Over Father's Day weekend, the MSRA generally has their Back to the 50s Car Show, this year it was a little late. Despite being late it lost none of it's allure. It's largest show of the year for Minnesota and nearly 12,000 cars covered every inch of the Minnesota State Fair Grounds.
Actually, this is arguably the largest classic car show in the United States as a whole. I would believe it too since it's nearly impossible to be able to see all of the cars in the show even if you go for the entire weekend. The closest competitor to Back to the 50s is the Hershey AACA Meet in Hershey, PA with around 11,000 cars showing up. This was the 50th anniversary of the Minnesota Street Rod Association this year so it was a bit of an extra special show.
Back to the 50's was first held in 1974 at the Midway Shopping Center which used to stand next to Porky's on University Avenue in St. Paul. That first year only around 125 cars showed up but it was the start of great things to come. The cutoff year was 1964 with a specific rule, No Mustangs. Although the Mustang isn't allowed, the '64 Impala would be the most modern car in show. They used this rule because the Mustang was a 1964.5 and they wanted to keep the show focused on 50's and older cars.
The rule works perfectly because, while the occasional Ford Thunderbolt clone or odd '64 GTO could be found; hot rods, rat rods, gassers and kustoms were thick as gnats. This is 100% okay with me personally, muscle car shows happen all the time and they're great but it's nice to have a filter and see the rest of American car culture.
The car pictured above is a great example of a 50s style kustom Ford coupe lead sled featuring a chopped roof, side exit exhaust, frenched headlights and big white wall tires. This style was entirely aesthetic and was based around the concept of having the smoothest, most pure shape to a car. Back in the 1950's they would do this by removing emblems, drip rails and anything that would detract from the shape of the vehicle. Since fiberglass body filler was still on the horizon bodymen would use lead to fill in imperfections, thus the term Lead Sled was born.
While Kustoms were the yin of aesthetics, Gassers were the yang of performance. Here is an awesome example of a tri-five Gasser. The Tri-Five is a term to describe the 1955, '56 and '57 Chevy Bel Air, Nomad, 210 and 150. The Tri-Five introduced the world to the SBC, or Small Block Chevrolet V8 engine. It would go on to be one of the de-facto American performance platforms, today an entire Tri-Five can be built from aftermarket parts from body shell to rear main seal.
For those of you who might not be familiar with the SBC, it describes the various Overhead Valve V8's that GM has had in production since 1955. Today the LS V8 is the successor to the original SBC but is still closely related in basic design. The SBC was a massive improvement in technology for the era and the SBC might need it's own article written on it to fully capture it's importance. If you combined the popularity of the Honda B-series engine with the JZ family and LS engines, you almost get to the level of impact the SBC had on the performance community at the time.
Tri-Fives were not just popular for gassers. They would also be adopted by the kustom community as well. This Chevy 150 has a really cool matte gray paint scheme with black scallops creating a quasi-kustom derelect look. Whatever you call it, it looks awesome.
While the car above is just a '55 Chevrolet Wagon aka "Handy Man", Chevrolet also had the Nomad, which is a checklist of everything a modern petrolhead yearns for. A rear wheel drive, V8 powered wagon with the highest performance options (4-bbl carb, high comp "Super Power Pack" and "Super Turbo Fire" Fuel Injection) available for it.
The earlier '55 Nomads and later "fuelie" Super Turbo Fire equipped Nomads are amongst the most sought after American collector cars of all time due to limited production numbers.
Predating the Tri-Fives above is this late 40's Chevrolet coupe, I'm probably wrong about the exact model so we will leave it as a coupe. Even the earlier post-war cars that came out before the 1950's era technological boom were well represented in Back to the 50's. While the Kustom community first started tinkering with them, lowriders and even hot rodders would go on to adopt them later in the 20th century.
Among the more popular post-war designs of the late 40s and early 50s were the Chevrolet Advanced Design platforms. This late-40s Chevrolet Thriftmaster, as denoted by the flat split windshield, emblems on side of hood and driver's side cowl vent, was the first major redesign of a truck after WWII. They would go on to be the best selling truck in the United States until they were discontinued in 1955.
The Advanced Design design language would be mimmicked by the HHR and SSR, albeit to far less successful results. Nobody likes a copy cat.
If there is one single brand that is synonymous with iconic 1950s cars, it would be Cadillac. This mid-50s Cadillac Series 62 was among the first cars to wear the Coupe de Ville name on it. This was a time when vast distances nose to stern and palatial interior accouterment denoted the standard of a luxurious automobile, and Cadillac lead at the forefront.
The key inspiration of automobiles during the 1950s was the jet age. Vents both functional and non-functional were added to streamlined shapes from Van Nuys to Milan, Cadillac was no exception. At the tail end of this car you can see the vents that resemble turbine intakes and the rear half ends with a pair of tailfins which would go on to evolve to the most iconic piece of Cadillac design language. A piece of design language which to date is considered one of the most beautiful pieces of automobile design ever.
The 1950s were a time of unbridled creativity. There is the old cliche that they don't design them like they used to and that absolutely has merit here. Add to the pure aesthetic design of the era that you had the first big wave of hot rodding and kustom culture and you get a decade that absolutely deserves it's own show.
The MSRA definitely knows how to put a show on and this is only the first taste of what they were able to do in 2017. Stay tuned for Day 2 of Back to the 50s.