Let's learn about Classic Culture to understand about Classic
Cars from 1945-1975
The Second World War to 1975 period, the first flickering of interest
were shown in classic motorcars. A variety of models are covered, from
those that many will have heard of, and the more unusual classic makes.
This section is a guide to the manufacturers making the world's best-loved
and most famous classic cars from 1945—1975. It spotlights the models
like the XK120 and Morris Minor that many will have heard of, while giving
more esoteric classics like the Iso Grifo and Fiat 130 Coupe a fair crack
of the whip. Some cars were classics from birth. Others earned the title.
Some earned it with outstanding dynamic qualities and advanced engineering;
some by sheer commercial success or conspicuous lack of it. Failures like
the Edsel or Austin Atlantic add colour to the motorcar's history. Their
stories show how even the top companies can get it wrong — and they
make great reading.
The 1970s was a difficult time for motoring, with oil crises,
escalating congestion, pollution issues and industrial troubles. Yet a
true golden age of cars began at this time, reaching full bloom in the
late 1980s and 90s, as cars became more rewarding to drive, leapt ahead
in technical terms and grew in design appeal.
We will also look at the evolution in dream-car design over
60 years. With the birth of car designers rather than pure engineers,
the door was open for them to express their visions of the future. These
cars are celebrated here as we look back at what fired the imaginations
of yesterday's creative minds and look to future creations, which will
address the current issues of congestion, energy consumption and pollution.
Today we're hooked
on nostalgia. As hopeless escapists, nothing feeds our need better than
an old car - a classic car. After the Second World War, the motorcar came
of age. As more and more people around the world took to the road, manufacturers
began to stretch the boundaries. The makers set styling, engineering and
safety trends in an increasingly competitive market: speeds increased;
styling and engineering became more adventurous; and many devices we take
for granted today, like disc brakes, four-wheel drive (4-WD) and automatic
transmission, became widely used.
The 1950s, 1960s and to an extent the 1970s were the most fertile period
for the motorcar, a classic era and a perfect breeding ground for the
classic car we cherish today, be it limousine or economy runabout, sports
car or apparently humdrum saloon.
EVOLUTION OF THE MOVEMENT
20th century draws to a close, we seem to look back as much as forward,
pining for what we were, as wee see it, better times. We can’t revisit
our Golden Age, but at least we can own and experience the material objects
that evoke it: clothes, music, films and cars – classic cars. Glamorous,
kitsch, humble or high bred; these mobile time warps powerfully conjure
up a particular period.
The hobby of preserving and collecting cars built after the Second World
War began to take shape in the early 1970s. Veteran (pre-1905), Edwardian
(pre-1919) and Vintage (pre-1931) cars — as defined by Britain's
Vintage Sports Car Club — have always been easy enough to categorize
but, by the end of the 1960s, post- war motorcars of the better kind were
coming of age. To call them simply "old cars" no longer seemed
appropriate: whether beautiful, fast or technically pre-eminent, the post-1945
car had at its best all the gravitas of the pre-war machinery. Slowly,
quietly, the "new Vintage" had arrived, filling the gap between
Vintage and modern for a new generation of enthusiasts.
One-marque clubs for well-bred sporting marques such as Aston and Bentley
had been around for years exalted makes felt the need to huddle together
round a common banner, many new guilds and _ registers sprouted. Traditionalists
had long with some historic complained that modern cars all "looked
the same", but in the 70s there was a gut feeling that the motorcar
had seen its best years as safety and pollution regulations made inroads
into designers' freedom. Styling, particularly in Britain, seemed to be
losing its way.
No wonder older cars began to look increasingly attractive. They were
plentiful, cheap, easy to work on and still very usable on increasingly
busy roads. Drive an old car and you made a statement about your individualism:
you weren’t prepared to become just another faceless, sterile tin
can on the bypass to oblivion or obsessed with keeping up with Joneses
in the yearly new-model scrum. It all came together in 1973 when a UK
magazine, Classic Cars, was launched.
