The National Automobile Show...is a Big League event, a social phenomenon curiously and peculiarly American. For sheer interest and display it is a Broadway theater opening, a title boxing match, a pennant baseball game, a Presidential inauguration, and the first day of Congress all thrown into one.
—THE LITERARY DIGEST, Jan. 13, 1934
Ever since the day at the turn of the century when the first rachitic horseless carriages were forced to prove that they could really run by puffing along a board track in Manhattan's old Madison Square Garden, the United States has awaited its new automobiles with breathless expectancy and has greeted them with fabulous ceremony.
The big show was traditionally the National Automobile Show—at the old Garden and then Grand Central Palace, until World War II erased the glitter. This week, for the first time in 16 years, the big show will be back, as glittering as ever, providing a comprehensive and comparative look at Detroit's new ideas. From December 8 to 16, on three panoplied floors of Manhattan's big new Coliseum, the shiny new goods that keep America on wheels (trucks included) will be on display.
It is an optimistic show—and with some reason. FORTUNE estimated that sales from 1957 to 1961 will average nearly 7 million cars a year, more than ever before. To sustain that figure, Detroit has done more than add chrome, push buttons and living room comforts. The new cars are lower (wheel diameter is down from 15 to 14 inches), better engineered (see page 57 for three examples), universally more powerful and, except for Hudson and Nash, more expensive. While styling changes in many cases presage continued extremes in that jet-fighter look, sports-inspired performance is catching up, and behind the gleaming paint and brightwork there is much for the keen motorist to look at. On this and the following pages the cars and their qualifications are listed with particular regard for the discerning motorist who this year has his widest choice yet among high-performance sporting U.S. automobiles.
December 10, 1956
All-new bodies have new version of famed tail fins, with silhouette up to 3 inches lower. V-8, 365-cu.-in. 300-hp engine with 10:1 compression ratio is standard, 325 hp available on Eldorados and Brougham (above, pronounced "broom"). Bowing at show, Brougham is over-$10,000 car with four headlights, stainless steel roof, perfume atomizer, lambskin or nylon karakul carpeting. Price range (PR): $4,212 to $6,934.
Restyled with lower hood, higher fenders, lower roof. Roadmasters, Supers, Centuries have 364-cu.-in. engine (up from 322), 10:1 compression ratio, 300 hp (up from 255). Specials: 364-cu.-in., 250-hp, 9.5:1 engines. Optional: safety minder which buzzes when preset speed is reached. Body rests between new frame side rails. Ball-joint front suspension is used. Below: the Century Caballero. PR: $2,319 to $3,639.
Restyling features new upswept tail fins. Frames are stronger, glass area larger. New Turboglide transmission smooths automatic shifting, incorporates new type hill retarder for safer braking. Industry's first fuel-injection system is optional at $484 (see page 57). Engines: one 6 and four V-8s, ranging from 140 hp for the six to 283 for fuel-injection 283-cu.-in. V-8. Above: Bel Air convertible: PR: $1,680 to $2,490.
Introduces 17 body styles on wider, heavier chassis. Body silhouette is 2 inches lower, 5 inches longer. Struts trisect rear windows. Windshield has 18% more glass area. Rear shock absorbers are now outside the frame. Displacement of the four-barrel-carburetor Rocket engine is up from 324 to 371 cu. in., hp from 240 to 277, compression ratio from 9:1 to 9.5:1. Above: Golden Rocket "88." PR: $2,439 to $3,792.
New look is smoother, longer, lower. Longtime silver-streak motif is gone, replaced by stainless steel "missle" outline. Windshields are bigger, colors new (e.g., Kenya ivory). Longer piston stroke ups displacement from 316 to 347 cu. in., with hp on two-barrel carburetor models up to 252 (270 for four barrels). Compression ratio is 10:1, up from 8.9:1. Below: Super Chief Catalina coupe. PR: $2,201 to $3,146.
Reinforced fiber-glass body is basically unchanged from 1956. Fuel-injection, 283-cu.-in. V-8 engine achieves milestone of one hp per cu. inch with 283 hp (up from 225 hp). Options: manual shift or automatic transmission, one or two four-barrel carburetors, 3.70:1 or 4.11:1 rear-axle ratio (3.55:1 with automatic transmission), hydraulic valve lifters or mechanical lifters (competition engine). Basic price: $3,150.
CONTINENTAL MARK II
In keeping with principle of preserving an enduring design, the Continental retains its classic hardtop (below) as standard. New this year: a convertible by celebrated Derham custom coachbuilders. Engineering advances include higher-compression (10:1), 368-cu-in. engine with new carburetor, stronger steel torque converter, improved brake linings, a limited-slip differential, automatic headlight dimmer. Price: $8,938.
Completely restyled Fords come in two sizes for first time: Fairlanes are 9 inches longer and 4 inches lower than last year, Customs 3 inches longer and 3½ inches lower. Industry's first retractable hardtop (in operation above) withdraws in half minute. Engines: Thunderbird V-8 (optional) with 245 hp, 312-cu.-in.; 212-hp, 292-cu.-in.; 190-hp, 272-cu.-in.; and 144-hp, 223-cu.-in. (six cylinders). PR: $1,679 to $2,428.
