Birth Year IV: The Murkins, Part One

I never saw any of these cars while growing up in South Africa, and I might as well be talking Sanskrit as about them and their characteristics — nor am I that keen to learn much about them either — so I’m counting on my GearHead Readers to step up to the plate and add their thoughts in Comments.  All I can say is that as far as I’m concerned, pretty much all of these behemoths are as ugly as a boil on  a pretty girl’s face.  And just remember:  it’s not a complete catalogue, just a list of cars that came onto the market in 1954, and that caught my eye for one reason or another.

Cadillac Eldorado

Chrysler New Yorker

Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight

Ford Crestliner

Pontiac Star Chief

Chevrolet Bel-Air

Plymouth Belvedere

Lincoln Capri

Mercury Monterey

Ye gods.  And I thought that modern car design was Clone Central.  If someone were to tell me that I had  to pick one of the above for a daily drive, I think I’d go with a Colt 1911 Single Bullet model.

Next week we’ll be looking at the products of the smaller car manufacturers of the time (none of which have survived till today).  Maybe there’ll be some design differences there… but somehow, I’m not optimistic.

I think I’ll just revive my artistic aesthetic with a look at the Mercedes 220A of the period:

Ahhh… that’s better.


  1. I’ll agree that 54 wasn’t one of Detroit’s finer years. I guess that the cast hull Sherman tank styling influence was still there. That’s why the 55 cars – particularly the Chevy models – were such big hits. The 55 T- Bird was pretty nice too.

    If I was a member of Dad’s generation and was forced at gunpoint to pick a new 1954 ride, I’d visit the Studebaker dealer. They looked pretty good. I’ve read mixed things on their reliability, but if I wanted reliable I’d consider my other two choices of that era – one would be the honest upright Jeep station wagon. I remember an aunt who ran a mid 50s one at her NE Pennsylvania dairy farm until the body and frame finally disintegrated from rust about 1978. The old 4 cylinder motor still ran great – there just wasn’t any frame or body around it. She could carry her husband, her four kids, me, a couple of big dogs, all sorts of farm supplies and still have room for some of the neighbor kids who needed a ride to town. Just put the transmission in granny low and go. My other choice along that same line would have been an International Harvester Travel all. (My auto correct keeps insisting that is two words). The precursor to the full size SUV. Huge, slow, and ugly as a mud fence but they would carry anything, go anywhere, and run forever. Add an Airstream trailer to the mix and you could do it in style.

    1. I’ll second the recommendation for the 1954 Studebaker post coupe. By 1954 they’d ironed out many of the difficulties following their hurried 1953 introduction. In addition you could get the Studillac version from a dealer named Bill Frick on Long Island with a Cadillac motor and upgraded suspension and brakes.

    2. There was an old International Travelall among the car pool vehicles when I worked at a large mine up in the high country long ago. Their commute was 70 miles each way, seven days a week. The vehicle would be run for years by one owner, then sold to another. It just kept chugging away. I bet that thing had been to the moon and back, mileage wise.

  2. My birth year was 1956, and mom told dad that the Crosley two-seater wasn’t going to cut it any more as transportation for a growing family. Thus, the first family car I remember was a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air station wagon.

  3. The big old 54′ Caddy was a neighbor’s car and his mom would drive her son and me down the street so we could pick up stacks of paper that had been set out for our Boy Scout paper drive in the mid 50’s. The trunk was so big that we wold sit in the trunk with the lid up and hop out to pick up paper as we finished we would be sitting on a huge, heavy stack of paper with the trunk lid still up.

    Out family’s first car with air conditioning was a 1954 Mercury 4 door that dad liked a lot, it was such a change driving in the middle of summer with the windows up and not having to deal with the heat, smell of diesel and the noise on the two lane highways when we went to California in 1955 to pick up my grandma who was old, in her late 80’s and smelled kind of funny and my two years younger than me sister and I argued all the way back about who had to sit next to grandma in the back seat, those old cars sure had huge back seats and no seat belts to get in the way.

  4. Well, one of the biggest differences between the 54 American cars above and the ones shown previously is affordability by the average working man in the USA. You didn’t have to mortgage the house to buy even that Caddy.

    That 54 Mercedes 220A? Yeah, my dad with his seven kids could just run right out and buy a couple of them. NOT! But he could get a 54 Ford sedan if he wanted to, or a year old 53 Chevy even easier.

    Besides, that Mercedes looks like something out of the 1930’s not the 1950’s. (…not that there is anything inherently wrong with that.)

    (My dad once won a black 53 Cadillac in a poker game. Of course, that was in 1978, but still… It was a bit worse for wear but looked like a gangsters car. I, personally, thought it was the coolest car he ever owned. It was a behemoth!)

    1. PS: My first car was a 1953 Ford Custom Coupe. It was similar to the 54 Crestliner above but was a hardtop rather than a convertible. It was even the same color as the one shown. My 17 year-old self bought it for $50 in 1972. (It was older than I was.)

      PPS: The edit function would not work for me. Just sayin…

  5. 1954 models were almost universally lumpy and ugly. I draw your attention, however, to the ’54 Ford F100 pickup, which is a thing of beauty. A powerful representative, Kim, of our natal year.

  6. My Jaguar, for just over 25 years is a 1954 XK 120 M drop head coupe. Photos of which have been here before.
    IN(nv)HO, further discussions are not needed.

  7. My birth year is 1955 and the was a high water mark for american cars. Long enough after the war that styles had changes and people had money.

    My first vehicle in 1971 was a 1953 chevrolet 3100 1/2 ton truck in forest green. I guess I have always been a bit weird. Oh well. still drive chevy trucks. Still weird I guess.

    1. All the American trucks of that era looked good. Born in ’53, and learned to drive a stick in a 1949 B Series. Granny low, hand throttle, rear quarter windows. Rust and red; it was a farm truck that migrated to the city.
      Another vote for Studebaker coupes, too. Most of the Studebaker models from the ’30s made a post-war reappearance, though for some reason the Studebaker Dictator didn’t.

      One highly significant American car made its debut in ’53, and sold a few more the next year: The Chevy Corvette.

  8. OK, one last thing, up until about 1959, with most American cars, you could ride on either fender, straddling the headlights and shoot rabbits in the headlights at night. Just an extra feature in the good old days, using a shotgun on country roads, not really legal, our record was 40 rabbits in one night, just saying.

    I also used a ‘Bug Eye’ Sprite, my buddy driving and me shooting over the windshield, (windscreen) to help clear rabbits off the golf course at the local country club, shooting at night and then going to drink beer and swim in the pool where I was a life guard during the weekends and had a key to the gate, in the good old days.

    That was over 50 years ago so statute of limitations are long gone.

  9. I imagine the Class of ’46 also felt bad about the state of their birth year cars, being mostly leftovers and slight re-hashes of pre-war cars. I am glad that American cars tended to smooth out with more straight lines and some angles, but some keeping well integrated curves (1962 Thunderbird, Oldsmobile Starfire, though the ’61 Olds looked nicer…).

    My preferred cars are still mid-late ’60s to early ’70s. The big fuselage Chryslers, the Imperials, first and second gen Mustangs, first gen Firebirds, ’68-70 Mopar B-bodies (Roadrunner, GTX), 1970-71 E-Bodies (Challenger, Barracuda) and even some of the huge square Mercury cars with chrome strips running front to back atop the fenders.

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