The Good, Bad & Ugly Cars
of the Late Fifties
By the mid-fifties, prosperity had returned to the industrialised countries and car-makers started to produce more exotic vehicles. America produced some of the most beautiful and some of the ugliest metal sculptures the world has seen. Meanwhile the Europeans, focusing on performance rather than size, produced some almost equally beautiful yet impractical sports cars. America's reply to the European sports car came in the form of the Corvette and Thunderbird.
In Australia, attempts to emulate the American model resulted in relative failure while Holden's development of the "family six" gave it unprecedented market dominance.
From the early fifties American cars had lots of chrome; in the late fifties, the also had ornamental fins. But whatever the decoration, the most characteristic feature of American cars was that they were big. These were cars intended to display the wealth of America and Americans.
Perhaps, the ultimate expression of this was the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. In 1957, a new Eldorado cost three times as much as a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud.
1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham
1958 Buick Limited Coupe
1960 Chevrolet Belair
The greatest disaster was, of course, the Ford Motor Company's Edsel of which only 3,000 were sold.
1959 Ford Edsel Corsair
By the mid-fifties, some Europeans were also finding that they could afford more than just basic transportation. Rather than follow the American path of producing ever bigger and more powerful cars, manufacturers like MG, Austin and Alfa Romeo responded by producing small sports car.
1955 Alfa Romeo Guiletta
1955 Austin Healey 100
1955 Alfa Romeo Guiletta
Corvette & Thunderbird
The success of European sports cars inspired the big American manufacturers to follow suit. The first was Chevrolet with the Corvette, quickly followed by Ford's Thunderbird. But the American manufacturers refused to sacrifice size, instead using powerful motors to try to emulate the performance and handling that the Europeans had achieved by lightness. The result was the cars attacked by Ralph Nader in his book "Unsafe at Any Speed.
The Australian "Family Six"
In 1959, Ford Australia followed the American model of big cars with the introduction of the Fairlane. The new Fairlaines were almost 10" (25cm) longer than the Customlines that they replaced. (In the US, a new range of Customlines was introduced in 1957 but these were never released in Australia.)
The V8 Fairlane sold for Â£2,195 for the standard model and Â£2,500 for the better equipped Fairlane 500 - compared with Â£1,169 for an FC Holden.
General Motors Holden
Rather than introduce big new V8 cars, General Motors in Australia opted to focus on six cylinder family cars developed from its FJ Holden. In 1956, the FJ was replaced by the bigger, more powerful FE sedan and utility. Australia's first station wagon was added to the range in 1957.
The FE lasted only until 1958, when the FC range was introduced. The main advance being the addition of ornamental fins. The more powerful FB came out in 1960; followed in 1961 by the similar looking EK with the option of "Hydramatic" automatic transmission.
1956 Holden FE
1958 Holden FC