There really is something to the changes from one decade to the next, especially with cars, even if it tends to happen a year or so early. 1949 was a watershed year, when the Big Three finally stepped into the post war era. 1969 – 1970 was the apogee of the sixties muscle/pony car era. 1980 – 1981 ushered in the new wave of FWD compacts from GM, Ford and Chrysler. 1990? The ascent of the SUV and the Camry? And 2000? Among other things, it ushered in the first hybrids. Just as 2010 saw the first viable electrics hit the road. So that leaves 1959 – 1960, perhaps the most significant of them all.
There’s no way we can try to do a complete global survey of all the profound changes that happened into that gateway year of the dynamic sixties, so we’ll have to do some random samples, and pick the winners and losers of the that pivotal year. And what a year it was indeed…the new frontier was space.
And the influence of supersonic jets and spacecraft on the cars of 1959 is all too evident, in America at least.
It’s too soon to re-run, but if you missed the 1959 Cadillac CC “False Prophet Of A New Era”, it’s all about the significant changes that 1959 – 1960 ushered in, at least from Detroit.
So what prompted this impromptu theme? (BTW, my apologies to the other CC Contributors, but a theme week doesn’t exclude other subjects). The Mini CC I just put up an hour earlier again brought home to me the significance of 1959; which was the year the little midget first appeared.
I realize 1959 is a long time ago, for all of us and especially younger readers. A lot has changed since then, so we’ll try to focus as much as possible on the lasting implications of what was happening that year, rather than just nostalgia.
There are so many brands that are long history, and some that shouldn’t have made it into the sixties.
Or others that survived or morphed in ways that would have been unimaginable in 1959, like the Skoda.
If anyone had even dreamed that Volvo would end up being owned by the Chinese, they would have been sent for a nice round of electro-shock therapy, or worse.
Well, at least the outcome is better than Saab. We’ll come back to its sad tale.
I pulled up a few random pictures from google images for the year 1959, and none of them captured the American spirit of the times better than this one. Can you imagine someone pulling over on the freeway in LA in order to have their picture taken in front of it? And of course the 1959 Chevy is the perfect backdrop, especially since its hood emblem tells us its packing a 348. As in cubic inches, or 5.7 liters. That’s a number that was unfathomably large, at a time when the biggest Mercedes had a 3 liter six, and Rolls Royce was just finally superseding their ancient 4.9 liter F-head six with a new V8.
Yes, heady times indeed. But who had the right ideas in 1959? And who didn’t? Stay tuned.
I have a 1959 Hillman Minx in my carport released in 59 as a 60 model its the last modification of the original Loewy design, signifigant? nah not really
As one who lived them, let me say the 40s through 50s was truly the greatest time period in American history. I wouldn’t give a dime for any decade since. There is no comparison.
I’m looking forward to this series!
I’ll have to add the 60’s to that. Specifically, June 6, 1944 to September 1972 (the year the pillarless hardtops died). Or earlier in 1972 when American combat involvement in Vietnam ended and the military I was in and the world changed forever.
this reads suspiciously like a ‘Get off my lawn’ moment, Ben 🙂
As a product of 1959 myself, I look forward to a great week here on CC 🙂
Hey 1959 is only 18 years before I was born! And my dad was 5 in 1959.
Check out the 1957 Hillman Minx clip that I uploaded to YouTube a few years ago under my old brand Torq-O. (Even though it’s not a ’59, I’m pretty sure the design is close enough to fool all but the most diehard Minx fans.)
It’s here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Jg5bwvpdU0
watched very similar biggest change is rear 1/4panels tailights bigger engine and brakes yep its a gone auto
And if I could plug one more free film clip…
Several years ago, I bought three promotional Rootes Group films and offered them on a DVD.
Check out this true 1959 clip from the introduction to Maxwell Smart’s car: the 1959 Sunbeam Alpine. It’s the year the British got fins.
After my last visit to LA I find it hard to believe cars actually moved on the freeway!
1:37 to go 27 miles to work this morning in LA…the days of zipping around on the freeway here are long gone.
WOW! Though I’d bet it’s not too much different here in Chi town..
Admittedly, that was due to rain and the resulting rear-ender ahead of me from someone following too closely…but it’s still roughly an hour on a good day, nearly all freeway and averaging about 30 mph. Fortunately I can telecommute 2-3 days a week!
Check out one of the closing scenes of the movie “How The West Was Won” (1962) and see cars actually moving on the 4-level interchange in Los Angeles! Amazing!
I often think while sitting in LA traffic what it must have been like in the late ’50’s thru mid ’60’s when the sprawling freeway system was spanking new and there was a fraction of the population.
Life in SoCal must have been a dream…
My closest friend back then (1968 & 1969) had a 1959 Volvo PV544 that had been customized by having the bumpers removed and the holes filled in and the car was painted a sort of metallic Rallye green, similar to the Camaros.