Industry's most powerful car (375 hp at 5,200 rpm), 300-C hit 145.7 mph in tests. New body has big air-scoop grille. New torsion suspension aids handling. Dual headlights are standard. Two four-barrel carburetors feed 392-cu.-in. engine (compression ratio: 9.25:1). Optional for highest performance: 10:1 compression ratio, high-speed camshaft, low back-pressure exhaust, new limited-slip differential and hand shift.
Upswept rear fenders, four headlights accent styling revisions. Power brakes and steering are standard. Six-way power seat, electric door locks, automatic headlight dimmer are optional. More power (300 hp, up from 285) comes from higher compression (10:1, up from 9:1), new four-barrel carburetor, redesigned combustion chamber. Piston displacement remains at 368 cu. in. Below: Landau. PR: $4,203 to $4,885.
Utilizes canted rear fender fins of standard Fords, retains essential racy look. Bumper-mounted wheel is out; bodies are 5½ inches longer, providing 15% more luggage space under long rear deck. Engine options range from 270 hp (20% increase over 1956's most powerful) to 212 hp. Transmissions available are automatic, automatic overdrive, or standard. Center of gravity is lower, brake-lining area larger. Price: $3,088.
Chrysler introduces new Saratoga model (below) for middle-range market penetration. All models have new aviation-influenced styling with high rear fins. Bodies are as much as 5 inches lower. Torsion-Aire suspension, improved centerplane brakes help handling. More powerful engines (up 45 hp to 325 hp on New Yorkers) come in three models, with piston-displacement range from 354 to 392 cu. in. PR: $2,757 to $4,182.
Radical restyling, based on XM-Turnpike Cruiser dream car, features concave rear fender channel. Cars are 5 inches longer, 3 inches wider, 4 inches lower. Engines: 290-hp, 368-cu.-in. V-8 or 255-hp, 312-cu.-in. V-8. Higher-priced Turnpike Cruiser (below), to be premiered at show, has low-profile roof flaring out over rear window, novel air intakes, power-retractable rear window, tachometer. PR: $2,315 to $3,415.
Chrysler's most luxurious car reflects company's aircraft-inspired styling. Four inches lower and three inches wider, it incorporates new Torsion-Aire suspension (see page 57), three-speed push-button automatic transmission, six-way power seats, dual headlights. New models: a convertible and LeBaron sedan. Engine: 392 cu. in., 325 hp, 9.25:1 compression ratio. Above: Southampton hardtop. PR: $4,347 to $5,168.
New, lower-priced Firesweep now joins the Fireflite and Firedome models. Three-speed push-button transmission, torsion suspension, floating-shoe brakes are new. Fireflite engines have 295 hp, 341 cu. in., 9.25:1 compression ratio; Firedomes: same except for smaller carburetor, 270 hp; Firesweeps: 245 hp, 325 cu. in., 8.5:1 compression ratio (power pack ups hp to 260). Below: Fireflite hardtop. PR: $2,479 to $3,498.
As much as 5 inches lower, it follows Chrysler's low-silhouette look, has Torsion-Aire suspension, better brakes and more luggage space. Engines: Getaway Six has 230 cu. in., 138 hp, 8:1 compression ratio; Red Ram V-8 has 325 cu. in., 245 hp, 8.5:1 compression ratio; Super Red Ram V-8 achieves 260 hp through four-barrel carburetor, dual exhausts. Above: Lancer hardtop. PR: $2,124 to $2,832. High-performance Dodge D-500 engine (optional extra) ups hp to 310.
For the first time, a supercharger (see page 57) is standard equipment on a production car (the Golden Hawk, below). The McCulloch five-pound boost, full pressure blower can ram 30% more fuel and air into combustion chamber. Limited-slip differential reduces wheel spin on slick surfaces. Golden Hawk 289-cu.-in. V-8 engine produces 275 hp; Silver Hawk V-8, 210 hp (optional: 225 hp); Silver Hawk six-cylinder: 185 cu. in., 101 hp. PR: $1,954 to $2,912.
Basic style continues. A new V-8 engine is added to the improved 6. The V-8, with 250-cu.-in. displacement, 8:1 compression ratio, delivers 190 hp. The 6, a 195-cu.-in., 8.25:1 model, produces 125 hp—135 hp with optional dual-throat carburetor. Coming next spring: the Rambler Rebel, a high-performance four-door hardtop with electronic Bendix aviation-sired 255-hp, fuel-injection V-8. It bows at show. Above: hardtop station wagon. PR: $1,757 to $2,442.
Drastically restyled from hooded headlights to upthrust tail fins. New Fury "301" engine with power pack, available on all models, is a 301-cu.-in., 235-hp V-8 with 8.5:1 compression ratio. Standard "301," on Belvedere, Savoy and Suburban models, produces 215 hp. Plaza models deliver 197 hp with 277-cu.-in. V-8, 132 hp with six-cylinder engines. Distinctive high-performance Fury model is rated at 290 hp. Above: Belvedere sedan. PR: $1,704 to $2,187.
