Ford was caught off guard when Chevrolet introduced the Corvette in 1953. Although the Corvette was a commercial failure and didn’t earn any money for GM, it was extremely successful for promotional purposes. Also, it was a valuable as a halo car for General Motors. And that is why Ford wanted their own version to capitalize on the trend.
So, in 1955, Ford presented the Thunderbird. Even though Ford presented it as a sports car, it was clear the Thunderbird was not one. The car had two seats and sporty looks, but it rode on a standard platform with a comfortable suspension. And Ford filled the interior with lots of creature comforts. This was Ford’s first personal luxury car, but others would follow.
However, Ford missed the mark with the Thunderbird. They failed to introduce a proper sports car to rival the Corvette but managed to create a sales hit. In fact, the T-Bird outsold the Corvette, becoming one of Ford’s best earners in the late â50s.
Today, just a small percentage of car enthusiasts know about the Hudson car company. But it was one of the dominant forces in the economy car class during the 1950s. Hudson was one of the companies that formed AMC in the late â50s. However, before the merger, Hudson tried to offer the Italia, which was a luxury car to American buyers.
The famous company, Carrozzeria Touring, designed and manufactured the car in Milan, Italy. And the Hudson Italia was a luxury coupe they built on a standard Hudson Hornet platform. It even featured the same suspension and drivetrain. But Carrozzeria Touring gave it a specific look with its signature “superleggera” construction technique. This technique made it lighter and more nimble than the Hornet.
Unfortunately, the finished product was expensive at over $4,000. That price was more than the Cadillac Coupe DeVille. However, its limited production, long waiting period to ship from Italy, and lack reputation on the luxury car marked sealed its fate. The company only made 26 and the production lasted from 1953 to 1954.
Chrysler Ghia Specials
The story of those Chrysler Specials the Italian coach building company Ghia built is interesting and unique in automotive history. In the early ’50s, the American car industry was just starting to promote those wild concept cars. They were busy introducing new jet-influenced shapes in their production models.
But Chrysler wanted to offer some several elegant concepts, all of which drew attention from the crowds. Interestingly, those Chryslers were fully operational prototypes they built on standard car chassis and drivetrains. Several of Chrysler’s top managers realized there was potential for a limited production of those prestigious coupes.
However, they need to work with Ghia because they had already designed and produced several concept cars. So, in 1951 they presented the first Chrysler Special they called the K-301. And it continued with several other models until 1955. But Chrysler Specials from the early â50s weren’t production models since Ghia produced and assembled them at the request of wealthy owners.
And Chrysler sold its concept cars with regular technology to people mesmerized by the sensual lines. So, in four years, they build just 18 cars. But they highly customized them to each customer’s wishes. Also, they built all of them in Italy.
Chevrolet Corvette C1
The introduction of the Chevrolet Corvette was the biggest automotive news for 1953. After all, nobody expected Chevrolet to build and market such an exotic car. Suddenly, there was a new roadster with incredible features from a mid-class manufacturer with no sports car experience. But despite all that, the first Corvette was a well-designed and executed model.
The most interesting thing about the new Corvette was the fiberglass body. Back in the early â50s, plastic was still the material of the future, so they rarely used it in the industry. In fact, the Corvette was the first car with a fully plastic body. Also, Chevrolet was one of the pioneers of fiberglass construction. This incredible innovation gave the Corvette its lightweight construction.
And from that time onward, they made the `Vette body out of fiberglass. Under the hood was an inline six engine they called the “Blue Flame.” It featured a 3.9-liter displacement and a modest 136 HP rating. The engine came from Chevrolet’s standard lineup although they equipped it with three Carter carburetors.
But, the Chevrolet engineers tried to keep the cost down by borrowing mechanical components from other vehicles to use on the Corvette. With a price of $3,490, the 1953 Corvette was expensive, but it was less than a Jaguar XK120 or a Ferrari 166. Despite the big interest from the public during the first year, they only made 300 Corvettes, all in white with red interiors.
Packard was always a luxury brand, famous for heavy limousines and comfortable sedans. But back in 1956, they tried to enter the personal luxury market with their Caribbean model. In those days, Packard was facing bankruptcy and a loss of sales. So, the company was eager to find new customers any way they could.
For 1956, Packard introduced the biggest V8 engine available in America. It was the 374 V8 with 310 HP it produced with the help of high compression heads and dual quad carburetors. However, despite all the power, the Caribbean wasn’t so fast since the car was heavy and comfort-oriented.
1959 Lincoln Continental
Despite the failure of the 1956 Continental Mk II, Lincoln continued to offer big, luxurious cars. And for the 1959 model year, they presented the Continental two-door sedan. It came with enormous dimensions and a 430 V8 engine. Interestingly, the car had a huge 130-inch wheelbase.
These dimensions meant it was one of the longest vehicles Ford ever produced. Also, they filled it with all the latest luxury items and creature comforts.
The Panther was basically a concept car with a stylish fiberglass body. They built it on a regular Packard chassis with an interesting drivetrain configuration. But although Packard had its V8 engines, the Panther used an older style, straight eight motors. However, they added a supercharged set up that helped deliver a hefty 275 HP.
Since the car was a light roadster with a fiberglass body and 275 HP, it delivered a lively performance by the day’s standards. The company made four examples, but only two are known to survive. Unfortunately, this move didn’t help Packard. So, after a few years, this once mighty company closed its doors for good.
Dodge La Femme
The La Femme, which is French for “woman,” was an interesting one year model from Dodge. They designed it for their lady buyers. So, it featured the equipment and color choices other Dodges didn’t have. Basically, the La Femme was a regular 1955 to 1956 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer with a special purse.
The La Femme accommodated makeup, a pack of cigarettes and a mirror because these were the usual contents of a purse back then. The color choices were pastel to match the dresses of the year, as well as women’s tastes. Even the seat upholstery featured a specially-designed feminine pattern.
1958 Imperial Crown Southampton Coupe
In the late 1950s, Packard was gone, so Lincoln and Cadillac had Chrysler’s Imperial brand as their main rival. Imperials were exquisite cars they built with a high regard to details, fit and finish. And so it was the same for the 1958 Imperial Crown Southampton Coupe.
With its fantastic styling and a long list of standard equipment, the Imperial was one of the best personal luxury cars in 1958. Also, it featured a powerful 413 V8 engine under the hood.
Studebaker Golden Hawk
Studebaker disappeared in 1966 after years of trying to stay relevant on the American market. But in the mid-50s, it was one of the best names in the business featuring a lineup of interesting models. But one of the best Studebakers they ever built was the elegant yet fast 1956 Golden Hawk. This car wasn’t as exclusive as some other models on this list.
However, it was one of the finest examples of the personal luxury class in that period. Conceived as a cool-looking personal luxury coupe, the Golden Hawk had a Packard-derived 352 V8 engine with 275 HP, which was impressive for the day. The performance was also significant with a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of fewer than nine seconds.
This was a road trip through the exclusive world of American luxury coupes from the ’50s. If you found your favorite, you’d better start looking fast. These classic cars are becoming more rare with each passing day.