It wasn’t Chevrolet's styling that caught Americans' attention in 1950; those graceful lines had been served up just the year before. Style changes were so modest that even a die-hard fan would have to look twice in order to distinguish the subtle differences between a 1949 and 1950 model,
Consumers were fearful that the Cold War was about to heat up. The USSR, China and the USA squared off over the future of Korea. Worried that the impending conflict would curtail auto manufacturing as it had in World War Two, buyers flooded dealers’ showrooms across the 48 states.
Chevrolet was given an all new model for 1950. More than 600,000 people had seen the 1949 Chevrolet Bel Air show car at GM’s Transportation Unlimited extravaganza in New York City and Detroit. Now Chev was given a dressed-up production hardtop of its own. Officially christened as the Bel Air Hard Top Sport Coupe, the prestigious and pricey pillarless two-door cost only $100 less than a top-of-the-line ragtop.
The hardtop convertible gave the feeling of riding in an open car without the inconvenience associated with a ragtop. The new body style was derived by welding the steel roof of a coupe onto a convertible’s body. The convertible body was used because it was heavily reinforced. That hard top, firmly positioned on the two-door convertible body, eliminated the “B” pillar located at the trailing edge of the front door and the leading edge of the rear side window on sedans.
There was more excitement as the long-awaited automatic transmission, Powerglide, made its debut. Chevrolet beat Ford and Plymouth to market by being first to install automatic transmission in car marketed in the low-priced fieldt. New owners were told that Powerglide was as easy as A-B-C. Instructions were to start the engine, set the “pilot control” lever and press on the gas! The two-speed self-shifter was of the torque converter variety. Automatic transmission added $159 to the price of one’s Chevrolet. Powerglide was available only on the higher-priced Deluxe models.
Most Chevrolets came equipped with the company’s familiar Stovebolt Six, tweaked to give 92 horsepower. Powerglide equipped cars were given a beefy 105-horsepower Chevy truck engine equipped with hydraulic lifters. The more powerful engine compensated for the slippage that was common in first generation automatic transmissions.
General Motors and the auto unions inked a deal, assuring labour peace for five years. Workers’ pensions began to be funded through the stock market. “Finer than ever for ’50” was the Chevy sales slogan and indeed, Chevrolet was America’s favourite car as sales topped the 1.5 million mark. With truck production added in, a new record was set as 2 million new bowties hit the nation’s highways in 1950.
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Copyright James C. Mays 2005 All rights reserved.