Chrysler Air Conditioning 1954 - Feels like a fridge. Looks like a fridge.

Recently, Jalopnik's informal daily reader survey, the "Question Of The Day" asked "What car colors need to make a comeback?" My response didn't make it into the top ten responses, but I am now surprised that turquoise didn't make it in either. I mean, paired with the white accents in this '54 Chrysler, it looks damn good. The effect is more impressive with all the shiny metal surfaces on the interior of the car.
See? Pretty. Could I live with it every day? Probably not, but just because I wouldn't buy a car this color doesn't mean I couldn't appreciate there being cars like this around. Car colors are stuck in a rut. Silver, champagne, black, white, with an occasional daring splash of dark blue or burgundy. There are exceptions to this chromatic vehicular dirge, but overall, the scenery on my daily commute is far too monotonous. I'm not helping, either. My car? Silver. Yawn. It was the one on the lot with the features I wanted, though.

Apart from the color of this Chrysler, the predominance of body-color surfaces inside the car is notable, as is the preponderance of hard metal surfaces, each of which are all too eager to bash your brains out. This was 1954, when building a safe car meant making a nice rigid box for you to bounce around in when you hit something good and solid. That steering column is a gorgeous piece of industrial design that will look just as pretty rammed through your chest. Fortunately, this will never happen, because the steering wheel will prevent it from sinking in too far, like the "basket" on the end of a ski pole. The woman in the ad will  have to settle for admiring the beauty of the steering column with her head stuck through the wheel. Let's not talk about her daughter.

How safe was this car? The ad doesn't tell us which of their cars was used for the picture, and I'm not enough of a vintage car buff to tell just by looking at the interior (although I think there may be some in the peanut gallery that can). In general, a modern car weighs roughly the same now as an equivalent model did way back in '54, thanks to heavy stuff like electronics and safety equipment. However, they're structured VERY differently. Your average Car of the Future is designed to crumple itself into a ball to dissipate a crash's energy, sacrificing itself to save your life. They didn't understand much about safety features in 1954.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rates vehicular fatalities on a number of scales, but a key number to look at is the number of deaths per hundred million miles traveled in cars by the population. This is the "fatalities per VMT" (Vehicular Miles Traveled). This is clever, because it controls for the greater number of cars on the road these days, which would otherwise make it hard to compare numbers.

So, how many people died per hundred million miles driven in 1954? Six.
How many deaths per VMT in 2009? One and a half.

Also, current cars have more "soft touch" surfaces inside, like rubberized plastic, foam, and fabric. This makes the interior more quiet and less echoey. A conversation in the '54 Chrysler would have been like talking in an oil barrel. However, one thing all those shiny metal surfaces have going for them is that it's really easy to clean them. Viscera wipes right off.

Click for biggerness.


Craig F. said...

It always surprises me that only six people died per hundred million miles traveled in the 1950s. That's amazing, considering how little safety equipment was in the average car. You didn't even get a seatbelt.

I'm going to argue with you on the quietness of a vintage car, though. Drive in a Buick from the early 1950s. You'll be amazed at how quiet they are.

The gauge of steel they used for door panels was about four times the thickness of current door panels. The glass was twice as thick. The insulation in the interior was natural jute and about a foot thick. The carpet was better than anything you can get in your house today. Tires barely had tread on them and their main feature was that they operated quietly.

Finally, because everything was either a straight six or a V8, the engines turned slowly and relied more on torque than they did on horsepower. Compare that to a modern four-cylinder that operates at a higher RPM level.

Steve Miller said...

First photo in the Jalopnik comment thread -- Volvo 1800 ES in burnt orange -- let's just say that it takes a certain car to carry that one off. BMW 2002, perhaps, or a Volvo 145 wagon. Had one... worst dodgamn car ever, but it sure looked great. Liked the subdued yellow Volvo had offered, too. Most of my Volvos were Akavit. But you can call it white.

Let's not bring back Studebaker's 1955 Speedster colors, especially Lemon and Lime.

Steve Miller said...

Craig -- four times thicker, but rusted out four times faster, too!

Craig F. said...

What's amazing about this video inside a 1940 Buick is that the two old buzzards driving figured out how to post on YouTube.


Craig F. said...

Well, Steve, everything rusted prior to galvanization.

I haven't seen a Japanese car from the 1980s driving around in traffic since about 1985.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Craig: You know, I hadn't thought of those things (about the noise). I will need a ride in an old car, post haste. I just gotta finish my anti-bear suit in time for the ride.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

I predict that two-tone paint will make a comeback some time soon. It's a natural, given the current success enjoyed by the various "retro" car designs.

I know two-tone cars can be found if you look in the right neighborhood, but I mean TASTEFUL two-tone paint.

Steve Miller said...

Craig -- You'll get no argument from me. Galvanization is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but we're past the era of retro two-tones. Retro car design, when it took off around 2000, seems to copy cars right about at 42 years earlier.

Don't believe me?
* 2005 Mustang mimics the original Mustang of 1964(1/2), 42 years.
* 2002 11th Gen. Thunderbird, mimics original from 1955, 47 years.
* 2008 Dodge Challenger, mimics 1970 Challenger, 38 years.
* 2010 Chevy Camero, mimics 1969 Camero - 41 Years...

Come 2022, mimicking the cool cars of 42 years previous would mean you're dead in the middle of the American "Malaise Era".

The cool stuff was all from over seas. The Toyota Celica, the Datsun 300Z, the BMW 3 Series, even the DeLorean. All America made was giant, heavy boat-cars.

I just can't see any company wanting to reintroduce the Ford LTD or Dodge Diplomat.

No, mark my words come 2022 (probably about 2018), if the trend continues and the electric/hybrid market keeps going, we'll see a new 4th Generation Chevy Cavalier Z24, or an all new electric Ford Mustang II, or a new generation performance-hybrid Dodge Omni...

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Wow, anonymous! I like your moxy, kid. I hope we can expect to hear more from you 'round the comments in the future


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