History of the Automobile, 1940-1970
In the years of 1940-1970, American automobiles had changed drastically, along with the type of people who bought them and what they were used for.
At the beginning of this era you could buy a shiny new Chrysler Town & Country for less than 2,000 dollars. Most of the manufacturers who made cars still make them today, although all of the companies have undergone extensive changes in the course of 60 years. At this time there were no imports, either, such as today's Mazda, Mitsubishi, Honda, or Hyundai. The leading American manufacturers of automobiles at this time were Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and Chevrolet. Through most of the forties and fifties, however, sales were all but dominated by Ford and Chrysler. The two companies sold an average of a million cars a piece, yearly.
Chrysler's main models were the lower end DeLuxe Edition and the higher end Custom Edition. The years prior to World War 2 were some of the most profitable years for car manufacturers. In this time, it was a fad to buy cars, and most people could afford them. In these years (1930-40) car companies thrived and amassed a fortune that would sustain them for years to come.
When WW2 caught up with America, car manufacturers were caught hard. Previously, America had remained neutral, and companies were enjoying the profits of trading goods with war-torn nation. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, automobile manufacturers were torn asunder. Companies were banned to manufacture civilian automobiles, and were forced to help with the war effort. Chrysler Corporation especially contributed to this effort. K.T. Keller, (the current C.E.O. of Chrysler) set up a factory in Detroit that manufactured Sherman tanks. This factory was capable of putting out 5 tanks a day, and this factory made thousands of tanks for the allied forces. Other efforts included a plant in Missouri that produced engines and fuselages to the B-29 Flying Fortress bombers. Several other plants were retooled to produce aircraft engines and parts. Although the companies were banned from producing civilian automobiles, they were still designing them during the war. Even still, the outward design of most cars changed little. Toward the end of the war, carmakers were allowed to produce cars once again, although the '46 models were quite shoddy, as the government still limited materials allowed in manufacture. This did not deter the public, however. The war years heavily depleted the car ownership in America. The model years of '46 and '47 were some of the greatest ever for car developers, and they once again began to amass fortunes.
Throughout the years of '47, '48,'49,and '50, car designs changed very little. Every year, cars became slightly more streamlined, and every year cars became slightly faster with a little more horsepower. Still, in these years after the war, very little changed in ways of look or design. The first suburban styled car (seated 7 or more people) came out in '48. It was a Chrysler model, one of the Town & Country series with wood paneled doors. These new models were very popular as hotel shuttles, Taxies, or just for people with overly large families. The thinking of these models quite possibly led to the development of similar use vehicles such as minivans and the newer SUV's.
The one exception to this lull was a "revolutionary" new design by a man named Preston Tucker. He designed his model for racing in the Indy 500. It soon grew in popularity but he never got the chance to market his racecar design. Ford and GM bought him out before he could mass-produce "The Tucker". Only 51 were made, of which 47 still exist today.
Only in '51 do companies really start changing their outdated designs in place of something more stylish for the time. The boxier cars of the thirties had finally started to fade, and cars began taking a lower crawl to the ground, and became more streamlined. Also this year, Chrysler discontinued the older Town & Country models with wooden doors and roofs. (In '54 another model comes out bearing the T&C name, but it is unrelated to its predecessor.) Some of the new models for Chrysler included the New Yorker, which led as pace car in the Indy 500 that year, and the Imperial, which came in convertible or hardtop. The Imperial bears an incredible resemblance to car named "Greased Lightning" in the movie and musical, Grease. At this time, cars still ranged in price from 1,500 dollars to 4,000. Another innovation by Chrysler was a new engine setup that could produce twice the horsepower of the old model. This engine led the way for the hot rod cars and engines of the late fifties and early sixties.
During the fifties, cars changed slowly but steadily and as always, the cars became slightly faster, stronger, and sleeker every year. At about 1955, cars became noticeably different than their post war precursors. These cars were finally the ones that would lead the way to modern cars. These cars were just before the fad of tail fins in cars caught on.
'56 was another small time of change for cars, as this was the first model year of cars to sport tail fins, and small "gunsight" lights. Along with this change came a moderate price shift. Lower end cars were now going for 2,500 dollars, and higher end autos could fetch as high as 5,000 dollars. Toward the end of the fifties, cars were unrecognizable in comparison to the earlier fifties models. In the sixties, the tail fins really caught on, although they didn't dominate every avenue of car manufacture. Towards the mid-sixties, tail fins slowly faded out, and the resulting cars looked similar, only lacking the fins. Toward the end of the sixties, cars became drastically sleeker than before, loosing any ridges or bumps that were unnecessary. Popular sport cars now resembled "The General" from the Dukes of Hazzard. These types of cars were produced until the early seventies, when style changed once again.
Over the course of 30 years, automobiles changed from boxy, cube shaped instruments of transportation to new, fashionable hot rods and getaway cars. The cars' purpose has stayed the same (and conceivably will continue to stay the same) but the pursuit of the car had changed drastically. People no longer take "Sunday drives" in their flashy new Plymouths; the seventies were the age of the racecar. By the end of the sixties, car prices neared 8,000 dollars, and were slightly more expensive so that not every one could afford a brand new model. The seventies also saw the first real out pouring of foreign manufactured cars. The car of tomorrow was today; car manufacturers had no where to go but up.