It’s a bit special when one can find three running representatives of long-dead makes in the same place; all the more so if they are contemporaries of each other. It was as if I’d stumbled into some alternate universe where the era had become uncertain, kind of like the Gotham City of the Batman flicks. So gaze ye on this conglomeration of late ’50s design excess, spotted at the 1940 Air Terminal museum at Houston’s Hobby airport on September 19, 2015.
The occasion was the museum’s monthly fly-in/drive-in event, which in this case featured a number of vendors of vintage clothing, old radios, advertising art, and the like. Nostalgia-infused hipsters were out in force; most, it seemed, wearing Hawaiian shirts (if male), and wrap dresses or Capri pants (if female). Imprints of hibiscus flowers abounded. Several of the visitors brought along cars fitting their fashion sensibilities, and so here we are.
1959 Metropolitan Hardtop
The Nash/American Motors Metropolitan has always struck me as the closest automotive equivalent to a toy poodle, but everyone else seems to love them to pieces. This one, a series IV (note the externally-accessible trunk lid missing from earlier models) is nicely restored, albeit with a somewhat non-standard paint job, and its owner certainly looks the part. Assuming it still has its original 1500cc engine, it seemed to possess surprisingly spritely performance, judging from a glimpse I had of its departure down Telephone Road as I left the event.
1956 Nash Ambassador Super 4-door Sedan
Subtle as a flying mallet, this example of the penultimate year for big Nashes seems like one of Bruce McCall’s Bulgemobiles come to life. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever seen one of these in the wild; it’s not as though one would ever forget a face like that. And wild it is, from its characteristically shrouded wheels to the tri-tone paint bordered by massive lashings of chrome. Check out the double-torpedo hood ornament. The ‘V-Eight’ badge on the boot lid I guess means that it could be powered by a Packard-sourced 352 or American Motors’ own 250, introduced late in the model year. I rather like it, though I’m not entirely sure why.
1961 Studebaker Hawk Pillared Hardtop
Aaaand here we have one of Studebaker’s last, desperate attempts to seduce buyers into a showroom full of Larks. I much prefer the cleaner styling of the original Starliner on which the Hawk series was based, but there’s no denying that this one is a sanitary and relatively tasty example, and the 289 V-8 under the hood apparently was fairly hot stuff for the time. You certainly won’t see yourself coming the other way; fewer than 3700 of these were sold in ’61 and it seems unlikely many are left.
Orphans all, and (with the possible exception of the Metropolitan), mostly ignored when they were new. Yet here they are, carrying the torch for the Phabulous Phifties, and more vividly, maybe, than the usual Chevies and Fords. Salutations to the owners for keeping this trio out of the junkyard.
Now, the big question: if one was going to have one of these in their garage as something for a weekend cruise night, which would it be? For me, hands down it’s the Hawk, but I could be swayed in favor of the Nash. What say you?