If Buick had bared its teeth in 1949, it was only a prelude to the full-frontal attack launched in 1950. Many have said they went too far with the “bucktooth Buick” which had appeared midway through the previous year in a new 1950 Special line. The public, however bought Buicks by the bucketload, pushing Buick up to third place in the sales race behind Chevrolet and Ford. Buick symbolized success both for itself and for the buyers of automobiles.
Success was also in sight for Cadillac at the unlikely venue of Le Mans, where a Caddy-powered Allard came third. Two others also placed in the race: an almost stock series 62 coupe was tenth and a special-bodied Series 62 was 11th. Surprising results considering their ever increasing size and shape.
Chevrolet had little to offer in 1950 that had not been avaialble the previous year and all their ad men could write about was the fully-automatic Powerglide transmission and a two-door hardtop called the Bel Air.
Mercury could not match Chevvy’s one and a half million sales but they did make their millionth automobile that year. What changes they made were small, but a significant addition to the range was the Monterey coupe which featured a padded canvas or vinyl top and a custom leather interior. Ford tried similar treatment on its special edition Crestliner and in so doing won the coveted Fashion Academy award for the second year.
The influences of the street trends were certainly being felt and the ’49 to ’51 Merc was, and always will be one of the customizer’s favorite cars. The Barris brothers were responsible for its impact by chopping and changing a ’51 for owner Bob Hirohita. Other features incorporated into his car included full fender skirts with 1950 Cadillac style fake air scoops, a floating single bar grille, sunken headlights, frenched ’52 Lincoln tail lights and Buick side trim. It set a trend which has been repeated on custom cars ever since and the Hirohita Merc as it has always been known, is still around today.
The idea of custom car shows was really beginning to catch on and the first Annual National Roadster Show was held in Oakland on 19 January. The event still takes place and its accolade for America’s Most Beautiful Roadster remains the most coveted. The winner that year was Bill Miekamp with his track-style roadster built on an Essex chassis with parts from four Model A Ford bodies and a 1942 Mercury engine.
Another milestone event was taking place in California, when on 19 June C.J. Hart opened the world’s first commercial drag strip at what was the Orange County airport in Santa Ana. Prior to this, Hart and his friends had raced, up to eight-abreast at Mile Square but they were eventually kicked off the US Navy property by the Marines.
To begin with the competitors at Santa Ana were mainly driving stockers but gradually the dry lakesters stopped playing in the sand, got used to a short sprint, and the sport of serious drag racing had started.