Cars

July 4, 1957 – An American Family Visits the Pennsylvania Gettysburg Monument

On July 4, 1957, American father Walter Reed took his family to visit Gettysburg, where occurred from July 1-3, 1863 one of the most significant battles of the Civil War.  More soldiers died at Gettysburg than at any other Civil War battle, and the Union victory there signaled a turning point in our nation’s conflict.  Reed’s photo captures the Pennsylvania Monument, the largest of many monuments gracing the site. The granite pavilion commemorates the state which provided the most troops, the Union army commander, and the battlefield itself.

A little over four months later, on November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the Soldier’s National Cemetery at Gettysburg with a short speech that has come to stand with the Declaration of Independence as a founding document for our nation.  On July 4th, Walter Reed and his family celebrated our independence at Gettysburg; perhaps they also read the Gettysburg Address together:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met here on a great battlefield of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But in a larger sense we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate –  we can not hallow this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, or long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.

“It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, so far, so nobly carried on.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining here before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Reed took a number of photos that day, some of which were later published in The Open Road: The Way We Were, by Dorothy Youngblood. His photo of the Pennsylvania Monument includes his beautiful turquoise and white 1955 Ford Fairlane Town Sedan.

Image Credit: Leon Reed/flickr

June 25, 1957 – Last Day of Production for the Hudson Hornet

Hudson Hornet

1957 Hudson Hornet Coupe with “Hollywood” hardtop

On June 25, 1957, the last Hudson Hornet rolled off the production line.  First introduced in 1951, the “Fabulous Hudson Hornet” dominated stock car racing in the mid-50s.  Competition from Cadillac, Plymouth, Chevy, Ford, and Mercury resulted in languishing sales for the sleek, stylish, low-slung record holder.  Newly formed American Motors took over production of the Hornet in 1955 and in 1956 a total redesign changed the classic Hornet look.  Tri-tone paint combinations and “V-line styling” based on the traditional Hudson triangle unfortunately didn’t resonate with the buying public.  The Hornet’s integrated body and frame and step down feature (the floor pan was recessed on the frame: when one entered the Hornet, they “stepped down”) made the car handle well with a “sumptuous ride”, but it also made the Hornet expensive to retool for model-year updates.  Available over the years as a two-door coupe, four-door sedan, or convertible, in its final year the Hornet offered a sedan and a coupe with a “Hollywood” hardtop – both with egg-crate grilles, oodles of chrome, and five different tri-color combinations.

Even with the redesign and price reductions, the Hornet fell out of favor.  When the last Hudson Hornet rolled off the assembly line AMC dropped the Hudson brand and switched its fleet to the Rambler name.

Image Credit: The Hagerty Group

1957 Boomer Baby

Born in 1957 LimaLimaLtdWere you born in 1957?

If so, we are kindred spirits.

How did entering the world in 1957 affect your life? What are you grateful you experienced? What did you miss? What do you wish you’d missed?

Here’s my list:

I’m grateful I experienced –

  • Great TV shows like Leave it to Beaver, Gilligan’s Island, and Perry Mason
  • The freedom to wander on my own around my Portland neighborhood
  • Scholastic book orders in grade school, which delivered a fresh stack of books to read every month
  • The relief when it was clear that my friends would not go to Vietnam
  • Girls sports teams in high school, after Title 9 took effect
  • Star Wars on opening night in my local theater. Remember the knock-you-back-in-your-seat trumpet fanfare during the opening credits? The stomach-dropping sensation of rollercoastering over the dunes of Tatooine?

I missed –

  • The beginning of the Beatles and the hippie Summer of Love thing
  • Laugh-In, which my parents thought was obscene
  • Owning a Chevy Bel Air before they became an expensive classic

I wish I’d missed –

  • The disco generation! I’m still embarrassed . . . really embarrassed

 

How about you? Please leave me a comment and share.

One more question, Class of 1975: was this The Slow Dance at your senior prom, too?

 

Image Credit: LiraLira Ltd.

On the Road: 1957 Jeep FC-150 Wrecker

Jeep FC-150 Wrecker. Photo: Fourwheeler Network.

Jeep FC-150 Wrecker. Photo: Fourwheeler Network.

