(Found In) San Gabriel Triangle (Albany, California): 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air Sport Coupe

IMG_8460One thing that General Motors mastered to gain the meat of the US market share was planned obsolescence. GM tricked buyers better than any other corporate behemoth on the wonders of superficial change to convince them that the purchase they just made suddenly wasn’t Spring Fresh.

Underneath all of the dazzle, the majority of what American cars were stayed the same: Rear Wheel Drive, Drum Brakes, Solid Rear Axles and Body On Frame Construction had been mainstays under swoopy bodywork since the great depression.
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(Found In) Glen Park (San Francisco, California): 1958 Packard Hawk 2 Door Hardtop Coupe

img_5368Desperate times call for desperate measures. Fewer post-war manufacturer moments represented Code Red better than the reality of the Studebaker-Packard merger of 1954. In the imperfect marriage between the pearl of South Bend and once the most exclusive brand in the land of The USA saw a monumental undoing rather hastily. The debacles of Studebaker’s quality failings and poor ability to keep up with consumer demand of their 1953 coupes had long lasting implications. Packard’s own quality difficulties sunk their Clipper ships and their larger cruise ships.

It’s perhaps fitting irony that one of the final Packards offered were a variation on the latest update of the ill-starred Starlight coupes of 1953. What made this Packardbaker so special?

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(Found In) Lone Mountain (San Francisco, California): 1951 Chevrolet Styleline Deluxe Bel-Air 2 Door Hardtop Coupe

img_4218Although Chevrolet always languished at the bottom of the traditional General Motors hierarchy, often it portrayed itself as an aspirational Cadillac for the everyperson. While Ford’s most often left it to middle child Mercury to dress up in Mama Bear Lincoln Luxury guise, Chevrolet quite often did drag in the duds more associated with the higher echelons of the country’s biggest manufacturer.

The most fashionable firecracker offered by Chevrolet was the first in the low-priced field 2 Door “Hardtop Convertible” mimicking the 1949 Coupe DeVille (and Roadmaster Riviera and Ninety Eight Holiday Coupes) named, in an oh-so-vacation minded frame of mind as the Bel-Air for 1950. How did it do in its sophomore season?

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(Found In) Fall River Mills (Shasta County, California): 1952 Studebaker Commander Regal Starlight Coupe

img_2793There’s a price to pay for being independent. Possibly no manufacturer continually learned that lesson better/worse than Studebaker. With big ambitions yet more often than not modest budgets, the sensations of South Bend often shot for the stars but found little oxygen to continue their journeys beyond the stratosphere.

Where larger manufacturers could find cash to carry them into modest restyles and updates, smaller brands had to stick to guns they fired. This is where the story of the “first by far with a Postwar Car” 1947 Studebaker found itself 6 seasons later in 1952.

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(Found In) Tresle Glen (Oakland, California): 1959 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Holiday Hardtop Sedan

img_2284 Although the tidal change that the 1959 General Motors Full Sized line was, perhaps no marque needed that change more than Oldsmobile. The brand had gone from offering the most conservative offerings in 1957 to the most derided offerings for 1958.

Mocking came in the form of musical notes written on the chrome trim in comics of the period, mocking the excessive levels of trim of the loving motorboats on offer from Lansing that year. Fortelling a renewed appreciation for simplicity and decorum, the 1959 Oldsmobile line pointed in the direction of a series of ever increasingly elegant offerings for middle class buyers for the next decade.
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(Found In) The Tenderloin (San Francisco, California): 1959 Cadillac Series 62 4 Window Hardtop Sedan

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Whether you consider the 1959 Cadillac a zeitgeist or stereotype on wheels; you’re right. No other car sums up the last theatrical breath of the middle decade of the last century to so many eyes like the cream crop cars from General Motors that paraded their proud feathers worldwide starting in the fall of 1958.

What they held, what they hid, was confidence and charisma in the absolutely ordinary. Beyond the wildness that might have been expected, they didn’t take as much of a risk as rivals that survived the decade did.

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(Found In) The Tenderloin (San Francisco, California): 1950 Imperial Deluxe Four Door Sedan

image (25).jpegWe’ve spoken earlier about the Imperial Image problem. From the introduction of the brand in 1926 through 1954, it was positioned as the most premium Chrysler. That problematic push towards the glass ceiling of luxury brands always saddled Imperials with the upper middle class respectability of the Chrysler brand. The challenge, alongside sharing a heavy commonality with Chrysler cars, was being accepted as a legit full luxury competitor to Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard.

Compared to early depression era Imperials, the last that feathered flamboyance on buyers, the first Post-War Imperials doubled down on sturdy, stodgy and secure engineering and styling. The Post-War do-it-yourself motto shifted the palate of the most premium Chryslers from limousines towards a push at self-actualized luxury that would lead to Imperial becoming a separate marque by mid-decade.

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(Found In) Lone Mountain (San Francisco, California): 1959 Mercury Park Lane Cruiser 4 Door Hardtop Sedan

image (11).jpegWe’ve discussed before how choosing the name Mercury for its middle class brand might have been FordMoCo’s biggest mistake. Selecting the celestial body known to astrologically put the most mix-ups in our lives was just right for conjuring up a make full of surprises and shadows.

This Mercury Retrograde we once again trace back to the heady times of 1959, from the alternate perspective of a top of the line Park Lane, all dressed in Black. Different in mission and purpose than the bare bones Monterey, we’ll see how it was supposed to be a giant killer and a bridge to bigger things, but had to retrace its steps under the age of McNamara.

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(Found In) The Tenderloin (San Francisco, California): 1956 (Packard) Clipper Super Sedan

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Although the voyage was almost over, the (Packard) Clipper was one mighty ship. Full of technological advances, most reserved for the premium revamped Packards of 1955, they should have held the tiller til brighter successes throughout the rest of the 1950’s.

Many factors prevented their efforts at buoying the fleet of Packards while exploring the Medium-Price field against Oldsmobiles, Buicks, Chryslers and Mercuries. All but in name, they were the final formal Packards, and some of the finest to boot.
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(Found In) Temescal (Oakland, California): 1957 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket 88 Holiday Hardtop Four Door Sedan

image (22)Rockets start to fall back to the earth after they pierce their way into outer space. That’s pretty much the legacy of Oldsmobile during the second half of the 50’s. As the Overhead Valve V8 performance revolution Oldsmobile inspired in 1949 spread to all popular priced cars in the middle of the decade, the laurel brand of Lansing found itself in a dilemma.

Where was the athlete to go when so many challengers to the crown were on the track and field? Was it mission impossible to attempt to maintain the performance crown? Was adding luxury and maintaining consistency the key to longevity, success and praise?

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