The name “classic” stuck, a useful catch-all term for a sprawling,
ill-defined genre that in just 20 years or so has blossomed from an eccentric
pastime in to a multimillion-pound industry. Not much happened for about
ten years, until about 1982-83 when the nature of hobby began to change
dramatically. Slowly, under the noses of true enthusiasts, market forces
took hold as it dawned on investors that really prime machinery could
prove a fine hedge against inflation or an appreciating asset. Suddenly,
the market hardened as Americans came to Europe seeking prime collectables.
At first, gilt-edged pre-war hardware — Bentley, Bugatti, etc. —
set the pace in auction rooms but, by mid-decade, supercars of the 50s,
60s and 70s were hyped on their coat tails. Once affordable Ferraris,
Astons and Jaguar XKs and E-Types became "investor" cars, commodities
too expensive and precious to be driven (which was rather missing the
point). As the auction houses pulled even bigger numbers, hype went into
overdrive. Banks and finance companies offered loans to buy classics,
The increasing ranks of classic-car magazines bulged with advertising.
Enthusiast’s gentle hobby was turned an ugly brawl driven by greed.
Many found themselves with cars that were worth more than their houses,
machinery they were now too nervous to use. The boom couldn't last, fortunately.
The recession hit in 1989 and demand quickly fell.
Today, the investors are long gone, the market is stable and the cars
are where they should be —with enthusiasts. Though we are unlikely
to see such madness again, rare and high-calibre thoroughbred cars - especially
those with a racing pedigree or an interesting provenance – will
always be in strong demand. Fashion still has its part to play in the
lower echelons of the market, but those who bought Citroens and Jaguars
have learnt about the dedication required to run an old car. Some went
back to their moderns, others caught a lifelong bug.
In the beginning, cars were motorized horse carriage or, in the case of
the three-wheeled Benz of 1889, relied heavily on cycle technology. Most
cars were braked only by the rear wheel; steering, often by tiller, was
slow and ponderous. A shoulder-high centre of gravity threatened to tip
the car over. All this was containable at the 4 mph (6.4 kph) first allowed
in Britain for motor vehicles and not too scary at the 14mph (22.5 kph)
allowed by 1896, but as speeds rose, something had to be done. Makers
who introduced each refinement created classics along the way.
Excellence began with high-class cars such as the Rolls-Royce and Bentley.
Steadily, the technology filtered down to such humble transport as the
Austin Seven. By the start of the Second World War, bodies were generally
made of steel, sat on a separate chassis, and there were brakes all round.
Jaguar brought disc brakes to the world's notice at Le Mans in 1953; five
years later they appeared on Jaguar's road cars and soon every maker used
Four-wheel drive, with antilock brakes, was pioneered by Ferguson Formula.
It first appeared in a passenger car on the Jensen FF of 1966, along with
Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock brakes derived from aircraft technology. It was
expensive and complex — only 320 were built.
Overhead camshafts allow more direct operation of valves and a better
combustion-chamber shape. They were used on specialist racing cars such
as the Alfa Romeo and Bugatti from the 20s onwards and were introduced
to the mainstream in the straight-six XK engine in the 120 of 1948. Soon,
makers realized they could run double overhead camshafts and multivalent
Self-leveling was a standard feature of the futuristic DS launched in
1955 by Citroen. Even the cheaper 2CV had a modicum of leveling, because
front and rear suspension was interconnected by springs. The British Motor
Corporation (BMC) 1100 and 1800 of the 60s - and Minis of the period -
are interconnected hydraulically. Self-leveling was used at the tail end
of the Range Rover from its launch in 1970.
Front-wheel drive, used by BSA, Cord and Citroen since the 30s, did not
hit the mainstream until the Mini appeared in 1959. While scorned by purists,
this layout makes for safe, predictable handling and better packaging
— more interior room for a given size — than rear-driven counterparts.
All the while, chassis improvements and tyre technology shadowed each
other: Citroen's Traction-avant was the first car to use radial tyres,
the narrow and distinctively treaded Michelin X.
