Here at Whiteknuckler Brand, we like to say that our goods are inspired by a variety of great American design periods when things were made differently, and better... you know before cheap imported throwaway products took over. In that way, the 1950s were special, so for this feature we will dive into American auto design of the period!
The "Fifties" were a pivotal time for automotive design and motorsports in America. NASCAR was just coming into its own, dirt track racing was becoming an international sensation, and the first Peanuts comic strip came out and this post war period was filled with enthusiasm, the economy was booming and and so was the middle class. The 1950s were also huge for all cars and the common man was the driver. So let’s take a trip back to the 50s and look at how that time directly influenced the automobile industry today.
Post-World War 2
The Second World War was the longest and largest-scale war the planet had ever seen and lasted nearly seven years. With the allies winning the war, things eventually returned to normal in the United States and events such as races for cars, bikes, and horses resumed. Events and other competitive sports like boxing and wrestling also came back, but the most important change after the war was the new focus on consumer goods — and automotive design and quality were among the biggest ticket items. Having a V8 powered freedom machine covered in chrome and gleaming paint was the status symbol that all of middle America sought!
A lot of technological change came about because of the war, especially in the case of vehicles. With the war over, the American manufacturing economy moved from producing war-related items to more consumer goods all the while transferring the technologies and efficiencies of the war machine. Automobile manufacturers were taking advantage of mass production and the benefits of economies of scale led to manufacturers competing not in volume, but rather in style — and boy was there style!
Automobile industry changes
A number of key innovations came during the 1950s. Things we take for granted today like air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, and the overhead V8 engine were all new additions to cars. Manufacturers also made improvements to existing systems such as the transmission producing more affordable automatic transmissions cars that where effortless to drive. Cars of this era, though "mass" produced, had a quality about them we don't see anymore. These weren't the expanses of plastic and injection molded parts we see today.
The cars of this era were a lot faster and a lot sleeker in design. If the 1930s and 40s saw compact boxed shaped cars, the 50s often reveled in long, low rectangular shapes, often with fins being a signature look of the era that spilled into the early 60's with ever increasing height. These cars are still iconic as they managed to make their way into pop culture through means of music and movies.
The growth of the automotive industry was one of the major factors that fueled the United States’ rise to becoming an international economic superpower. In fact, the automotive industry was so lucrative that it became the largest industry segment in the U.S. and was multiple times bigger than the automotive industry in other countries combined. Another statistic at the time showed that one out of six Americans were working for the automobile industry, whether directly or indirectly.
The 1950s also saw the production of concept cars that reflected a futuristic vision of a society that had made an abrupt transition into the Atomic Age. Also dubbed the Jet Age or the Space Age, these cars looked like they were something ripped directly from a science fiction movie. Their designs embraced a certain impracticality and were very bold with defining features as well as low profiles.
Auto makers pushed the boundaries of the design aesthetics in a way that shaped the style and appeal of cars in the decades that followed. The classic designs of the 1960s owe a great deal to the groundbreaking designs of the 1950s.
The way the classic cars were built in the 50s, with solid materials and no plastic still inspires our team today. If you look at our goods, you will agree they could just as easily have been made in the 1950s.
They don't make things like they used to... but we do!