Luxury Cars a Status Symbol of the 1950s

Luxury Cars:  A Status Symbol During the 1950s


By Elton Camp


            In the1950s, the “Big Three” ruled as kings in the automotive industry.  Chrysler, Ford and General Motors sold their shoddy wares without the nuisance of foreign competition.  The “low priced three” were Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth.  They conferred about as much “status” as old shoes. 


            The luxury models were Lincoln, Cadillac, and on an erratic basis the Imperial.  They were behemoths and truly distinctive in styling from their lesser brothers.  To own one was a mark of success.  Cadillac advertised itself as “the standard of the world” which suggested that it was the very best.  Only the most prosperous could hope to own one. 


            Although my family couldn’t remotely afford such extravagance, my special favorites, as a teenager, were the 1955 and 1956 Cadillac, especially the Fleetwood, Coupe DeVille and Sedan DeVille. 


            Mrs. Bray, wife of one of the local doctors, drove a white1954 Cadillac convertible that had similar styling to the 1955 model.  Every day I watched her come with the top down and pick up her children at school.  I thought that was the height of luxury and class.  Today, the use of an open vehicle with no seat belts or air bags to transport children would be considered irresponsible.  Seeing that beautiful convertible created a desire in me to own one, but even much later when it would have been possible, I didn’t get one because common sense and safety considerations overrode the adolescent whim. 


            In 1953, one of the first big Cadillacs seen in the local area belonged to Mrs. Doctor Rogers.  In that day, the wife of a doctor was almost always designated in that manner.  “Mrs.” went in front of the professional title and last name of her husband.  Such women might even introduce themselves with those pompous words.  Females of that time were frequently defined in terms of their husbands, especially if the husband was prominent or wealthy.  Today, such usage would be laughed at as ridiculous sexism. 


            At times their chauffeur drove the massive vehicle, but Mrs. Rogers herself often was at the wheel.  It was a blue four-door Fleetwood.  The car cost over $4000 in 1953, making it the talk of the town to the extent that it embarrassed Mrs. Rogers.  To make it worse, a couple of years later, Dr. Rogers added a 1955 Buick Roadmaster coupe as his personal vehicle.  The couple could well afford the luxury models, but that didn’t prevent wagging tongues in the small North Alabama town.


            The example of the Cadillac shows how much costs of cars have changed over the years.  At that time the most expensive American car by far was the 1955 Continental that cost an eye-popping $10,000.  The two-door vehicle, the price of a Rolls-Royce, was out of reach of all but the wealthiest people.  Ford sold only a handful of them.  Hides for the leather seats were accepted only from cattle raised where barbed wire fences weren’t found.   No imperfections could be in the upholstery.  They were personalized with an owner’s nameplate and shipped in a fleece-lined bag.  Despite the unprecedented price and extreme luxury features, they weren’t very dependable cars.   


            Just the same, even fifty years later it gives me a mild thrill to see any one of those magnificent luxury vehicles in an old movie.  Time has stood still so that they appear pristine just as I remember them from so long ago. 

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What you drove showed your standing in life.