America thinks big
In America, spacious cars with powerful, six-and eight-cylinder engines
were common, even before the war. Makers loaded cars with every device
to take the work out of driving: automatic transmission, power steering,
power brakes, air conditioning, self-dipping headlamps. Engines, generally
under stressed by large capacity, showcased maintenance-free features
such as hydraulic tappets (initially used for quietness).
The following are technically important cars that made
history from the 1930s to the 1970s, and had a lasting impact on the industry.
Front-wheel drive and monocoque construction - in 1934! All this and unrivalled
ride and handling from low centre of gravity and all-independent-torsion
bar suspension came from the fertile mind of Andre Citroen.
Dante Giacosa's master-stroke, the Italian car for the masses, was the
Topolino. It was a full-sized car scaled down, with a tiny four-cylinder
engine but all-steel unitary construction and independent suspension.
(John Cooper plundered this for rear-engined racers.)
When launched to a stunned public in 1955, the DS looked like a spaceship.
Its incredible other-worldly body style by Flaminio Bertoni used easily-removable
outer panels; it had a glass-fibre roof and tail-lamps like rockets. A
pressurised, self-levelling gas and oil system replaced suspension springs,
and also pwered the brakes, steering, clutch and even gear change. Its
complexity scared off many buyers.
Alee Issigonis's revolutionary Mini of 1959 set the convention for every
small car since and is a strong candidate for the most significant car
of the 20th century. By mounting the engine transversely and making it
drive the front wheels (not a first: Alvis, sundry American companies
and Fiat had tried it before), Issigonis fitted space for four adults
into a package 10ft (3m) long.
To keep the driveline package very short, the gearbox sat under the engine,
in the sump. The use of a 10 in (25.5cm) wheel at each corner not only
minimized the encroachment of wheel-arch space into the passenger compartment
but, together with the direct rack-and-pinion steering and firm, rubber
suspension, took handling to new standards of "chuckability".
The Mini is still made to the same familiar specifications, although big
changes are predicted for the model in the new millenium.
The Mini has competed since it first appeared; most notable performances
were ace Paddy Hopkirk's wins in Alpine rallies in the 60s, his finest
moment being victory in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally. Minis still hold their
own in historic rallying in the 90s.
With its gorgeous, curvy, phallic shape derived from Malcolm Sayers's
Le Mans-winning D-Type racer, combined with a 3.8-litre version of the
classic XK engine, this is the car that epitomized the racy end of the
Swinging 60s. It was fantastic value at its 1961 launch price equivalent
of only four Minis — and early versions really would come near the
alleged top speed of 150mph (241kph). Forget the crunchy gearbox and unpredictable
brakes, this is one of the world's most desirable cars.
The Japanese had really arrived in 1969 with this "Big Healey"
beater. Its classic fastback shape has never been bettered by Japan, and
the strong, 2.4-litre straight-six engine made all the right noises. Good
handling came from its all-independent strut suspension and super performance
from its relatively light weight. Later cars - the 260 and 280Z —
became heavier and softer. As is so often the case, first is purest. This
is Japan's first classic and the world's best-selling sportscar.
are some of the most innovative and imaginative engineers from the world
A true innovator, Citroen followed his direction to produce cars that
led the world for refinement and technical innovation. His engineering
tour de force, the Traction-avant of 1934, was followed up by his utilitarian,
masterstroke, the 2CV of 1948.
Porsche designed the world's best-selling car, the VW Beetle which became
the basis for the Porsche 356 designed by his son Ferry, forerunner of
the immortal 911.
Issigonis's masterstroke was the Mini, a brilliant piece of packaging
whose layout – transverse engine, front-wheel drive and an independently-sprung
wheel at each corner – has been copied for every other small car
in the world. But people forget he was also responsible for the Morris
Minor, the best-handling and most modern car of its generation.
