Coolest, Most Iconic Cars of the '50s

1955 Ford Thunderbird

1955 Ford Thunderbird by JOHN LLOYD (CC BY)

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
1955 Ford Thunderbird
1955 Ford Thunderbird by JOHN LLOYD (CC BY)

Best of the ’50s

The 1950s welcomed a slew of car models, contributing to a postwar boom of nearly 60 million vehicles. The decade’s drivers got lots of chrome, flashy taillights, wraparound windshields, and those beloved sharp tail fins, with the design of many makes mimicking rocket ships. Automakers such as Ford, Chevy, Cadillac, and Buick all introduced tons of iconic rides during the decade, and we chose some of the best to talk about below.  

1950 Chevrolet 3100
1950 Chevrolet 3100 by dave_7 (CC BY)

1950 Chevrolet 3100

Introduced: 1947

As part of General Motors’ historic line of Advance Design light trucks, the 1950 Chevy 3100 represented a newly contemporary postwar look for the manufacturer. The truck was wildly popular as a result, with more than 227,000 half-ton pickups produced during 1950. For power, the pickups had Chevy’s OHV straight-six and a 216.5 cubic-inch 12-volt engine that was rated at 92 horsepower. The next year marked Chevy’s transition from a 6-volt engine to a 12-volt, allowing for a better charging system and an engine that was easier to start in colder weather. These legendary trucks are still sought today, to be turned into everything from intimidating rat rods to sleek lowriders. 

1951 Ford Country Squire
1951 Ford Country Squire by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

1951 Ford Woody Wagon

Introduced: 1929

By 1951, woody wagons had been around for more than two decades, but that didn’t stop manufacturers from cranking out new renditions. Ford’s 1951 Woody Wagon was put together with individual pieces of planking rather than the traditional solid pieces. The 1951 Ford and Mercury wagons broke woody production records and set an all-time high. They were also the most expensive models in their lines. But what really cemented 1951 woodies in history was the fact that it was the last year Ford and Mercury models used real wood for the bodies. 

1952 Buick Roadmaster
1952 Buick Roadmaster by JOHN LLOYD (CC BY)

1952 Buick Roadmaster

Introduced: 1936

During the 1950s, everyone could identify a Buick with ease thanks to the little portholes near the front fenders. Buick’s chief designer Ned Nickles tried to go even bolder for the 1952 Roadmaster, introducing fins. He also mounted small, colored lights inside his own ‘52 Roadmaster — and managers of the Flint, Michigan, plant were so awestruck that it’s surprising it didn’t become the new standard.

For more fun auto trivia, please sign up for our free newsletters.

Dodge Power Wagon
Dodge Power Wagon by Al_HikesAZ (CC BY-NC)

1952 Dodge Power Wagon

Introduced: 1946

The Power Wagon might be Dodge’s most iconic contribution to the world of trucks. The four-wheel-drive, medium-build Power Wagon was unveiled as a military truck in 1946 and later reintroduced to civilians. The ’52 model was part of the Second Series, with features including a bedside formed by an efficient stamping process and curved stake pockets on the sides of the truck. But the most influential design element starting with the 1952 model was a Willock chassis swivel perfect for navigating challenging terrain, included on just 100 models between 1952 and 1958.

1953 Ford F-100 Pick-Up
1953 Ford F-100 Pick-Up by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

1953 Ford F-100

Introduced: 1953

Ford unveiled the F-100 pickup truck this year to commemorate its 50th anniversary (and had a horn button featuring a special gold rim saying “50th Anniversary 1903-1953”). The truck, designed for the working class, had a 239 cubic-inch V-8 engine rated for 130 horsepower and 214 foot-pounds of torque. 

1953 Hudson Hornet
1953 Hudson Hornet by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

1953 Hudson Hornet

Introduced: 1951

Known for having a lower center of gravity, the 1953 Hudson Hornet was prominent in NASCAR stock car racing during the early ’50s. The car had a unique design that made it popular with consumers too, adding up to more than 27,000 models sold during 1953. The four-door sedan had a 5-liter, naturally aspirated petrol engine and a three-speed manual transmission.

Related: From Bootleggers to Checkered Flags: The History of NASCAR

1953 Corvette
1953 Corvette by Cindy Cornett Seigle (CC BY-NC-SA)

1953 Chevrolet Corvette

Introduced: 1953

It doesn’t get much more iconic than the Corvette and the 1953 model marking its debut. The ’Vette was one of the first fiberglass cars on the market, making for a lightweight ride powered by a six-cylinder engine dubbed the “Blue Flame” that was rated for 150 horsepower. While these cars are now among the most famous models in existence, the first model year saw only 300 units produced. Around 225 remain today — so rare that they sell for nearly $100,000. But that’s chump change compared with what the oldest existing model went for at the Barrett-Jackson auction in early 2020: The third model ever made sold for a whopping $1.1 million.

Related: 15 Legendary Corvettes We'd Love to Drive

1953 Buick Skylark - blue - svr
1953 Buick Skylark - blue - svr by Rex Gray (CC BY)

1953 Buick Skylark

Introduced: 1953

Released as part of Buick’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, the 1953 Buick Skylark is a favorite among car enthusiasts due to its unique design of striking, sharp angles. Its wraparound windshield gave it a futuristic look different from any car on the market, which didn’t keep it from being a popular ride for families. The debut Skylark model didn’t just look cool — its engine was rated for 180 horsepower while weighing a whopping 4,400 pounds. The ’53 Skylark had a 30-gallon fuel tank. 

1954 Ford Crestline Skyliner
1954 Ford Crestline Skyliner by Herranderssvensson (CC BY-SA)

1954 Ford Crestline

Introduced: 1952

This was the last model year for Ford’s short-lived Crestline model. The ’54 brought welcomed styling updates and trim changes, including four-door sedan and Skyliner options. The Skyliner was a two-door, hardtop model with a signature tinted “acrylic glass” panel on the roof’s front section. The 1954 Crestline sold more than 13,000 units.