How cute is this mini-tow truck?!

The 1957 Jeep FC-150 was one of the first light-duty forward control (FC) trucks manufactured in the United States. “Forward control” means that the cab sits all the way up front, over the engine. At only 147″ in length, and 71″ in width, this FC-150 shares the same wheelbase as the classic Jeep CJ-5 and is only ten inches longer. Tiny! Jeep sold the FC-150 in several body styles: pickup; cab and chassis; stakebed (what I think of as a panel truck); stripped chassis (just a frame and engine); and flat-faced cowl (stripped chassis plus front fenders and hood, ready to be customized into a school bus or special delivery van). The cab came in Standard or Deluxe versions. Deluxe treated the driver to dual sun visors, dual armrests, rear quarter windows, a better padded seat, and other fancy touches.  A heater and defroster were extra! And no radio! There were several engine sizes to choose from. This FC-150 is powered by the smaller, 134 I4 four-cylinder, which delivered about 75 hp to haul loads up to 1730 lbs in a tight 18′ turning circle. Jeep FC models were in production from 1956 to 1964 and went through several upgrades and revamps. When the first models rolled out, Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated quipped, “It’s rugged as an Olympic weight-lifter and as able as a three-armed Irishman in a bar fight.”

This particular FC-150 has an amazing story. Look close at those tires. They are original! FC collector and expert Craig Brockhaus found this little wrecker in 1989 just miles from his home in Missouri. Jim Allen at Fourwheeler Network reports that the wrecker

“was only showing 2,817 miles but had been sitting a very long time. It started life as a service station truck in Des Peres, Missouri, and the original owner installed a dealer-accessory dual-rear-wheel kit as well as a Towboy wrecker. He didn’t use the truck very long. In the mid-’60s, the land upon which his service station was built was purchased to build a mall. The truck went to his home and sat for about 25 years before Craig came along. The truck now has 2,892 miles on it.”

Watson Towboy Ad. Image: The FC Connection.

Watson Towboy Ad. Image: The FC Connection.

So, what’s a Towboy, you ask? Craig Brockhaus explains on his website, The FC Connection.

“The Watson ‘Towboy’ is a bolt-in, hand crank wrecker unit that was produced to help garage owners move vehicles easily around the shop without tying up the big wrecker that was used mainly for emergency vehicle retrieval. The Towboy unit was easily installed or removed in about 5 minutes from any vehicle and proved invaluable to many an automotive shop owner.”

More pictures of this great little slice of 1957 Americana can be viewed using the Fourwheeler or FC Connection links. Check out the fully restored interior, which also includes the original seats!

October 13, 1957 – The Edsel Show Broadcast

Louis Armstrong; Frank Sinatra; Rosemary Clooney; Bing Crosby. Photo: CBS

On October 13, 1957, CBS aired a live (on the East Coast) broadcast of The Edsel Show, essentially a one hour “infomercial” promoting the recently released-but-doomed new Ford Motor Company brand.  The broadcast is now primarily famous not for the car, and not for the impressive list of musical talent involved, but for the fact that it is the oldest surviving television show on videotape (made for the three-hour air delay on the West Coast).

Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra hosted the star-studded evening which included musical performances by Louis Armstrong, Rosemary Clooney, “mystery guest” Bob Hope, and the Norman Luboff Choir.  The Edsel Show, a one-time special, replaced CBS’s usual Sunday night powerhouse, The Ed Sullivan Show.  “Edsel: The Show”, as opposed to “Edsel: The Car”, was ironically one of the year’s most successful and popular broadcasts.  The show served as Bing Crosby’s television breakthrough, after which he signed a two-special-a-year, highly-compensated contract with ABC.

The real star – the car! Photo: CBS

Rosemary Clooney reported in her autobiography, Girl Singer, an amusing (or embarrassing) moment on the day of the show.  “The only Edsel I ever saw was one they gave me to drive while I was rehearsing.  I came out of the CBS Building, up those little steps to the street where my purple Edsel was waiting, like the Normandie in drydock.  Mr. Ford was right behind me, heading for his Edsel.  I opened the door of my car and the handle came off.  I turned to him, holding it out to him.  “About your car . . . .”

