What is it about classic American cars from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that just makes them so cool? Modern cars have better handling, better horsepower, better safety. In fact, by any rational measurement, we should be living in a gilded automotive age. Decades old cars should be rusting relics. But classic autos just have so much more style, so much more visual appeal, so much more…coolness.
It isn’t just nostalgia either. People of all ages celebrate a good barn find or stored treasure. People even rejoice when they find a rare old junker they can spend hours and tons of money on bringing it back to its former glory, and then some.
Here are our thoughts about what made the cars of past decades stand out then and continue to fascinate us now.
The Rocket Age: the Cars of the 1950s
The 1950s was an age of optimism and scientific wonder. Car buyers had seen air travel go from biplanes to jet engines. In recent memory was the invention of rockets and splitting the atom. Anything was possible.
Car companies took a lot of inspiration from the aviation industry. With the pent-up demand from wartime rationing and the financial strength of a two-income family, the car was something everyone could suddenly afford. People could buy their own rocket and blast out over the new highway system to explore the vastness of America. This was the era that brought us the legends of Route 66. Tail fins, bomb sight hood ornaments, shiny chrome and huge size ruled the day. Colors ranged from the soft pastels of home to bold primaries. Two- and three-color paint jobs were common.
This is the era that gave us the Ray Ban Wayfarers, Elvis, Rock & Roll, and the Chevy Bel-Air Coupe. There is no denying the absolute coolness of any of these things, even 70 years later. They were bright, big, bold and beautiful.
Take a look at the cars Copart has available in its online auction from the fabulous 1950s.
Revolution & Change: The Cars of the 1960s
Many consider the 1960s to be the golden age for cool cars, and it’s easy to see why. This was the decade that brought us the Corvette Stingray, the Pontiac GTO, and the ultimate faster horse, the Ford Mustang. Honorable mentions must be given to the special coolness embodied by the VW Bus, the Beatle, and the Aston-Martin DB5.
This was the era when car designers had matured and refined their craft, but the government hadn’t yet stepped in to regulate the industry. The decade brought us James Bond (and Sean Connery saying, “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”), the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The cars were smaller, sleeker, sexier. It was an age of experimentation, pushing limits and creating new thought, and the cars reflected this.
Car designers moved away from making airplanes on wheels, and moved to creating driving machines. Tail fins faded, front grills became works of art, and different cars were given some of the most distinctive looks that made one model easy to tell from another at a glance.
Gaze upon the glory of these classic cars for sale on Copart from the stylish 1960s.
Aerodynamics and Pure Muscle: The Cars of the 1970s
In the 1970s, aerodynamics entered car designs in a major way. The lines became more swept and flowing, just like the air that passed over them. These scientific advances brought horsepower and power-to-weight ratios undreamed of in decades past.
The public craved horsepower and the roar of a big block V8 engine. This was the decade when the muscle cars ruled supreme. The Charger, Challenger, Chevelle and Firebird marked this era. This was also the era before computers and sophisticated electronics, so the common man could easily spend his weekend working on his own ride.
If you wanted to tune out the tumultuous world, you could put on the radio, rev that engine, and blast out on the open road.
Check out some of these miracles of muscle cars from the 1970s now up for auction.
Government Gets Involved, and Things Get Complicated.
In 1975, the US federal government put in place the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and other regulations on the automotive industry. Fuel economy, safety features and emissions limits became primary concerns for car designers. Engineers had to strip off excess weight like tail fins, reduce horsepower to eliminate polluting exhaust, and incorporate new safety features like air bags. Car designs became practical to meet regulations, and with practicality often comes a loss of some coolness.
Cars also became more complicated, and incorporated computers and more electronics. This meant the average guy or gal couldn’t spend the weekend working on and customizing their vehicles.Cars started looking amore alike. Even some color pallets seemed to dim and fade.
And while the car world is safer, cleaner, and better performing, it somehow feels less cool than decades past. But on a high note, a host of aftermarket product makers now allow you to put modern safety and performance into the oh-so-cool body styles of old. We’ve even seen folks offering modern manufactured cars just like the classics. And designers in the last few decades have done some amazingly cool things, like the resurgence of the muscle cars, the Thunderbirds of the early 2000s, and the Mustangs of recent years. And while American cars became more utilitarian, some other countries hit their prime, with hat tips to Porsche, Ferrari, Mazda, and Nissan. But there will always be something about a genuine American classic that is just so cool.
If you’d like to try your hand at combining modern convenience with classic cool, or bringing the past back to life, sign up for a Copart membership, find your classic in whatever condition you like, and start bidding. When you’re done, post a picture in the comments below.
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