1955 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud
1955 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud by 111 Emergency (CC BY)

1955 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud

Introduced: 1955

It doesn’t get much more stylish and swanky than a Rolls-Royce, and 1955 featured one of the manufacturer's greatest creations: the Silver Cloud. The luxury car shifted the automaker away from its signature boxy design but remained big and a showcase for the iconic large front grille. The Silver Cloud was built for comfort and speed — it had power steering and air conditioning and offered a 4.9-liter straight-six to a 6.2-liter V8 for engine options, reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.

Related: The Most Stunning Rolls-Royce Models (and 2 Duds)

1955 Porsche 550 Spyder - 2012 Windsor Concours of Elegance
1955 Porsche 550 Spyder - 2012 Windsor Concours of Elegance by Dave Rook (CC BY-NC-SA)

1955 Porsche 550 Spyder

Introduced: 1953

Sure, the '55 Porsche 550 Spyder was renowned for its futuristic appearance, but what cemented it in car history was the part it played in the death of actor James Dean — he infamously crashed his Spyder in 1955 while traveling to a sports car racing event. Dean wasn’t the only celebrity who wanted in on the movie-star quality looks of the sleek ride; Elvis had one, too.

Chevrolet Bel Air 1955
Chevrolet Bel Air 1955 by Ermell (CC BY-SA)

1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air

Introduced: 1950

Chevy’s Bel-Air is one of the most well-known classic cars today, and its ’55 model is so iconic that it’s widely referred to as “the ’55 Chevy.” For the model year, Chevy showcased a few prominent changes, including two-speed electric windshield wipers, an improved chassis, and wraparound windshield. Plus, 1955 marked Chevy’s reintroduction of the V-8 engine. It was pretty well-received — there were more than 800,000 units sold.

Related: Legendary and Iconic Chevys Through the Decades

1955 Ford Thunderbird
1955 Ford Thunderbird by JOHN LLOYD (CC BY)

1955 Ford Thunderbird

Introduced: 1954

The 1955 Thunderbird was Ford’s quintessential luxury roadster, setting the precedent for years to come. Ford built the first Thunderbird after the Corvette was unveiled at the 1953 Auto Show, and it proved a worthy rival with a lighter frame and a V-8 engine. The ’55 two-door convertible could reach speeds up to 115 miles per hour and generated upward of 200 horsepower.

1956 Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwing
1956 Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwing by Sicnag (CC BY)

1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

Introduced: 1952

With flashy gull-wing doors, the 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL had an unmatched interior among luxury models of the time, with plenty of room and plush leather seats. It was one of the fastest cars for the model year, too, using direct-injection engine technology to boost power. The 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder engine was rated for 215 horsepower and could reach up to 138 mph.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible by Sicnag (CC BY)

1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air

Introduced: 1950

The Bel-Air was so legendary we have to mention two model years. The ’57 model looks like an entirely different car from the ’55. In addition to flashy tailfins and the staple big front end, it had some rather luxurious features for the era, including air conditioning and a stereo system. In addition to its one-of-a-kind style, it had a hard-to-rival 283 cubic-inch Super Turbo-Fire V8 engine that made it one of the most powerful roadsters around.

1957 DeSoto Fireflite Sportsman
1957 DeSoto Fireflite Sportsman by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

1957 DeSoto Fireflite Sportsman

Introduced: 1955

The 1957 DeSoto Fireflite Sportsman took a page out of the Bel-Air’s book and featured sharp, classy tailfins, but its sculpted, curvy body made for a unique, sleek look that car enthusiasts gravitated toward. The flashy ride wasn’t lacking in the power department either — its 330 cubic-inch V8 motor was rated for 230 horsepower.

1957 Oldsmobile Super 88 Holiday
1957 Oldsmobile Super 88 Holiday by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

1957 Oldsmobile Super 88

Introduced: 1949

Oldsmobile upped the power for the Super 88 for the 1957 model year. Despite being a solid, heavy midrange sedan, the car had a 371 cubic-inch Rocket V8 that churned out 277 horsepower. Coupled with its classy appearance, it’s no wonder the four-door vehicle was such a hot commodity.

1958 Plymouth Fury
1958 Plymouth Fury by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

1958 Plymouth Fury

Introduced: 1956

This next car is a movie star — of Stephen King’s “Christine.” In the film, the ’58 Fury was an evil car (named Christine) that kills a bunch of teens after their ringleader defaces her. There were 24 cars used during filming, since they were crashed, set on fire, and crushed. Today, there are only three “Christines” remaining, estimated to be worth $400,000 to $500,000.

Related: 27 Most Iconic Movie and TV Cars

1959 Cadillac Series 63 Coupe deVille
1959 Cadillac Series 63 Coupe deVille by Sicnag (CC BY)

1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville

Introduced: 1949

The 1959 Coupe de Ville was one of the most beautiful cars ever made, with eye-catching tailfins and a sleek body style. It had power doors, windows, and seats, making it one of the most luxurious models of the ’50s. Under the hood, the Coupe de Ville sported a 390 cubic-inch V-8 engine that pushed out 325 horsepower. Plenty of celebrities got their hands on this sweet ride, including Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Michael Jackson.

Ghostbusters ECTO-1
Ghostbusters ECTO-1 by relux. (CC BY-SA)

1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor

Introduced: 1959

“Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” The 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor had a unique appearance, and only around 400 models were made. Most know it as the Ectomobile from the iconic “Ghostbusters” series of films — making it truly an icon.

Related: Classiest Cadillacs Ever Made