Moving Forward Into the American Dream

vintage illustration 1950s family buying car 

The first hint of fall may have conjured up the crunch of crisp McIntosh apples, maple leaves turning colors, and the air filled with burning leaves, but for me fall conjured up the intoxicating smell of a new car.

Come fall, almost every American turned his curious attention to the new crop of cars. A favorite suburban activity was not looking at the fall foliage but looking at this year’s models of cars.

By 1957, my on-the-go mom wanted her own set of wheels.

Stuck at home in the suburbs without a car, she felt like a contestant on the $64,000 Dollar Question sequestered in one of those isolation booths.

 Despite the fact that by the mid 1950s more and more suburban families were buying second cars, in 1957 we were still a one car family. Once considered a luxury, it was now a necessity and one more component of the American Dream.

Besides which, even when Dad wasn’t using the car for commuting, our ‘54 Chevy did not have automatic transmission making it very difficult for my mother to drive.

Wake up and Smell the Coffee

Vintage illustration 1950s housewife drinking coffee

Cradling a piping cup of coffee Mom poured Dad a second cup as they settled in for the Sunday line up of TV. What better way to end a busy day than with the magic promise of coffees rich aroma. As Mom tucked me into bed after Lassie, the warm aroma of coffee filled the house, the aroma that comes with the promise that she’ll soon feel like her young self again.

After a tense week Mom could use the sunny optimism of Dinah Shore. Brimming with optimism, Dinah had just finished belting out “See The USA in Your Chevrolet … Americas the Greatest Land of All” and had just blown a kiss when Mom just blurted out to Dad that she wanted a new car.

Even if Dinah, Queen of General Motors plugged a sweetheart of a car, Mom was sure she didn’t want another Chevrolet. The Chevy may have taken America by storm but it was giving Mom a headache. Our 52 Chevy without power-glide automatic transmission was a thorn in mom’s side. She wanted the  relaxing freedom from shifting promised in all the new cars

vintage illustration 1950s housewife looking at cars

There was no better time for a new car. In the fall, Detroit rolled out its new 1958 models full of razzle, and dazzle. There were down-swept snouts, up-swept fins and out-swept tail lights all ablaze with dazzling colors and gleaming chrome.

The competition for the publics favor was so strong that the auto industry created a complete model changeover every year now instead of the traditional 3 year cycle.

Each manufacturers car beckoned the buyer, promising never, no, never had a car been so wonderfully new in so many different ways in style power and ride, all wrapped up in the longest lowest, widest car that ever said let’s get going!

vintage pictures 1950s cars

Like contestants in a Beauty Contest, each car was shinier and more stylish than the next. Tail fins,  some an homage to jets others like dorsal fins of sharks soaring from fenders, bullet shaped protuberances, pendulous bomb like tail lights all begging to be looked at, admired or better yet, envied.


The Edsel

 Vintage illustration Edsel car1950s

For Dad there was only one clear choice.

The  Edsel, the most talked about, most anticipated new car of the year. It was the first new make of car among major automakers in 19 years.

Ten years in the making the Edsel had caused a near media blitz with tease advertising, Everything about it was new different and revolutionary. “Prepare yourself, the ads teased for never in all your life…have you seen such beauty in a car”

But with its gull winged rear fenders and oval purse mouthed grill, many thought it resembled “An Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.”

Mom agreed, dismissing all the hype.

The Forward Look

vintage car ad Plymouth 1957

She wanted to forge ahead and the best way was with Chrysler’s new Forward Look, so ahead of its time it  promised to  take her straight into 1960.

One colorful full-page advertisement caught Mom’s eye. It seemed to speak directly to her:

Are you this woman: free to pursue healthy hobbies like bowling even when your husband has the family car? No need to stay home and look at the four walls. Doing your share at the PTA and church projects?

 It’s important to get out and do things. It’s  easier than you think. Shopping where buys are best? Trips to the salon or supermarkets needn’t wait for husband’s free time. It pays to be on your own with a new Plymouth.”

It was the car with The Forward Look, looking straight into tomorrow-  the one everyone recognized as the “the new shape of motion”.

Vintage photo 1950s housewife driving 1950s car

The ads did promise, she’d be a different woman with a Plymouth all her own. She’d get more out of life and be able to give more- to her  husband, her youngsters, her community- when you know the blessed freedom of driving your own beautiful Plymouth.

“This is a design” the salesmen boasted, “that borrows from tomorrow”.

Running his hand along the length of the prodigious tailfin, he explained: “Like a jet plane, the silhouette of this graceful car sweeps in one fast rush from an out reaching nose back along the sides, to the hi-speed, up-swept tail.

Once you spot it, there’s no mistaking it, it’s the right car in design for today and for tomorrow”. The moment you see it……You‘ll know you’re seeing news.

vintage photo 1950s kids looking at cars

And best of all, with the power steering and the exclusive push button Power Flite automatic transmission, the Plymouth, the  dealer swore, “was as easy to drive as a baby buggy!” Lots of smart shoppers are discovering that even a petit lady can easily slip a big Plymouth into a parked lot.”

“Plenty of knee flexing, arm stretching, hat wearing roominess”, the salesman pointed out, “Let’s you relax while you drive!”

With the dealers promise of delivery in time for  Oil Progress week, the family purchased a new car, a 1958 Plymouth, just for Mom.

Purchasing the new Plymouth, Mom knew was more than a change; it’s an important step forward, a step into the future”.

vintage photo 1950s housewife in car

Copyright (©) 2012 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved




  1. Pingback: Designed for Dreaming « Envisioning The American Dream

  2. Pingback: Husband Number Three - Far From Normal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: