Kings of the road
Today they are treasured mementos of a golden age of motoring, quaintly stylish, reminiscent of a time when the bus and the bicycle were still the main methods of transport for the majority.
In the Fifties the motor car, for long the favoured mode of transport of the better off, became the people’s favourite carrier.
In that golden age of British car production the family car came into its own. And now those family salons are highly prized collectors’ items.
Remember the Vauxhall Velox and Cresta which brought American style to British Roads? How many readers recall these “kings” of the road, with their soft, pastel coloured interiors and often garish paint work – pink was just one option.? Between 1954 and 1957 Vauxhall produced 166,504 Crestas, a four door, four seat saloon.
Then there was the Standard Vanguard, a large, black dumpy machine, rather reminiscent of a large beetle.
Or perhaps you recall the Ford range, headed by the Zephyr and its more up-market sister the Zodiac which again brought a touch of American styling to this country. White walled tyres were a favoured option on a car which was colourful, large and flash.
Remember also the Ford Pilot, a huge car, with real leather seating. Quiet, powerful and magnificent, this was a vehicle with real class.
At the lower end of the market Ford had the Anglia and the Prefect, an affordable family salon of rather unappealing design – remember its sloping back-end?
Those were the days when Britain ruled the roads with models from manufacturers which included Morris, Austin with its popular A40 (pictured left) Rover, Humber (can anyone recall the Snipe and Super Snipe?), Sunbeam, Alvis and Triumph.
From Sunbeam came the Alpine, a sports car launched on the back of the manufacturer’s success in the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally. The company also launched its saloon car, the Rapier during the Fifties.
Until 1954 Talbot, was used as a hyphenated name with Sunbeam, producing quality cars with a “sporty” appeal.
From Triumph came the famous Mayflower – also known as the “razor edged salon” because of its sharp lines. TheTR2 sports car was another success, being at the time Britain’s cheapest 100mph model.
By the end of the Fifties Triumph had come up with the Herald, a car which was to be a best seller.
Morris, too, were active in the fast growing family sector of he motor market, combining with Austin in 1952. The Minor (the estate car version known as the Traveller is pictured)was the dominant model followed by the Mini which became Britain’s best ever selling car with more than five million coming off the production line.
Then – as now – Rover commanded a large share of the market. The name dates back to a motorcycle built in 1902 which was followed a couple of years later by a car, the Rover Eight which had a single cylinder engine and backbone chassis.
In 1949 Rover introduced at the Motor Show its 75 model which was to be later regarded as one of the most important cars of the Fifties. With this car Rover abandoned its traditional styling and went in for something very much bolder, a modern body inspired by the 1947 American Studebaker.
Another British manufacturer which later also became a part of the Rover Group was MG with its sports cars being in keen demand by the younger set in particular.,
Other cars of the time included Alvis which produced its last car, a three litre coupe convertible in 1955, Riley and Vanden Plas, with its more up-market Princess series.
For Rolls-Royce the Fifties was the decade of the new Silver Cloud with automatic transmission, while Bentley, bought by R-R in 1931, introduced a high performance Continental.
Then there was Jaguar, said to be unique in British Motoring history for its combination of luxury and performance with a sporting edge. The Fifties saw the company launch one of its best-loved models, the Mark V11 six seater capable of reaching 100 mph. In 1954 it launched the 2.4 litre model, the first of a series of compact Jaguar saloons.
Written by The Editor - 03/10/2004 09:08:58
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