This 1936 Ford hot rod was yet another car shot at the 2016 Fleetwood Country Cruize-In. This would be considered more of an ‘old school’ rod, as the engine used is a Ford flathead, as opposed to one of the more modern 1950s OHV engines. As Autoweek noted…
“hot rodders loved this relatively simple engine. Hundreds of manufacturers offered speed equipment for flatheads. Bored and stroked, with wilder camshafts and multiple carburetors, hot flatheads ruled street and strip until the mid-’50s, even holding their own against bigger, heavier Cadillac and Chrysler overhead-valve designs”
With the engine compartment open, the red flathead drew you to the car. The flathead engine was introduced in 1932 and offered consumers V8 power but at an affordable price. The first version was 221 cubic inches and is identified by it’s 21 studs that hold the head to the block. This version, however, would be the later 24-stud model, introduced in 1939 for the Mercury line (and factory-installed in Ford beginning in 1946). The chrome nuts on the studs is a popular hot-rod style, as is the aftermarket Offenhauser heads. These finned-aluminum heads helped performance in different ways, not the least of which was the fins which allowed for slightly better cooling to alleviate the flatty’s notorious penchant for overheating. Of course, the chromed air cleaner assembly and ignition coil are also popular ‘bright parts’, and keen viewers will notice the addition of a modern electric fan ahead of the radiator to further aid cooling.
The Ford itself featured a piano-like mirror finish in black, with pinstripes in red to match those heads and engine.
As with all photos taken that day at Fleetwood, this was shot with my Nikon D3200, and my 18-55mm lens. The settings were ƒ4.5, 1/80 sec exposure and ISO 400. Topaz Adjust was instrumental in the post-processing to bring up the details in this image. The original shot is below.
One of the iconic American classic is the 1957 Chevy. Known as one of the ‘shoebox’ or ‘Tri-Five’ Chevies (along with the 1955 and 1956 models), it is among the most recognized and popular cars ever. General Motors introduced the new longer, lower and wider models in 1955, and when Chevrolet offered the new 265 cubic inch V8 (in addition to the old stovebolt 6 cylinder engine) in its handsome cars, it scored an instant hit. Chevrolet sold 1,775,952 of their full-size line (models 150, 210 and Bel Air) in the first year, followed by 1,623,376 for 1956. For 1957, Chevy sold a total 1,555,316 cars that year for well over 4,000,000 cars over 3 years (numbers taken from here). The old 6 engine was still the base offering, but the small block V8 was now 283 cubes, and the hottest ticket was the optional fuel injection which made 283 horsepower – 1 for each cubic inch!
This particular coupe was found in the hotel parking lot when I attended the 2014 Syracuse Nationals car show. Clad in primer and showing a number of scars from age, it fit in with a number of other rat rods and ‘unfinished’ cars that showed up. The crest has been shaved from the front of the hood, and much of the chrome on the grille and headlight bezels is rough, but the hood windsplit ornaments looked pretty fresh, and the 3 trim ‘D’s on the fender show this to be a top of the line Bel Air.
I shot this car with my Fuji FinePix S1500, which has a fixed lens. The settings were ƒ/5.0, 1/300 second shutter speed using ISO 64. It was an overcast evening, so there wasn’t much in the way of the normal June evening sunset. The original image capture is below, and you can see how using adjustments in Topaz Adjust really helped to bring out the details in the paint and chrome that the camera seemed not to show at first. The cracks and runs in the paint, the amount of pitting in the chrome, even the uneven quality of the primer is revealed in post processing.
I found this hot rodded 1936 Dodge at the 2014 Syracuse Nationals. Interestingly, Dodge used the ram as a hood ornament on it’s cars for many years, although now we know Ram is used exclusively on FCA’s truck line. The ram became something of a theme for me as I encountered other vintage Dodge cars and noticed how the styling of the ornament changed year to year.
In addition to the ram, I was drawn by the monochrome paint treatment on the formerly chrome grille, as well as the old-school look pinstripe work.