October 6, 1957 – Chrysler’s “Forward Look”

1957 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. Photo: Motortrend

1957 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. Photo: Motortrend

On October 6, 1957, Chrysler Corporation was busy rolling out its 1958 model year and promoting its successful “Forward Look” designs.  The “high-finned, flying-wedge” Look had helped Chrysler up its auto market share from 15% to nearly 21% and President Lester “Tex” Colbert would not be in a hurry to make significant changes.  Innovations were being made to the Look for 1958, however, and included a wrap-around-and-up “control tower” windshield, a rear-view mirror on the left front fender that could be remotely controlled from the dashboard, and a defroster to keep condensation off the rear window.

The advertising campaign for the Forward Look stressed six keys selling points:

  1. The rightness of style – the dart shape of motion: cuts steering corrections in cross-winds by as much as 20%!
  2. Wonderful Torsion-Aire Ride: suspension so right it prevents starting squat, braking dip, lean on curves.
  3. Pushbutton Torqueflite: control buttons for full control of automatic transmission with two extra buttons for muddy or snowy conditions, downhill engine braking, or flexibility in traffic or up steep hills
  4. Constant-Control Power Steering: works the right way – full-time, not part-time, takes the work out of steering, with a wonderful new “feel” of the road
  5. Total-Contact Braking: your toe does less, the brakes do more, quicker straight-line stops with up to 25% less pedal pressure, longer lining life
  6. Control Tower Windshields: see 50% better, windshield sweeps back into the roofline to let you see up as well as out, with safety glass, of course, and the “all outdoors” feeling comes true again in the roominess inside

The purple prose of this great advertising age continued: “But the rightness goes further!  In every great engineering achievement, in every fine detail of styling, in the total design and total value of these cars.  It’s simply a matter of giving you more for what you pay.  But don’t just look at a great ’58 of the ‘Forward Look’ – drive around and discover the rightness for yourself!”

September 1957 – The Edsel

1958 Edsel 2-door Citation Convertible. Photo: Carpedia

 

In September, 1957, Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel.  Named for founder Henry Ford’s son, Edsel B. Ford, the Edsel started life as the E-car, which stood for “experimental car”.  The Edsel, placed between the Ford and Mercury brands, was intended to compete with intermediate General Motors lines, such as the Oldsmobile, while the company took the Lincoln brand upmarket.  But it was not to be.  The Edsel, after years of development, was manufactured for only three years, never appealed to the buying and driving public, lost millions of dollars for Ford Motors, and has since become a catchword for failure.

Edsels were produced for the 1958, 1959, and 1960 model years.  The 1958 models introduced in September 1957 included the Citation and Corsair, based on Mercury designs and manufactured in Mercury plants, and the smaller, Ford-based Pacer and Ranger models, manufactured in Ford plants.  All models were available as two-door or four-door hardtops.  The Citation and the Pacer also had two-door convertible versions.  Edsel innovations included its “rolling dome” speedometer and center-of-the-steering-wheel, Push-button Teletouch transmission shifting system.  Ergonomically-designed driver controls and self-adjusting brakes (earlier pioneered by Studebaker) were other special features.

1958 Edsel Pacer 2-door Hardtop

 

The first model year for Edsel sold 63,110 cars in the United States; the second-year sales topped out at 44,891; for the 1960 model year only 2,846 units were produced.

Why did the Edsel fail?  Speculators cite primary problems with marketing philosophy and strategy, quality control, design appeal, and competition within a car market heading into recession.  Marketing failed to sufficiently research and place the Edsel within the Ford Motor product line for the buying public; switching from Ford or Mercury to Edsel (and back) on the same assembly lines led to manufacturing mistakes; the “horsecollar” (or toilet seat!) grille and confusing rear taillights and steering wheel buttons were unattractive to buyers; and increasing consumer interest in fuel-efficient vehicles also added to Edsel’s demise.  Robert McNamara, part of upper-level management at Ford in 1957 and later the first non-Ford family member to serve as company president until President John F. Kennedy recruited him to be Secretary of Defense, never liked having separate brands within the Ford line.  He progressively reduced and then eliminated the Edsel advertising budget and finally convinced fellow managers to shut down production in the fall of 1959.