Another friend at the same time had a ubiquitous mist green and white 1959 Chevy Impala 4 dr. hardtop. I believe it was one of the first pimp-mobiles, the way he had the interior fixed up! Black roll and pleat seat covers, spray-on glass tint for the windows (purple), colored interior light bulbs (you could buy bulb coloring that you could brush on at Western Auto!), black painted interior panels, a ripped-off factory GM AM/FM 8 track player hung under the dash with two 6×9 speakers, racing slicks(!) on the back, factory wheels and tires on the front! All this with a 235 cu. in. six that burnt oil and smoked like the DDT mosquito foggers that used to go through neighborhoods (no kidding – it WAS that bad!) back then. That car was the joke of the community and you could see him coming and going a half-mile away due to the smoke!
Yes, this 1959 series will be, in the words of Sgt. Pepper: “A splendid time is guaranteed for all”!
Western Auto! I haven’t thought about them in years. The heavy hitters for parts in the area when I was growing up were Western, Blue Star, Forest City and Napa(JCW/Warshawski to a lesser extent).
I miss the old school parts stores. They had seriously comprehensive books to find the parts, real pros behind the counter and all the coffee you could drink.
That last picture is a twofer. Dad traded in a 1955 mint green Pontiac, like the one in the immediate background on a 1959 Chevy station wagon as shown, but blue. My uncle bought one in the same metallic copper color.
That last picture summed up perfectly why Chevy and GM once ruled the road and the envy of the world!
Those folks on the Matchless motorcycle aren’t wearing any kind of protective clothing at all, not even helmets. Strange times.
Speaking of 1959. Look what I caught in the rain around the corner from my house!
That rump is beautifully hideous.
And I always enjoy spotting the black plates.
The irony of this week is that I’ve ran across 1959 Cars 3 days in a row: A 1959 DeSoto Firesweep, this Impala, and a 1959 Plymouth today. I’ll be uploading them to the Flickr group shortly.
Yellow plates were issued ’56-’62 but they made us turn them in for black ones in ’63.
And that Daimler on the cover of Vogue? Sweet!
I thought of you when I found it 🙂
Okay…I’ll stir the excrement a little here…
I’d submit that the most significant vehicle of 1959 is…
…the 1959 or 1960 International Travelall.
Am I demented? No, I am not. International introduced the four-door station-wagon body style as mounted on a half-ton pickup frame. The Suburban in the postwar years had left its literal “station” wagon (livery vehicle for the train station) lineage behind in favor of the panel-trucks-with-windows they produced until 1967.
So, why is the Travelall significant? Because, I would posit, it motivated Willys Jeep to get on the stick, redesign their fifteen-year-old two-door work wagon…and come out with the Brook Stevens-designed 1962 Wagoneer.
Which of course beget the entire SUV vehicle revolution…what other car could have remained in production, unchanged in its literal form, for 29 years? The VW Type 1 ran longer, but had to find new markets as it exited Europe and America.
You don’t have to love the Wagoneer, the Travelall which probably inspired it, or SUVs, to recognize that these vehicles have changed the auto market and spectrum. Prior to these things, you wanted a delivery vehicle, you had a choice between a stake truck and a “sedan delivery.” Everything was based on the one basic body model offered by each marque.
Today, you cannot even buy a wagon style in most carbodies…your choice is a minivan, SUV, or CUV. You can say, probably rightly, that it was inevitable…but the first over the line, the first out the gate, was the four-door Travelall based on the new-for-1959 A Series pickups.
At this point, 52 years later, it’s not clear if the four-door arrived as a 1959, 1960, or midyear change. But the change, although a non-event for most owners, was the start of a revolution.
Mate of mine in Aussie had one of those and a flat deck truck for parts tough old beast only 2 door not 4 passenger doors it coped with the sand bush roads in his neck of the woods easily F100s eat steering boxes at an alarming rate under same conditions good old car Id quite forgotten it.
I can’t argue that. And not just because I’m a Cornbinder guy either..
If IH didn’t throw down the gauntlet Willys may not have built the Wagoneer.
And the US auto industry may not have gone down the toilet as a result of SUV crap
Can you explain that?
How is making a high-profit-margin product that people WANT…making the industry go down the toilet?
Is it the SUV…or is it the bubbleheaded, seesawing government policies that cause wide swings in the price of gasoline? Or, is it the original CAFE laws, which mandated automakers to make cars that nobody wanted to BUY? And then allowed a loophole for utility vehicles, never imagining that people wanted big cars badly enough to settle for truck-based wagons?
I submit that it’s not the fault of the SUV. It’s the fault of government, which is confusing the motor industry with a charitable agency for social engineering and handouts.
