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Chevy hit the jackpot in 1950

Buyers turned out in record numbers as the good times rolled.
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The new 1950 Chevrolet Deluxe Bel Air two-door
hardtops came with a MSRP of $1,741. Apparently that
was enough to impress even the polo-playing crowd.

The “baseball-and-apple-pie” crowd tried to enjoy postwar prosperity in 1950, even though fighting between North and South Korea was threatening to explode into another global conflict. Average Americans watched the New York Yankees trounce the “Whiz Kids” Philadelphia Phillies 4-to-0 in the World Series. They viewed “Arthur Godfrey and Friends” on the 14 million black-and-white TV sets they bought that year.

And they flocked to their local Chevrolet dealerships in record numbers to see the exciting new Bel Air “hardtop convertible.” There was certainly nothing akin to it in the low-priced market segment. Chevrolet’s model-year production, which had been as low as 745,138 cars as recently as 1948, peaked at an all-time high of 1,387,828 units during 1950.

Chevrolet’s advertising had an “educational” look in 1950, with illustrations of Chevrolet cars and their owners beside text explaining that the product was “first ... and finest ... at lowest cost.” In some ads, the “first” was subjective, such as first in value or first in beauty; in others first was objective and referred to features like the new Powerglide automatic transmission (the sluggish, two-speed, cast-iron-case type). Likewise, the Chevy could be viewed as “finest by every measure of value” or “finest for powerful Valve-in-Head thrills.”

When it came to price, Chevy’s advantage was there, in black-and-white, for everyone to understand. The lowest-price Plymouth retailed for $1,371, the lowest-priced Ford cost $1,333, and the lowest-priced Chevrolet model listed for $1,329!

The ’50 Chevys had the “envelope” body introduced in 1949. This terminology referred to the front fenders being flush with the outer door skins instead of bulging out like those on “fat-fendered” prewar-style models (which were, of course, carried over without major change until 1948). The rear fenders also stuck out less than those of “old-fashioned” cars, although they still looked like stuck-on pontoons. The lower part of the grille lost a few vertical elements and the new hood emblem had wings above it, instead of on the side. Taller bumper guards gave better frontal protection.

There were two basic styles of 1950 Chevrolet bodies. The first was the “bustle back,” which is usually referred to as a “notch back” today. The bustle back cars were called Styleline models. The convertible and the station wagon were also considered part of this line. Also available were two- and four-door “fastback” bodies. These were known as Fleetline models. The fastbacks were a bit sportier looking, but they had a prewar flavor to them, which soon caused them to lose favor in the forward-looking ’50s. By the mid-’50s, fastback styling would disappear for about 10 years.

In 1950, both the Styleline and Fleetline cars came with low-end “Special” trim or high-end “Deluxe” trim, although you could not get all models both ways. Some particular body styles, like the Styleline convertible, the Styleline Bel Air two-door hardtop and the Styleline station wagon, came only with Deluxe trim. The Deluxe trim “package” included fender skirts, chrome body side moldings, “Deluxe” script nameplates on the front fenders, windshield reveal moldings, chrome rear fender shields and richer interior trims and upholstery. Some models had gray striped broadcloth material with off-the-shoulder dark gray contrast panels, while others had vinyl or leather-trimmed seats.

Models available in the lower-priced Styleline Special series included two- and four-door sedans, a Sport Coupe, and a Business coupe. The latter had a single three-passenger bench seat up front and only a raised platform in the rear compartment. That was for salesmen to store their luggage and sample cases on. The business coupe was always a real “stripper” and always the lowest-priced model. Chevy made 20,984 business coupes in 1950, but you never see them at car shows.

The Fleetline Special line offered the same two- and four-door sedans available in the Fleetline Deluxe series. Even the most expensive Chevy — the four-door, eight-passenger station wagon — was priced below $2,000.

Chevy’s tried-and-true 216.5-cid valve-in-head straight six was again under the hood. Essentially, this engine dated back 38 years. There had been refinements over that period, but not a heck of a lot of them mattered much. The four-main-bearings, solid-lifter power plant put out 90 hp at 3300 rpm. When the new-for-1950 Powerglide option was ordered for $159 extra, a 235-cid in-line “truck” engine rated at 105 hp was used. This was the most powerful engine offered in a low-priced car in 1950.

It is also important to appreciate the fact that Plymouth and Ford did not offer optional automatic transmissions in 1950.

“Nowhere else in the entire field of low-priced cars, such a happy choice of driving methods and engine performance as this,” boasted one Chevrolet ad. “You may have the finest no-shift driving at lowest cost by choosing a Chevrolet embodying the sensational Powerglide Automatic Transmission teamed with Chevrolet’s 105-hp Valve-in-Head Engine.”

All Chevrolets were built on a 115-inch wheelbase chassis. The sturdy box-girder frame was more ruggedly constructed than ever before. The station wagon was 198.5 inches long and the other cars were an inch shorter. A torque tube connected the standard three-speed manual (or optional Powerglide) transmission to a semi-floating rear axle with hypoid drive. Standard equipment included 6.70x15 tires.

Every selling feature of the ’50 Chevrolet seemed to have its own promotional name, and a couple even shared the same one. For example, one ad mentioned “Center-Point” steering and another referred to “Center-Point” seating. (Do you think someone made a mistake?) Other features included “Unitized Knee-Action Gliding Ride,” “Proved Certi-Safe Hydraulic Brakes,” “Panoramic Visibility,” “Five-Foot” seats and “Silent Synchro-Mesh” transmission.

By the end of 1950, Chevrolet’s calendar-year production was reported as 1,521,000 units, which meant that Chevrolet supplied 42.4 percent of all low-priced American cars and 22.78 percent of all domestic cars. The new 235-cid engine and Powerglide transmission were installed in 300,000 of those vehicles.

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