It’s hard to imagine these days, but in February 1942, the United States ended all consumer automobile production. The factories that had, just weeks earlier, been cranking out sedans and convertibles were quickly converted to wartime makers of tanks, airplanes, jeeps, bombs and firearms. Once the Allies won World War II in 1945, car companies retooled again, reinventing their vehicles to satisfy Americans’ new tastes and booming wealth. This quiz is where the rubber meets the road — how much do you really know about the cars of the 1950s?
It’s been the better part of a century since the '50s and, back then, cars were very different creatures. They were mostly big, heavy, gas-guzzling contraptions loaded with chrome and wild fixtures like broad tails, big lights and aggressive lines that still seemed futuristic in many ways. Do you remember the flashiest and most expensive cars of this decade? Ford and Chevy competed to become America’s top manufacturer. Cadillac fussed over high-end details. The Chrysler New Yorker and Buick Super were fantastic cars. And nearly forgotten brands like Edsel and Studebaker were still on the road, their fates unwritten.
Try not to crash and burn as you veer towards the on-ramp of this ‘50s car quiz!
In 1952, GM introduced the Autronic Eye in some of their models. What did the Autronic Eye do?
Braked in response to obstacles
Automatically dimmed the headlights
In '52, GM began equipping Cadillac and Oldsmobile models with the Autronic Eye, with other divisions of the company offering it the following year. It had a light-sensing phototube that automatically dimmed the vehicle's high beams in response to oncoming traffic.
Whose cars came with the TorqueFlite automatic transmission, which used a torque converter and the Simpson gearset together?
In 1956, Chrysler developed the TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission, phasing out its two-speed PowerFlite transmission. It soon began equipping some of its cars — like the big New Yorker — with TorqueFlite. That particular car also boasted a massive 325 hp engine.
The Powerglide transmission, one of the first affordable automatics available, was launched in 1950. Which company introduced it?
Designed by GM, Powerglide, a two-speed automatic transmission, was introduced in higher-end Chevrolet models in 1950. It was quickly added to other models and by mid-decade more than half of all new Chevrolets sold offered Powerglide. The Powerglide was the industry's first affordable automatic transmission for consumer cars.
What was an unmistakable feature of the 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville?
Huge sharp tailfins
The 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville had crazy-huge tailfins. The fins had big, protruding bullet taillights for a racy effect, giving this car a truly iconic look that the '61 redesign toned down quite a bit.
Initially running from 1955 until 1997, the Ford Thunderbird was meant to be a direct competitor to which vehicle?
Ford scored a hit with its big Thunderbird. Although it was originally designed to compete against the Chevrolet Corvette, a rear seat was added as part of the vehicle's second generation redesign in 1958 and it was marketed as a "personal luxury car," rather than a "sports car," and sales skyrocketed.
Do you remember this car whose production ended in 1958? The Super was a full-sized car from _____.
From 1940 to 1958 (except during the WWII), the Buick Super was popular on America's highways. Unlike the angular designs that many cars of the day had, the Super was curvier, sometimes with a slanted backside that made it look faster.
Which brand made an ultra-famous car in 1957 that shared its name with the company?
In 1957, Chevy unleashed what became one of its most iconic models — the '57 Chevy. It is easily one of the most recognizable cars of the 20th century, featured in movies, commercials and a whole lot more.
BMW made fewer than 300 of these before pulling the whole project. What kind of vehicle was the 507?
The BMW 507, made from '56 to '59, was a snappy roadster. Built in Germany, it was originally intended to be exported to the U.S. It turned out to be a horribly expensive project however — one that BMW ended after making fewer than 300 cars.
With its third, fourth, fifth, and sixth generations running during the '50s, the Series 62 was a luxurious full-sized car from which company?
Cadillac made its luxurious Series 62 from 1940 until 1964. Mid-'50s versions got noticeably sleeker and lower, and they had prominent window reveal molding. The Series 62 reached its peak in 1956, accounting for more than 86% of all Cadillacs sold.
In 1949, which company unveiled its Coupe de Ville which ran throughout the '50s?
Originally a trim level for the 1949 Cadillac Series 62, the Coupe de Ville — and its 1956 sister series, the Sedan de Ville — were made a separate series in 1959. The final Coupe de Villes rolled off the assembly lines in the 1993 model year, and the last DeVille hit the streets in 2005, replaced by the Cadillac DTS.
In 1958, which company began making the completely doomed Edsel automobiles?
Named for Henry Ford's son, Ford began making Edsel-branded cars for the 1958 model year. The cars' strange styling immediately turned off reviewers and the disastrous marketing of the line is widely regarded as how NOT to market a product. Edsel wound up costing the company an estimated $250 million dollars (nearly $2 billion adjusted to today's dollars) with some estimates rising as high at $400 million.
