Exquisite workmanship, acres of leather and walnut plus a vast, purring engine: the 1950s were surely the golden era of the luxury saloon. Here is Hagerty’s pick of the bunch, but be sure to tell us what we’re overlooking!
- Daimler One-0-Four ‘Ladies’ Model’ 1955
Until 1960 Daimler was owned by BSA and the impact on the marque of one Lady Norah Docker, the wife of the chairman Sir Bernard, is part of motoring history. Just before the Dockers were ousted from the firm in 1956 one of the last cars to bear her Ladyship’s influence was the One-O-Four ‘Ladies Model’. In order to appeal to the fairer sex, this fine car offered a shooting stick, fitted luggage, a vanity case of cosmetics mounted under the dashboard, an umbrella, electric windows and – a sign of how the 1950s really were a different world - a simplified gear change…
- Riley RMB/RMF 1946 - 1953
The RM was possibly the last ‘real’ Riley (although Pathfinder owners may disagree) and in 1946 a new RMB seemed to be an ideal combination of modernity and tradition. The former was represented with the 2.5 litre “Big Four” engine with its twin SUs and twin camshafts, rack and pinion steering and torsion-bar and double-wishbone independent front suspension. The coachwork was built on an ash frame and retained separate wings, rear-hinged front doors and a radiator grille of quiet distinction and a further vintage touch was provided by a hand throttle. The result truly was a car that was ‘as old as the industry – as modern as the hour’.
- BMW 501 ‘Baroque Angel’ 1951 - 1963
The BMW 501 made its debut in April 1951 at the Frankfurt Motor Show and its distinctive coachwork soon earned it the nicknamed of Baroque Angel. The perimeter frame chassis was highly responsive, there was enough space to convey six burghers in comfort and BMWs engineers ensured that Bavaria’s first new post-war saloon had excellent weight distribution. The engine was initially the 1,971cc straight six unit, supplanted by a 2.6 litre V8 in 1954 and a 3.2 litre V8 in the following year. The rare British market versions had a floor gear change and in their homeland, the Baroque was frequently employed as a police car.
- Mercedes-Benz W186/W189 300 ‘Adenauer’
The Baroque’s closest rival and one of the most important Mercedes-Benz cars of late 20th century - when the W186 series 300 was launched in 1951 it had to re-establish the marque around the globe. Fritz Nallinger, Daimler-Benz’s development engineer, intended to create a car whose quality was second to none, and although the 300’s chassis was derived from the pre-war 770 but 2,996cc SOHC six-cylinder engine was new and the 300 was capable of exceeding 100mph. At the end of the 1950s, the 300 was automatically associated with the state cars of Dr. Konrad Adenauer, then the West German chancellor, by which time it was also synonymous with automotive integrity.
- Lancia Aurelia Berlina 1950 - 1958
Few cars, in my subjective view, can hope to even come close to an Aurelia saloon in terms of looks. The Spider, the Cabriolet and the Convertible are, of course, Lancias of global renown but the Berlina has its own, very distinctive appeal. Under the bonnet was the world’s first production V6 engine, there were radial tyres (another innovation) and the front suspension was via Lancia’s famous ‘sliding pillar’ system. The Aurelia was the company’s first new car after the end of the Second World War and in the early 1950s few rivals could match its blend of performance, well-bred road manners and exquisite appearance
- Jaguar Mk. VII/Mk. VIIM 1950 - 1956
The Mk. VII always seemed to have an agreeably louche image, one that was reinforced by its countless appearances in British crime films. It was also the Jaguar that created a new form of luxury car, one with equal appeal to the gentry, the sportsman and the property developer. In 1950, it represented a future free of rationing and austerity and the price of £1,693 meant that it was within reach of the ambitious middle-classes who craved transport that felt more contemporary a Humber Super Snipe. And, asides from the Mk. VII’s grace, space and pace, is the sound of that XK series engine…
- Hudson Hornet 1951 - 1954
This is justly regarded as one of the finest American vehicles of all time, from those sleek lines and the bench seats that could accommodate four (!) occupants to its 45 bhp 5.0-litre power plant, America’s largest post-war six. From late 1951 enthusiasts could also specific the ‘Twin H carburettor’ set up and in 1954 there was the even more potent 7-X version. In the words of the great motoring writer Tom McCahill, the Hudson Hornet was ‘America’s finest road car from the very important standpoint of roadability, cornering, and steering’. Or, as Hudson liked to put it ‘Performance Unlimited!’
- Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 346/Star Sapphire
In the early 1950s, a Sphinx motif on the bonnet of a motor car discretely but emphatically informed other road users that it was driven by one who was above mere fashion. The cabin space was limited and the Sapphire’s appearance was more low-key than the Jaguar Mk. VII but the Armstrong offered Rolls Royce quality with slightly less damage to one’s bank account. The Sapphire was progressively updated, with automatic transmission being available on the Mk. II in 1954 and in 1958 the 4-Litre Star Sapphire. This was the last road vehicle to bear the Armstrong Siddeley name – and it was indeed a splendid swansong.
- Daimler Majestic Major 1959 - 1968
The Majestic Major can be only narrowly classed as a ‘1950s car’; it was displayed at the 1959 Earls Court Motor Show but production did not commence until 1960. But such a magnificent machine demands to be included in this Top Ten, for it represents both the twilight of Daimler as an independent car maker and quite possibly the zenith of the post-war luxury tourer. Even 58 years ago its appearance seemed dated but it was powered by a Turner-designed 4.5 litre V8 engine. In the words of Motor Sport, the Majestic Major possessed ‘qualities of handling, ride, braking, acceleration and top speed that are as outstanding as they are unexpected’.
- Bentley S1/S2 Continental Flying Spur 1957 - 1962
The 1950s was a time when Crewe suggested that it would be an excellent idea to ‘Take a Bentley into Partnership’. The implication was here was the ideal transport for the industrialist expanding his commercial empire or embarking on constructing a tower block on a London bomb site. And what better way to display with taste and elegance your success than with a Bentley S1 Continental with four-door Flying Spur coachwork by H.J. Mulliner? The name was chosen for the heraldic emblem of the Mulliner family and for the owner who merely wanted nothing but the best, no less a car would have sufficed.