Doane Yawger: The good, bad, ugly of cars

July 17, 2010 

Doane Yawger, Sun-Star reporter

MERCED SUN-STAR

Want to know what the ugliest American car of the 1950s was?

Leafing through one of those books that chronicles all the cars of a particular decade the other day, it hit me. This particular car is ugly; always has been and always will, I think.

I was 3 years old when the decade began and an almost teenager when it gave way to the 1960s. For most of the decade I was very aware of cars; I caught the "car bug" early and it's stayed with me big time ever since.

Without question, my nomination for ugliest car of the 1950s has to go to the 1950 Lincoln; the front end on the 1951 Lincoln is even worse although the rear view was vastly improved. By 1952, Lincolns were pretty decent-looking cars even if they took styling risks throughout the decade.

The 1950 Lincoln four-door sedan had rounded corners all the way around and an odd-looking turret top. Its front end looks like a boxer or bulldog. Those looks are fine, even endearing, on a dog, but not a car.

That pitiful-looking Lincoln must have been the inspiration a half-century later for the Ford Taurus. It took styling risks that the public loved.

The Lincoln's headlights are vaguely reminiscent of late-model Mercedes sedan lights and also fit into the ugly category.

Styling is subjective, of course, and folks may have their own opinions on ugliness. I haven't liked that Lincoln since it was new and the sight offended my sensibilities once again when I reviewed the car book this week. It's ironic since many body and styling features were shared with the 1949-51 Mercury models, some of the best-looking cars of the decade.

"Honorable mention" for ugliest 1950s car has to go to the 1950 Frazer four-door sedan. It didn't rack up as many ugly points as the Lincoln but it sure is frumpy. The Frazer only lasted one more year, thankfully.

Those were the only two American cars from the 1950s that stood out as ugly for me. The only other car remotely close was the French-made Citroen. It's a styling disaster and actually makes the Lincoln look good.

By the way, I like two cars that some folks would nominate as the ugliest. The 1958 Edsel is endearing, bizarre for sure, but still a smart-looking car with its "horse collar" grille and eyebrow-like taillights.

Many folks would nominate the 1958 Packard Hawk as ugly because of its flat fish mouth. It shares most of the styling qualities of the Studebaker Hawk with the different front end treatment. I'd take one of the Packards in a heartbeat.

So, if we're handing out bricks, where do the bouquets go?

There are two American cars that are tied for first place as most stylish in my estimation. My favorites have to be the 1959 Pontiac and 1959 Oldsmobile. Both have dramatic front and rear fenders, along with exciting grille and taillight areas.

A few other cars merit inclusion in a decade of favorites for me. For Fords, it would be 1950 and 1958 models. With Chevrolet, the 1956 stands out as the most stylish of that period.

I'm partial to 1956 Buicks since I learned to drive on one but my favorite Buick has to be the 1959 model with its dramatic fins and toothy grille. Another stunning Oldsmobile has to be the 1955 model, one I've always loved.

I'm not sure what I'd do if somebody gave me a 1950 Lincoln, although there's no chance of that happening. It's a good candidate for a car cover or being parked behind the barn in the back pasture. Mechanically, the Linc might be great but it's tough to look at.

Styling was especially important in the 1950s, maybe less so these days. American cars' looks changed dramatically from year to year and I have to admit how I perceive a car or truck's "lines" have considerable bearing on what I think of that particular vehicle.

Some vehicle designs hit an immediate styling home run while others don't offend the eyes and some take getting used to over time.

We may try this decade styling exercise on another time period again some time. But for now we have a "winner" and it's the 1950 Lincoln.

Doane Yawger is a retired Merced Sun-Star reporter and editor who can be reached at dsyawger@sbcglobal.net

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