them was just plain bad. The headlight buckets and tailfins were clearly just afterthoughts. People called them Packardbakers. This once proud marque only lasted one more year before calling it quits.

Chrysler Corporation probably had the freshest offerings on the market in 1957. Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” styling was as modern as it came. Whether you were looking at a Dodge, Plymouth, DeSoto, Chrysler, or Imperial, every one of them was new. Plymouths were the most popular of the bunch, thanks in part to their advertising campaign that declared, “Suddenly, it’s 1960.” That’s a 1957 Chrysler 300 in the picture. Look at how beautiful that thing is.

There were lots of other cars out there in 1957—full-sized Ramblers, Hudsons, and all the big-three support divisions. But let’s talk about the cute, little Nash Metropolitan. They sold these in the United States between 1953 and 1962, but the 1957 model was part of the 1955, third-series redesign. These cars really looked like a big Nash that had been hit with a shrink ray, but under the skin were English components from Austin Motor Company. By late 1957, they stopped referring to these cars as Nashes, and Metropolitan became a stand-alone division.

I could go on and on about the cars of 1957, but it’ll make this too long for a blog post. So instead, I’ll leave you with more than 150 factory promotional photos from this important year in automotive history. See them in the slideshow below, or click this link for a nicer version.


  1. You are right, Craig that 1957 was the first year that Chevrolet was outsold by Ford since 1935. It is kind of ironic that the 57 Chevy has turned out to be the single most popular car of all time. A great article today, Craig.......................Roger Grotewold, Grotewold Chevrolet/Oldsmobile Motor Company, Larchwood, Iowa

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