US automakers made such a mess of trying to build ecconomical cars in the 70s its no surprise noone wanted them but they also discovered that no matter how bad the crap they made was Americans still rushed out and bought so they continued to build rubbish noone else on the planet would tolerate untill the SUV loophole got found and they convince the US populace that you need a useless 4door pickup to do grocery shopping Of course theyre high profit ther aint any development costs really just build a chassis and reskin it in any flavour you choose grat idea and it was ok untill oil went up thanks to greedy Wall street now suddenly 2 major makers are bankrupt and having to import cars from around the world because they lack the ability to design and build anything properly in NA
“US automakers made such a mess of trying to build ecconomical cars in the 70s its no surprise noone wanted them but they also discovered that no matter how bad the crap they made was Americans still rushed out and bought so they continued to build rubbish noone else on the planet would tolerate untill the SUV loophole got found and they convince the US populace that you need a useless 4door pickup to do grocery shopping”
No matter how bad, people would buy it? Then, why would they, after having tooled up to build FWD cars that had NO buyers, would they tool up AGAIN to build SUVS…increasing pickup-based vehicle production fivefold? Hell, according to you, they could have convinced people to buy Escorts and Reliants, and just jacked up the prices.
“Of course theyre high profit ther aint any development costs really just build a chassis and reskin it in any flavour you choose grat idea and it was ok untill oil went up thanks to greedy Wall street now suddenly 2 major makers are bankrupt and having to import cars from around the world because they lack the ability to design and build anything properly in NA”
Greedy Wall Street, huh? If they have all this power, then why did Detroit have to make these new chassises to SELL at those big bucks?
Here’s a clue, Slick: They charged big bucks because people WANTED them; wanted them MUCH more than they wanted Citations or Chevettes; and were willing to pay a premium price to have them.
Not sorcery by Detroit or Wall Street – CONSUMER DEMAND.
Which you would outlaw.
It was way cheaper to put more doors on a pickup truck than design cars, if thats what you want why is GM and Fiatsler broke and Ford importing cars
What’s your basis for saying that?
Is it cheaper to stretch or butt-weld roof panels and floor pans; to re-spec, test, engineer frames for stiffness, than it is to make modifications on additional FWD cars?
Somehow Chrysler, which was coming out of financial trouble in the 1980s, found the money to make bigger and smaller versions of the K-Car; yet couldn’t find the money to tool up for SUVs. They chose to buy AMC/Jeep at a fire-sale price instead.
That tells me the SUV, with its four-wheel-drive train and all it entails, is a whole lot more expensive to design and market than a government-spec econo-schittbox.
Anyway, once the original tooling and engine designs are in place, as they were to satisfy CAFE.
Your explanation makes NO sense, Bryce. All you’re communicating is how you hate business, consumer choice, and Detroit for satisfying it. What’s your idea of a hot car – Lada? Yugo? Trabant?
Those are cars ordered out by government ministers without regard to consumers’ wishes. And Zastava, which made Yugo, went BROKE from it…
It was way cheaper to put more doors on a pickup truck than design cars, if thats what you want why is GM and Fiatsler broke and Ford importing cars
a) The UAW legacy retirement and health-care costs.
b) Government standards, and more of them every year, which cost money; cannot be shared on overhead; and do NOT translate to greater sales or profits. It’s money poured down a rathole.
c) The economic downturn, coupled to wildly swinging fuel prices, which make product planning impossible. What size cars to build? People WANT big cars but what’s easily affordable with $1.89 gas is unaffordable and frightening with $4.19 fuel.
So, say you really-smart types, people don’t need those cars. By who’s estimation? Are YOU the determiner of what I need?
I drive my truck empty to work on Monday. On Sunday night, I may have hauled six friends and two dead deer out of the woods with it. Can I do that with your Yugo clone-car? Is that even your business? Government’s business?
Sure, you say…the world’s going to melt from Global Warming because people drive vehicles that are as heavy as cars from the 1970s, but somewhat larger and useful – and, BTW, better on fuel usage.
But you types HATE them, so you invent reasons and guilt trips to BAN THEM!
HSV Commobore Brock blue model
WTF is that? Commobore Brock?
Why do you come here, Brycie old buddie? You know nothing and care less about cars – to you the only difference between an SUV and a pickup truck is a couple more doors “welded in.” Yet you illogically posit here that making profitable vehicles bankrupted GM and Chrysler; and somehow, making cars like the Cavalier, which lost $200 per sale (they had to sell them to meet CAFE numbers) was the road to profitability.
Why should we take you seriously? Do you just troll for Radical Leftism as a minimum-wage job? Is this your “beat” now?
Yup! You nailed it.. Jeep is to blame for the collapse of the auto industry.