Moderate restyling conceals engineering advances, which include variable-rate coil springing that automatically adjusts for road conditions (standard) and limited-slip differential (optional at additional expense). Three more powerful engines are utilized: a 289-cu.-in., 210-hp V-8 for Presidents, 259-cu.-in., 180-hp V-8 for Commanders and 185-cu.-in., 101-hp six-cylinder for Champions. V-8 compression ratio: 8.3:1. Below: President Classic. PR: $1,823 to $2,433.
Like Nash, Hudson cut prices for 1957 ($229 to $375). Cars are 2 inches lower, have new 327-cu.-in., 255-hp V-8 engine with 9:1 compression ratio, four-barrel carburetor, dual exhausts. Kingpin-type front suspension is replaced by steering knuckle assembly. Body and frame are of one-unit construction. Reclining seats and bed combination are standard on custom models. Padded dashboard is standard. Above: Hollywood hardtop. PR: $2,520 to $2,781.
First of this famed but in recent years hard-hit make to be assembled in South Bend, Ind. under Studebaker-Packard's consolidation plan, the 1957 Packard will make its debut at the show but will not go to dealers until mid-January. Clipper sedan (above), which strongly resembles standard Studebakers, will be 2 inches lower, 300 pounds lighter. Sales concentration will be in medium-price field. Price and engineering details have not yet been announced.
Minor restyling utilizes new dual headlights, but big news is price cut ($236 to $331). Nash and Hudson are only makes dropping prices in face of industry-wide markup. Nashes are 2 inches lower, have more powerful 327-cu.-in., 255-hp V-8 engine with 9:1 compression ratio and four-barrel carburetor. Unitary, body-frame construction, travel beds, padded dash panels are continued. Below: Ambassador Country Club hardtop. PR: $2,520 to $2,781.
Built in England, Metropolitan is American Motors' bid for the small-car market. It is available either as convertible or hardtop. Dimensions: over-all length—149½ in.; height—54½ in.; wheelbase—85 in.; width—61½ in. Its new four-cylinder Austin A-50 engine, with overhead valves, 90-cu.-in. displacement and 7.2:1 compression ratio produces 52 hp at 4,500 rpm. Standard manual gearshift. Price: $1,527 (hardtop, above), $1,551 (convertible) f.o.b. port of entry.
SPORTS-INSPIRED IDEAS AT THE SHOW
CHEVROLET FUEL INJECTION
Detroit's first fuel-injection engine (below) achieves faster response, quicker starting, smoother idling and greater fuel economy than conventional carburetion. Fuel flow is controlled by air pressure. While engine idles, air entering cleaner (1) flows continuously through ducts (2) to fuel nozzles (3). With power on, the balance of clean air (4) passes throttle valve (5) into intake manifold (6) to intake ports (7) to mix with injected fuel. Throttle valve (5), responding to accelerator, controls the air flow, and thus the system. Fuel from fuel pump (11) enters at (8), admitted by valve (9). Fuel (arrow) splashes into the reservoir (10), moves through pump (11) to passage (12) and up to ball-check (13), where it is pumped to fuel lines (14), thence to nozzle, in which it is atomized and sprayed into air at intake port (7). Mixture passes valve (15) into the combustion chamber (16) on the intake stroke. During deceleration or coasting, vacuum tube (17) operated by high vacuum at closed throttle valve (vertical position) signals diaphragm (18) above fuel pump (11), raising diaphragm and thus causing fuel to return to the reservoir (10). For fast acceleration, movable pivot (19) is operated by fuel-enrichment diaphragm (20), controlled by reduced vacuum created as air rushes past opening (21) at full throttle (horizontal position). Plunger (22) moves down, increasing fuel flow to injection nozzles. Electric choke (23) operates on vacuum system (24) for cold starts.
Industry's first standard supercharger (on Golden Hawks) hikes performance. Entering air is rushed by finned impeller (1) through nautiluslike chamber (arrows) into final passage (2) to carburetor (from 3). At lower speeds, some air (4) enters small holes and flows (arrows) to solenoid assembly (5), which either permits air to act on piston (6) or stops the flow. As engine speed decreases, air flow forces piston to push movable inner surface (7) of variable-ratio pulley toward fixed outer lip. This forces drive belt up, reduces impeller speed at low throttle. At full throttle, piston retreats, impeller speeds up and blowing force increases.
Front coil springs are out, and torsion bars are in on all Chrysler group cars. Main elements of new suspension are torsion springs (1), which resist, by twisting, forces which tend to throw the car off level. Other elements are upper control arms (2), lower control arms (3), lower control-arm struts (4), sway bar (5), rubber-isolated sway bar hinges (6), anti-brake-dip control-arm mounts (7), shock absorbers (8), hand-set car-leveling devices (9) and new outboard rear springs (10). System reduces front-end diving on quick stops, improves cornering stability and cuts vibration.