I was in the seventh grade and preparing to turn in my first paper in middle school to Mrs. Safrit. The paper centered around the Great Depression and it included a copy of a grocery advertisement from the local newspaper in 1935.
Little did I know at the time, but this one copy of grocery prices at the A&P store would be the main reason I received an “A” on the paper. Apparently the copy of this ad brought back some familiar memories to my teacher and allowed her to reminisce about this particular time. I suppose most of us as we get older enjoy remembering and reminiscing about the past.
The year 1957 was an important one for the automotive industry as well as the U.S. in general. Not only was some guy named Elvis buying “Graceland” in 1957, but the space race was reaching full tilt with the Russians’ launch of Sputnik 1 in October. The space race of the 1950s had a profound effect on the designs of automobiles as the “fins” on them kept getting larger and a lot of cars had rocket themed trim and hood ornaments.
I would guess that as a designer in this period you could get away with about anything as there were some wild looking models produced in Detroit, very much unlike the “cookie-cutter” designs of today. Tri-tone or two-tone color schemes were very popular and the buying public were discovering fairly new gadgets in cars like air-conditioning, power steering, power brakes and other comforts that made the driving experience much easier. The fastest growing model of 1957 was actually the station wagon, which makes sense considering the U.S. was in the middle of the baby-boomer generation.
The price of gas in 1957 was around 24 cents a gallon and the average price of a new car was $2,749 and everyone was going to the drive-in theater and restaurant. The war in Korea had ended a few years earlier and the war in Vietnam would not really start for a few more years.
The 1957 Chevrolet was very popular and as we all know now has become one of the icons of the automotive industry, but a lot of people don’t realize that Ford actually outsold Chevy in 1957 for the first time since 1935! Ford did introduce what many consider one of the biggest “mistakes” in automotive history with the Edsel in late 1957 (they began as 1958 models and lasted only through 1960). The Edsel, much like the Chevy Corvair, has been the butt of many a joke and ridicule but for the most part it is undeserved. The Edsel was simply released at a time when the U.S. economy was heading into a recession and never really had a chance.
Because of this impending recession and jittery economy, the last two great independent automakers of American Motors and Studebaker-Packard were able to carve out a small profit. American Motors released the Rambler in late 1957 as a 1958 model and it was perfect timing as recession weary buyers snapped up the smaller, more gas-conscious car. One other event occurred in 1957 that was very underrated – a little company by the name of Toyota sold its first car in the U.S.
Even though a lot of us many not have been around in 1957, it’s fun to look back and get a feel for what was going on. One day we may remember and reminisce about 2012!