Engineering supremo behind the classic Lancia Fulvia - and its bigger
siblings the Flavia and Flaminia — Professor Antonio Fessia joined
Fiat in 1925. By 1936, at only 35, he was director of the central technical
office. Under him, Dante Giacosa designed the Topolino. A demanding, sometimes
difficult boss, Fessia approached design scientifically. His 1960 Lancia
Flavia, harking back to the 47 Cemsa Caproni, was the first Italian car
with front-wheel drive. He followed up with the smaller V-four Fulvia
which shared many components. He stayed with Lancia until his death in
Lyons was responsible for the beautiful styling of his Jaguars, from SS
through MkII to XJ6 – all classics. Another achievement was to keep
prices low without sacrificing quality - Lyons's Jaguars were always superb
value. An autocratic boss, he started Swallow Sidecars in the mid-1920s,
at first building sidecars, then fitting more luxurious bodywork to Austin
Sevens. The first SS Jaguars, brilliantly styled saloons and a beautiful
SS100 sport scar appeared in the mid-1930s, all-time styling greats from
Lyon's fertile pen. After the Second World War, his company became Jaguar.
A truly gifted structural engineer whose radical designs changed the face
of racing - the road-car operation was intended only to shore up the racing
effort. His first self-built car and the legendary Lotus Seven hit the
road in 1953 and 1957 respectively. Chapman's weight-paring efforts, all
for agility and speed, sometimes earned criticism for risking driver safety.
He was devastated by the death of his star driver and friend Jim dark
Dante Giacosa studied mechanical engineering at Turin Polytechnic and
joined Fiat in 1928. From 1933 he was involved in the design of a small
car. He put his water-cooled Topolino against an air cooled design and
won. More than four million Topolino's were made, taking their rightful
place as one of the world's great small cars beside the Austin 7, the
VW Beetle and the Mini.
Giacosa then created most archetypal small Italian cars, including the
Fiat Nuova 500, 600, 127 and 128, and the masterpieces 8V and Cisitalia
racer. He died in 1996.
Henry Ford started it all with his Model T Ford. Production
began in America in 1908 and later began in Britain. By 1913, Ford's plant
at Old Trafford, Manchester, was making 8,000 cars a year by mass production
while traditionalist Wolseley could manage only 3,000
Where English cars were largely produced by hand, with chassis parts being
individually made, drilled, reamed and assembled. Ford invested in huge
machine tools that would stamp out parts by the hundred, exactly the
same every time, which did not need skilled labour to assemble.
The cost of these tools was huge, so selling the resulting cars cheaply
in huge numbers was the answer. Where car bodies had traditionally been
made by hand, all to slightly different specifications. Ford's T's were,
with a few variations on the theme, all the same and had pressed and welded
bodies, like today's cars. Spray painting saved hours over the traditional
multicoat process with its laborious rubbing down by hand between coats.
To achieve this huge production, Ford installed its first
moving-track assembly operations in Detroit, Michigan, the world's largest
car-manufacturing centre, and in Trafford Park, Manchester, England. Instead
of men moving to the cars to complete their specialist operation, or pushing
cars by hand from one assembly station to another, the cars came to the
men for each additional operation to be completed, with components fed
in from overhead conveyors. Each man would walk beside the chassis until
his task was completed and repeat the exercise on the next chassis. By
the end of the line, the car was complete. Ford's basic T two-seater,
the runabout, was produced in 1913. A classic was born.
Gradually, all other makers followed, although luxury cars were still
largely hand built, just as prestige classics always have been. Morgan
still hand builds cars in the same way it has since the 1920s, rolling
partially-completed cars from one station to another. Yet by 1927, Citroen
was producing a car every 10 minutes.
Robots lend a hand
Even greater speed and productivity were achieved by the
use of power tools, suspended from the ceiling so they could be manhandled
more easily. The next step was to cut manpower. First, spray painting
was robotized, then the welding of body shells. To show how production
methods continue to progress, of cars made today the one needing the most
labour-intensive welding on its bodyshell is the Mini, first seen in 1959.
It was through mass production that cars such as the MG were born. The
first MG Midget of 1929 used simple components borrowed from the Morris
saloon cars in a more sporty body, just as all MGs since have done, right
up to the F of 1995. Thanks to mass production, classic sportscars were
made available to the general buying public.