Giving NASCAR drivers a significant advantage over the smaller 265, the Super Turbo Fire V8 (AKA the 283) was an option in which brand's cars?
In 1955, Chevy began offering its now-legendary small-block V8 engine, the Turbo Fire V8. Two years later, the high-performance version of this V8 was released. The 283, aka the "Super Turbo Fire V8," was a favorite of hot rodders.
Known for having the first pop-up headlights in North American markets, DeSoto cars were made by which parent company?
From 1929 to 1961, Chrysler made its popular DeSoto cars, including the Firedome, Fireflite and Firesweep models. DeSoto cars were eventually discontinued when Chrysler faced financial troubles in the '60s thanks to the 1958 recession and a weakened network of Chrysler dealer networks.
Which American manufacturer beat out Ford for the highest number of units sold in the 1950s?
Chevrolet sold over 13 million vehicles during the 1950s, beating out Ford by more than 1 million cars sold. With no where near this number of units sold, third place belongs to Plymouth with over 5.5 million vehicles sold in the fifties.
Which of these car companies sold the most vehicles in the 1950s?
In the 1950s, Chevy was tops in sales with more than 13 million cars sold, winning the auto boom race. Ford was nearly neck-and-neck with Chevy, with almost 12.3 million sold. Plymouth came in third with 5.6 million. Buick (4.8 million) and Oldsmobile (3.7 million) rounded out the top five.
The Buick LeSabre wasn't the first of its name, but it was the first regular production vehicle of its name. When did it debut?
While there was a concept car with the same name made by General Motors in 1951, the first generation of the Buick LeSabre was introduced in 1959. It underwent major restyling the next year, and the next generation of this full-size car was again revamped and rolled out in 1961. The line lasted until the end of its eighth generation in 2005.
Replaced in 1958 by the Delray, the Chevrolet One-Fifty was mostly made for which market?
In the mid-'50s, the Chevrolet 150 was an economy variant meant for fleets, although it was a popular police car too. Because of this, GM didn't spend much time or money advertising it to the mass market.
How many cylinders would you expect in a Chrysler Saratoga?
The Chrysler Saratoga line got its start in 1939, and it was made intermittently until 1960 for the U.S. market (1965 in Canada). Late in its run, it was positioned between the company's Windsor and the top-end New Yorker. The line was revived from 1989 through 1995.
While seatbelts were optional features in Nash and Ford models, which foreign manufacturer made seatbelts standard in their vehicles?
Swedish inventor Nils Bohlin worked for Volvo and came up with the three-point safety belt that we use in vehicles today. This improved belt was introduced to Volvo as standard equipment in 1959, four years after Saab made safety belts standard in 1955.
Originally launched as a convertible that did not have a detachable roof, what one trait defined the entire Chevy Bel Air line?
It was truly ugly.
It was luxurious.
Started in 1950, the first two years of Bel Airs referred to a unique body shape (a two-door hardtop, as opposed to the Styleline and Fleetline models). In 1953, the name was changed to denote a top-of-the-line trim level for many body styles. Premium Bel Air models were equipped with all the extras, loaded to meet the demands of people who wanted a fancy Chevy.
The Blue Flame Six was an engine "with perfect combustion" that went into cars from which company?
Chevy's Blue Flame Six, an evolution of the Blue Flame straight-6 engine first developed in 1929, was essentially an interim engine — a V6 meant to hold the line while Chevy made a new small-block V8 masterpiece. The Blue Flames wound up in many Corvettes, and the very first ones topped out at 150 hp.
What inspired carmakers to experiment with car body materials outside of strong metals?
WWII gas rationing
The Korean Conflict
While most cars before the fifties were made from heavy steel, car makers started to look for lighter and less expensive alternatives during the Korean Conflict of 1950-1952. Some manufacturers experimented with wood, aluminum, magnesium, and some fiberglasses, and in 1953 Chevy produced 300 Corvettes with fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) panels as the biggest application of these experiments at the time.
Which company created its own phonograph for its luxury line of cars, complete with proprietary seven-inch records?
Called the Highway Hi-Fi, Chrysler debuted this in their luxury cars just one year before having transistor radios as an option in their vehicles. The Highway Hi-Fi was not a popular source of entertainment, and it was quickly discontinued.
What year of the 1950s had the lowest number of North American vehicles produced?
Surprisingly, the '50s did not see steady growth for manufacturing vehicles. The peak of manufacturing hit in 1955 with over 9.6 million cars made in America, but declined to a low of less than 6 million made in 1958.