Be part of the conversation: azarchitecture/Jarson & Jarson Architecture blog covers architecture and civic topics that comment on what’s happening in the Valley’s diverse design community. Here’s what’s happening now:

Mid-Century Machines: Automobiles of the Haverhoods

Mid-Century Machines: Automobiles of the Haverhoods

As you know, we typically like to focus on Mid-Century homes here at AZ Architecture; however, with Barrett-Jackson coming up, we thought we would shift our focus a bit and take a look at some of the automobiles that were most likely parked in the driveways and carports of these unique homes.

Unlike like the simple homes in the 50’s, American automobiles of the fifties were nothing short of impressive! In fact, there wasn’t anything short about them. These cars tended to be large, roomy, and comfortable with two and three tone paint schemes, loads of chrome, and big V8 motors. Much like American homes, post WW2 years saw an amazing amount of new automobile models with creature comforts never seen before. In 1950, there were roughly 40 million cars on the road. By the end of the decade, that number had nearly doubled.

First introduced on the 1950 model cars, the hardtop convertible saw a rise of popularity in 1951. The hardtop convertible saw success by combining the open-air feel of a convertible with the comfort of a closed car. Despite an amazing amount of wiring, these hardtop convertibles were surprisingly reliable. One such hard-top convertible, the Chevrolet Corvette made its debut in 1953 at the GM Motorama in New York City. Amazingly enough, along with the Chrysler 300 and the Chevy Impala, the Corvette is one of the few cars that is still in production today.

1955 saw the creation of the several popular models such as the Chrysler C-300. The 300 was big, quick, and luxurious. Powered by Chrysler’s 331 cubic-inch Hemi V8 producing 300-horsepower, this 4,000 pound beast was based on the New Yorker model with leather upholstery and other upgrades billed as standard equipment.

In February of 1953, just one month after Chevrolet debuted their Corvette concept car at the GM Motorama in New York, Ford began developing their Thunderbird. While there were many similarities between the Corvette and the Thunderbird, the Thunderbird was more of a practical luxury car rather than a no-frills sports car like the Corvette.

The Corvette wasn’t the only popular Chevy in the mid-fifties. In 1955, the 150, 210, and Bel Air models were all brand new. Each of these models included a new frame, suspension, exterior, and a powerful new V8 engine. In addition to an upgraded electrical system, the ’55 Chevy could be ordered with air conditioning, power windows, power steering, power brakes and even power seats. These were the exact creature comforts American’s could only dream of in the affordable automobile market before the mid-1950’s. Making these options available was a huge selling point for Chevy. In 1955, over 1.7 million Chevys were produced which accounted for nearly 23% of all American car sales in the U.S. that year!

Without a doubt, Chevrolet models from 1955-1957 remain a favorite of classic car enthusiasts. Many classic car enthusiasts rate the 1957 Chevy as one of the best cars of the fifties. Throughout the fifties, options such as power brakes, power steering, electric front seats and windows, and air conditioning increased in popularity. By 1958, over 80% of American cars were equipped with automatic transmissions.

In 1958 and 59, larger, heavier cars such as the 364ci Buick, the 365ci Cadillac, and the 430ci Lincoln Continental came into production. These cars were huge inside and out. They came with not only wider seating but also lots of leg room. The 1959 Continental weighed 5,500 pounds and was powered by a 430ci big-block V8. Lots of famous celebrities owned one such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Louie Prima, Dwight Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, the Shah of Iran.

Because gas was so cheap, small, more efficient cars were not very popular in the US in the 50’s. Instead, American’s lived by the motto “bigger is better” and “speed is king”! It wasn’t until a mild recession in 1958 that interest in smaller cars began to grow. A true surge in demand for more compact cars and models such as the Ford Falcon, Chevy Corvair, Plymouth Valiant, Dodge Dart, Buick Special, Oldsmobile F-85 and the Pontiac Tempest didn’t happen until the 60’s. The 4-door sedan was still a best seller through the 60’s and the station wagon was also growing in popularity around that time.

In 1965, the Ford Mustang was released and won “Car of the Year”. While there wasn’t quite the advancement seen in the 50’s, creature comforts as well as safety features because more and more important in the cars of the 60’s. Both sports cars and muscle cars grew in popularity during this time period as well. Judging by the action at Barrett-Jackson every year, the cars from the 50’s and 60’s hold a special place in the hearts of a lot of people. In fact, the most expensive car ever sold at a Barrett-Jackson auction was a 1966 Shelby 427 Cobra Competition known as the Super Snake. It went for a cool $5.5 million at the Scottsdale auction in 2007.

So, the next time you find yourself in one of the Valley’s cute little “Haverhoods”, we hope that you can better imagine what these homes looked like with their large, shiny cars parked out front. In fact, one of the defining features of the Haver home’s are the trademark patioport. The patioport is a large, partially covered concrete slab that connects the carport with the home’s set-back front door. These patioports were designed to highlight one thing in particular, the newest American status symbol, the automobile!

If you want to take a step back in time and see one of these masterful machines in person, be sure to check out the Barrett-Jackson auction happening right here in Scottsdale at Westworld January 11-19, 2020. Click here for more information and tickets to the event.

Image courtesy of Alison King at www.modernphoenix.net.