37¢ America on the Move
Issue Date: August 20, 2005
City: Detroit, MI
Printed By: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed
Perforations: Serpentine Die Cut 10.75
When they opened their blacksmith and wagon-building shop in South Bend, Indiana, in 1852, the Studebaker brothers had a motto: “Always give the customer more than you promise, but not too much, or you’ll go broke.” Studebaker eventually became the world’s largest wagon manufacturer. The company entered the auto market with an electric car in 1902.
After World War II, Studebaker commissioned the Raymond Loewy studio to design a new car for young drivers. Widely considered the first American sports car, the 1953 Studebaker Starliner was a masterpiece, fashioned like a European sports coupe.
Long, low, and racy, the car featured a sloping hood for better visibility. The body was so streamlined that there was almost no wind-whistle at top speeds. The Museum of Modern Art honored the Starliner as a “work of art” in its 1953 exhibition Ten Automobiles.
The Starliner had the sporty look and most of the handling qualities of European sports cars with some of the comfort and most of the durability of the American family car. As for speed, at a time when most auto manufacturers were increasing horsepower, Studebaker president Harold Vance declared, “100 miles per hour should be fast enough for anybody.”
In 1946, construction magnate and Liberty ship builder Henry Kaiser and the Graham-Paige Motors’ president Joseph Frazer founded a new automobile company named Kaiser-Frazer. The company’s stylish sports car, the Kaiser Darrin was designed by Howard ‘Dutch’ Darrin.
Darrin had worked in Europe styling cars like Rolls-Royces and Hispano-Suizas and had designed custom cars for Rita Hayworth and Errol Flynn. He began working on the sports car in his Hollywood studio as a personal project. Darrin decided to use fiberglass because it was light, only 300 pounds, and inexpensive for low volume manufacturing.
The Kaiser Darrin was first shown in Los Angeles in 1952, but was not in production until 1954. The two-seater had a three-position Landau top. It was long and low, with a tiny, v-shaped grille and tiny, v-shaped parking lights. Seatbelts were offered as an option.
An unusual feature was retractable doors that slid forward into the front fenders. The doors did not retract all the way, however, leaving a narrow opening for entry and exit. The factory list price was $3,668, more than a Cadillac or a Lincoln at that time. A total of 435 were made that year.
The Chevrolet Motor Car Company was named for race car driver Louis Chevrolet, but the company had little to do with racing or sports cars for its first forty years. Then, in 1951, the legendary General Motors stylist Harley Earl started designing a sports car. In January 1953, the Chevrolet division of General Motors introduced this “dream car” at the GM Motorama in New York City.
The new model was called the Corvette, named after a fast British Royal Navy warship. It had a sleek, low-slung body with a European sports-car profile and unique fiberglass construction. The use of fiberglass saved General Motors millions of dollars.
Although the Corvette was sporty, it was not a true sports car. The simple interior was based on British sports car design. The general public, however, wanted roll-up windows, door locks, and other basic amenities. The two-seater had an inadequate two-speed automatic transmission and was under-powered. With a modest 150 horsepower, it could only reach 107 miles per hour.
The 300 cars produced in 1953 were hand-built and styled in white with a red interior and black convertible top. They sold out to selected customers at almost twice the original price estimate of $1,850.
Early in 1951, Nash Motors brought out the Nash Healey, the first sports car introduced by an American manufacturer in 20 years. Nash Motors had been formed by Charles William Nash (1864-1948), the highly successful former president of both Buick and General Motors.
In February 1952, the new Nash Healey sports car was unveiled at the Chicago Automobile Show. The elegant roadster had a six-cylinder Nash engine and other parts manufactured at the Nash plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin. These were shipped to Warwick, England, and installed in a Healey chassis with “trailing link” front-end suspension built by the Donald Healey Company.
The last stop on this international assembly line was Turin, Italy, where a hand-built, custom body by Farina was added. Pinin Farina was well known as a custom-builder of expensive auto bodies for the very wealthy, like Indian rajas and Persian shahs.
Powered by the 125-horsepower Nash engine, the 1952 Nash Healey could perform at 125 miles per hour. It came in first in its class and third overall in the 1952 LeMans 24-hour marathon in France.
Only 150 of the 1952 model Nash Healeys were built. The sticker price was just over $4,200.
When Chevrolet came out with Harley Earl’s Corvette, Ford designer Frank Hersey began to develop a competitive model. A painted clay model of the Thunderbird was ready four months after Corvette’s January 1953 debut.
The Thunderbird came to market in the fall of 1954. It had a convertible top, plus a removable fiberglass hardtop, roll-up windows, and a powerful V-8 engine – all features that the first Corvette had lacked.
The 1955 Thunderbird delivered 193 horsepower through a three-speed manual transmission, with automatic transmission optional. A 4.8-liter Mercury V-8 propelled it to 115 miles per hour.
The first production car rolled off the assembly line in September 1954. It went on sale on October 22, 1954, and received 3,500 orders in the first ten days of sale, at a base price of $2,695. The American public purchased 16,155 Thunderbirds that first year.
For amateur racers, there was a tachometer and an elapsed-time clock, but Ford did not promote the new Thunderbird as a sports car. Instead, Ford marketed the car as a personal luxury car with radio, heater, power brakes, and power steering. A Ford ad described the 1955 Thunderbird as “Seventh Heaven on Wheels.”