The North American economy and social environment was on a wartime
footing by 1940 and though history books show the second world war concluding in
August of 1945 that is not what happened. To mobilise a major portion of the world's
population, to accept the consequences and hardship of war, is a major task and it
The forces that shape the economy and propel it forward are complex and with the
second world war having followed so close on the heels of the First War it was understandable
that both industry and the population fully expected more turmoil and perhaps all
out war. The soldiers were arriving home from Europe and the "Cold War"
with the Soviet Union was already a reality.
The real threat of thermonuclear conflict was a constant reminder as Britain
tried to mop up what was left of its cities, Canada and United States were preparing
for World War III. The jet age was upon us and Korea seemed to be a full scale
rehearsal for the big one. Fighter planes, bombers and bombs were in the news. Not
just on radio, but before every movie we watched MovieTone News and saw another
nuclear bomb go off obliterating yet another island in the Pacific or vapourised
another patch of Nevada desert.
The baby boom, a natural consequence of war had taken place during the war years
but surprisingly because of the continued acceptance of impending war, continued
to the end of the fifties. My mother would shudder as a rail car of scrap iron rumbled
along in a train, as to her, that was symptom of war preparations.
I am trying to give you some idea of what was happening and what might explain the
incredible proliferation of automobile designs between 1950 and 1969. That era saw
the major manufacturers ram out new models each year, not just sheet metal changes,
but in many cases whole concepts and even different makes. The public expecting the
world to end any time later tonight bought cars and more cars. From 1958 onward we
changed cars in our family almost every year and we were merely keeping pace with
The design and construction of motor vehicles was benefiting from the invention and
advances made during the war. Most cars and pickups were just a variation on a frame,
with a motor, transmission and rear end, a cab with doors and fenders stuck on the
body to catch the mud from the tires. In 1949 Ford and General Motors
began integrating the whole machine into a single structure while Chrysler
having some market problems did not get a fully integrated body onto the market until
Oddly enough, the new Chrysler products of fifty-five were less than spectacular
sellers and using the basic design Chrysler brought out new designs in 1956
that were a full blown effort to catch the spirit of the time.
The image of the jet aircraft was moved to the street and for the first time cars
were given aircraft tails. Ford and General Motors had hinted at these
designs on several models but Chrysler was into tail fins.
We spotted this remarkable base line model on a trailer yesterday and it has an amazing
perfect body. Though there were innovations on the fifty-six Plymouth and
Dodge the main thing was the design and it was indeed radical. The following
year General Motors had tail fins on nearly everything they made and Ford
which always had themes in its designs, added token fins in fifty-six and by-passed
the fad in fifty-eight opting for the turbo look, then the fifty-nine Ford
was give massive jet looking exhaust tail lights.
Chrysler had set the style trend and though the fifty-six vehicles were not
exceptional performers, they decided to go for it with even more radical design in
fifty-seven when their tail fins no longer were straight lines, but actually bumped
upward to what seemed almost shoulder high.
This example of the fifty-six is a very spartan car, the more elaborate and expensive
models were decorated in chrome inside and out. But recall that an early 50s Chrysler
product had an expensive fake wood grained dashboard with the centre radio and
controls dripping in solid chrome, this bare interior shows how radical a design
At some point an owner put in a stick shift in this car, but this vehicle in that
pre-restorative phase, so this one has great potential to be returned to what it