Wednesday, July 15, 2009
If you live in the United States and are not Amish or a member of the Henry Ford family, you know exactly what I am talking about. It may be the closest thing to a universal phrase.
Even when I was in Turkey I ran into the 1957 Chevy—thousands of them. A Turkish company bought the dies from General Motors and makes “new” 1957 Chevys. Your choice for an auto in Turkey is the classic Murat (a Turkish version of the Fiat coupe), a Mercedes or a 1957 Chevy.
While a student at Warwick High School I drove a 1952 Ford. But I still knew what a 1957 Chevy was. And in those days you could tell a 1952 Ford from a 1957 Chevy. 1957 was also the time of the Plymouth fin wars. Fins were in and Plymouth took them to the extreme, particularly in the Sport Fury. That same year, Mercury added a distinctive tail that was highlighted by a gouged out section leading back to the slanted taillights. Sears stopped making the Allstate in 1954 so three years later no one remembered them.
The distinctive Buick portholes were elongated in 1957 and the car still had the image of being the “Doctor’s car”. Cadillac started the fin wars back in 1951 but it was not until 1959 that the shark’s dorsal would dominate the line. Even though they were technically smaller than the Plymouth, the 1957 Dodge Dart fins were the most obvious. The Dart actually looked like a dart. The DeSoto looked a bit like the Plymouth but it still was unique enough to be its own marquee.
The Edsel, with its distinctive “horse-collar” grille and 50-pound speedometer would be introduced in 1958 with unprecedented advertising and fanfare. Ford gave up on the line just a few years later. The 1957 Hudson Hornet would be the last of its breed but many of us will never forget the gaudy grille side swoosh.
The 1957 Lincoln looked like it had a jet air intake just behind the front door, leading back into a fin that could well have been the stabilizer for a “modern” jet airplane. That year the Nash stuck with its poor imitation of an upside-down bathtub. By 1958 they were no longer producing the brand. They did, however, keep making the mini-Nash, the Metropolitan, well into the next decade.
Just say Studebaker and the images of a small, sleek, and totally unique vehicle flash to mind.
So what’s my point? Those of us who lived during the 50s and 60s remember our cars. We remember the distinctiveness of the nameplate. We remember who rode in which car to which dance or which game or whichever. Can someone tell me the difference between a 2001 Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Saturn or even an Oldsmobile for that matter? The most accurate comment that comes to mind is the politically incorrect, “They all look the same to me.”
(Note: This column appeared in the Lititz Record-Express in 2001 but even with the recent changes in the auto industry it rings true today.)