Sorry that was supposed to be a pic of a Super Wagoneer…
Actually thinking of what was avaiable in the 59 showroom Ford still made a 30s Popular with mech brakes, transverse springs and 10hp flathead 4 alongside its new Anglia models with the new Kent engine The Falcon remained in production un altered on the outside for several years though the suspension was rubbish The Valiant was a success in Aussie without major mods tough cars there were some good ideas out there but some awful crap too, The Mini hit the world and was modified as production went to cure some glaring mistakes like floor seams lapped the wrong way so the car filled with waterfrom wheel splash and other things Issigonis missed This was probably the most revolutionary car of 59/60 more primitive than the 71 Paul found but a new idea all the same. Issigonis best design is the Morris Minor not the mini.
Some decades seem to start a little early, and some start a bit late.
To me, all the 1959 American cars shown here represent the very end of 1950s tailfins and chrome atom age styling; the *real* 1960s cars came a couple of years later, sporting a much cleaner, more understated look. To my eye, the 1963 Lincoln Continental and Chrysler New Yorker have a much more 1960s look.
The Mini is very much a 1960s looking car to me, and the rest of the euroboxes posted here have a bit of a 1960s look to them.
I’ll admit to one and all, that this thread has given me cause to re-think.
The Mini, to me, was very much in the background…an automotive oddity, something about as relevant as…as, say, the Travelall. Sure, the Mini had FWD, but so did the Cord. I have never seen one; only read one magazine article on them, and after a friend’s experience with an MG Midget, had completely dismissed British cars as trash.
There’s a powerful argument being made here of that precursor to the prototypical Econobox was gestated as the Mini. But, was it? Were not Renault, Fiat and others moving towards engine-over-the-drivewheels setups, also?
Was the Mini the groundbreaker, or was it just being carried along by the waves in general?
The problem with the Mini as a groundbreaker, at least in the U.S., is that there was almost 15 years between its debut and its real impact on the U.S. market. And it wasn’t the Mini itself that had that impact.
The original Honda Civic was the first really successful small car sold in this country that used the Mini’s basic layout.
The Mini failed to sell in large numbers in this country, and was withdrawn because of serious reliability problems and low gas prices. Most Americans simply were not interested in putting up with the terrible reliability and lack of service support that came with a Mini when gasoline was so cheap by world standards. When gasoline prices spiked in the wake of the Arab Oil Embargo in late 1973, the Mini was gone, and Honda was there with the attractive, reliable and well-engineered Civic that was supported by an effective network of dealers. Honda thus reaped the benefits of the layout that BMC had pioneered.
On the domestic front, I believe that 1959 is significant in that it was the last year that the old “low-price three” trio of Chevrolet-Ford-Plymouth were still in effect. In 1960, Chrysler undermined Plymouth by giving Dodge the full-size, Plymouth-based Dart. Plymouth was soon competing directly with not only Ford and Chevrolet, but its corporate sibling. Chrysler also didn’t initially badge the Valiant as a Plymouth, which further undermined what was once its bread-and-butter division.
Plymouth only regained its old third-place ranking twice in the coming years (1971 and 1974). In the long run, I believe that this seriously weakened Chrysler Corporation.
Chrysler Corporation became less of a major threat to either GM or Ford as the 1960s and 1970s progressed. Chrysler had tended to lead with engineering, not product-planning or marketing. With that decreased competition from Chrysler came increasing stagnation.
Ford gave GM fits in the 1960s, but that was in the marketing and product-planning fronts, not the engineering arena. The Mustang, LTD and Continental Mark III were triumphs of product planning and effective marketing that broke no new engineering ground. Even the beautiful, suicide-door Lincolns were noted more for their rigid quality control and attention to detail – not any real engineering breakthroughs.
Without any real competition in the engineering arena, GM abandoned its initial interesting forays into rear-engined cars, aluminum V-8s, transaxles and independent rear suspensions, preferring to sell conventional cars with very attractive styling and refined, if thoroughly conventional, drivetrains.
When it did try to innovate – with the Vega – the final result was a curious mixture of innovation and cost-cutting that ended in disaster. GM preferred to act as though the Vega disaster had never happened, because real Americans bought Impalas – or at least Chevelles – anyway.
By the 1970s, even Ford wasn’t offering much competition in the product-planning arena. The result was a general stagnation of the industry that would only be broken by the Japanese at the low end and the Germans at the high end. When new ideas and formats were needed to cope with federal fuel economy and clean air mandates, the domestics found that they really didn’t know how to successfully implement the needed new technology while maintaining expected levels of reliability.
And American build quality (which is different from reliability) had been declining for years, which was another sore point in comparison to the imports of the day.
The final result of this stagnation was the bankruptcy of GM in 2009, and near-bankruptcy of Ford. The seeds for all of this were sown in the 1959-60 timeframe, in my opinion.