Shot with the Nikon D3200 and Nikkor 18-55 lens, I used ƒ/10, 1/400 shutter and ISO 100. The original image is below.
Fifties Flashback: The American Car by Dennis Adler published 1996, 2012 by Crestline Publishing 160 pages, hardcover
Purchased new from a book retailer.
Each decade of motorcar manufacture seems to have a personality to it. And when it comes to personality, the cars of 1950s have plenty, full of glitz, glamour and go-go-go! Dennis Adler’s Fifties Flashback: The American Car does a very good job exposing those big glitzy cars with great photos and a wealth of information. He describes not only the vehicles but gives a decent background to describe how these sometimes outlandish behemoths came to exist.
Adler’s first 2 chapters set the stage. The first chapter describes what was happening in the country. The post-war prosperity, the creation of the interstate system, the birth of rock’n’roll, the rise of the motor hotel and the notion of travel throughout the country for pleasure. But Adler also describes an idea that drove automotive design to new heights – planned obsolescence, the idea that the next model should look so great that this year’s model seems old and worn out. The next chapter, Adler fills in the automotive design background. He describes how the immediate post-war years saw warmed over pre-war designs until such time as manufacturers finally introduce the new sleeker, lower cars of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
From there, Adler does a nice job of covering some of the star cars from the ’50s. While the main focus is on the shiny chrome and sheer size of these cars, Adler includes a good amount of information covering performance and engineering, as well as some of the corporate intrigue, how personalities worked together (or didn’t) to steer design in one direction or another. Topics covered in some depth include the development of the GM ‘Dream Cars’ – the 1953 Corvette, Eldorado, Skylark and Fiesta; the engineering of the Ford Skyliner’s retractable metal roof; the development of the Corvette and Thunderbird as competing sports cars; and George Mason’s plan to merge 4 floundering companies to create American Motors.
Also of note, the book includes a number of quotes and insights from people such as Chuck Jordan, Dave Holls and Jack Telnack. These men were in the thick of automotive design during the 1950s, being directly involved with the development of a numbe rof these vehicles.
As enjoyable as this book is, I did find some things to quibble with.
There seems a bias towards cars made in the latter half of the decade. It’s somewhat understandable as there is a distinct change in styling from that was seen with the 1955 models. As many of the new post-war designs came in 1948-49, it makes sense that the aesthetic would carry on to mid-decade. Adler doesn’t completely ignore the pre-1955 cars – as said, the GM Dream Cars do get quite a bit of ink. But there’s little to see of cars like the 1950-51 Ford, the first Chev Bel Air, or the early 50s Chryslers.
Secondly, the Chrysler Corporation seems under-represented. The are not completely ignored, as the 1957 300C, 1957 DeSoto Adventurer and 3 of Exner’s Idea Cars show up. By comparison to the GM and Ford representation though, coverage is lacking. Yes, Chrysler styling prior to 1955 was very stodgy, but there is a real lack of Dodge, Plymouth and Imperial cars. In fact, while the 1957 300C gets a number of paragraphs, there’s nothing about how the famed C-300 came to be in 1955 when an Imperial front end was married up to a New Yorker wearing Windsor rear flanks.
Thirdly, the final chapter focuses on hot rods and customs, and it seems something of an afterthought. It’s a difficult chapter to describe. This book is certainly all about the factory styling, but any discussion about cars in the 1950s would have to include hot rods and customs which had a huge presence. It’s just that hot rodding and custom cars are such a big subject that the chapter seems inadequate. There are some nice cars shown, and the big names like Winfield and Barris and Roth show up, but it just doesn’t seem enough.
Overall, Denis Adler’s Fifties Flashback is a very enjoyable book that provides information and visual appear to drive you to seek out more. It’s really a flashback to a time when chrome was king and the automobile took hold as a major influence on American society.
Pros: good historical context and insider information, lots of great photos Cons: not much on cars from the early part of the decade, Chrysler seems under-represented Where to find it:Amazon, ebay, used bookstores, personal collections