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.
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.