Muscle cars are cool. But born in the renaissance of car design and built to be driven, these ’50s sports cars are simply in a league of their own.
The 1950s had some great muscle cars, now considered classics. Cars such as the original Chevrolet Corvette, the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, and Hudson Hornet, to name but a few. While we would love to drive and own these muscle legends, the 50s also generated some fabulous performance cars.
The 1950s as a decade was experiencing a post-World War 2 economic boom, cars and property were becoming more available and attainable to the everyday person. As a result of increased disposable income, manufacturers were producing many desirable cars that the wealthy could afford and that others could aspire to own. Similarly, racing was making a comeback following wartime instability, and lots of new models were being developed and released for this purpose. Here are some of the best performance cars of the ’50s.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing
The stunningly beautiful Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was released in 1954, initially as a coupe version and later as a roadster. Mercedes aimed to produce a great handling sports car for the American market. The 300 SL, was based on the 300 SL racing car and was unveiled at the New York International Motor Sports Show. Its engine produced 215 hp and this allowed for a 250 km/h top speed. The most distinguishing feature of the vehicle is the pair of upward rising doors, known as Gullwings. The doors were included as a result of need rather than desire. The car was built around a 50 kg “space frame”, this was both lightweight and rigid. The issue was a raised sill area that was incompatible with conventional doors, hence the development of the Gullwings.
The XK120 was unveiled at the British Motor Show in 1948, the first since the end of WW2. It proved highly popular and Jaguar subsequently began taking orders. Jaguar’s original intention was purely to showcase the new XK engine, rather than offer it for sale. Under the hood, an XK 3.4 liter straight six producing 160 hp and a top speed of 120 mph can be found. It was actually the fastest production car of the ’50s.The car was offered in a number of body types, initially as an open-top, then as a hardtop, and latterly a convertible. It appealed to many different buyers and remains a very collectible vehicle to this day.
The Ferrari 250 was produced between 1952 and 1964. During this production run, many versions were released, from grand tourers (GT) to sports cars. 250s were powered by a 3.0 liter “Colombo” engine designed by Gioacchino Colombo. The engine was mounted longitudinally in the front and the car was rear-wheel drive. The “Colombo” produced a respectable 296 hp and was exceptionally lightweight. The 250 GTO was arguably the greatest version of the 250 series of cars and was produced for homologation into the FIA’s Group 3 GT category.
The beautiful BMW 507 was produced between 1956 and 1959. It was produced partly to appeal to the American market and fill the gap between expensive offerings like the Mercedes 300SL and cheaper European sports cars. Surprisingly just 253 cars were sold during the three-year production run. The 507 was fitted with a 150 hp, 3.2-liter V8. Most cars were fitted with a soft top, but a very small number were selected with a detachable hardtop instead.
Produced by Porsche between 1953 and 1956, the 550 was a racing sports car. Powered by a 1.5 liter flat 4 producing 110 hp, the car could reach 60 mph in 8.2 seconds. One of the car’s greatest attributes was its lightweight construction, being made out of aluminum it weighed just 1500 pounds. The car is a rare beast, only 90 examples were created during its production run. The 550 facilitated Porsche to win their first major racing victory at the Targa Florio in 1956.
The Jaguar D-Type had a revolutionary construction; it was composed of a magnesium alloy monocoque providing strength while also being lightweight. Monocoque construction is still used in race cars today, so the D-Type was well ahead of the game. The D-Type is best known for having won the Le Mans 24 Hour race 3 times out of a total of 7 for Jaguar. The Jaguar D-Type was fitted with a 250-hp, 3.4-liter 6-cylinder engine, which helped it achieve a factory-stated 160 mph top speed and 0-60 time of 5.7s. A four-speed manual gearbox transferred power to the rear wheels.
Maserati A6G 2000
Having recently celebrated its 70th anniversary, the A6G 2000 remains to this day one of the most attractive Maseratis ever produced. The car was produced between 1950 and 1951 and gained its name from Maserati automotive engineer Alfieri Maserati. During this time sixteen cars were assembled. The car was capable of a 112-mph top speed utilizing the power produced by its 2.0-liter, inline-six, 100-hp engine. Adding to the sporty feel, the car was rear-wheel drive and a single clutch linked the 4-speed gearbox to the drivetrain.
Aston Martin DBR1
The Aston Martin DBR1 was produced from 1956 to 1959. The car was developed following a change in World Sportscar Championship regulations which had previously demanded entrants were road legal. The rules going forward focussed on engine size instead, initially restricting to a 2.5-liter maximum displacement before increasing to 3.0 liters in 1957. The DBR1 complied and fully exploited these rules being fitted initially with a 2.5-liter unit before being replaced by a 3.0-liter, 250-hp engine in 1957. The car enjoyed a successful motorsport career, winning Le Mans four times and securing numerous wins in other races.
AC Ace Roadster
The AC Ace was produced by AC between 1953 and 1963. Over the years, three different engines have been fitted to the Ace, two 2.0-liter inline sixes and later on a 2.6-liter inline-six. The latter engine produced 170-hp taking the Ace from 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds while the top speed was 130 mph. Approximately 689 examples were produced during the 10-year production run. The Ace was entered as a Le Mans competitor and in 1959 finished 7th overall. The car was even the inspiration for the AC Cobra.
Fiat 8-V Supersonic
Unveiled at the 1952 Geneva Motor Show, the Fiat 8-V is a 2.0-liter V8-powered sports car. Production was from 1952 to 1954 and during this time only 114 examples were produced. While not being a big seller, the car had more success as a racing car. The Ghia Supersonic version was rarer still, with just 15 examples being built. The Supersonic’s design was devised by Giovanni Savonuzzi and a lot of design influences were taken from the aviation sector. This inspiration enabled Savonuzzi to produce an extremely aerodynamic design to aid performance, it also looked beautiful. The rear lights are said to look like jet engine exhausts.