The 1950s Imported Cars 

    In Europe 1950s imported cars were undergoing a less radical change, the Jet age did not manage to whip the European public into quite such a frenzy.

    The Volkswagen Microbus goes into production in Germany with a design sketched 3 years before by the first U.S. importer of VW Beetles, Ben Pon. The loaf-shaped, air-cooled van will be called the Bulli in Germany, the Combi in Brazil and Mexico.

    The Volkswagen Microbus, which debuted in 1950, became a favorite of hippies for its unique styling and plenty of space for travelers.

    Well known 1950s cars such as the Aston Martin DB4, above and Jaguar XK120, below,  were produced in England.

    1954 Jaguar XK120

    In 1949 the first customer car, chassis number 670003, was delivered to Clark Gable. The "120" in its name referred to its 120 mph  top speed, which made the XK120 the world's fastest standard production car at the time of its launch, and one of the best 1950s imported cars.

    The Aston Martin DB4's unique design and performance would later form the basis for future Aston Martin classics, such as the DB4 GT Zagato, the Lagonda Rapide 4-door saloon, and its ultimate replacement the Aston Martin DB5, James Bond's favorite car.

    Italy was responsible for bringing the Ferrari 250 GT SWB on the scene, and Germany built the Mercedes-Benz 300 Gullwing, Porsche 356 A and BMW 507.

    This is just a small selection of 1950s foreign autos in Europe at the time, however they show this decades contribution to car design aptly, all the 1950s imported cars mentioned have things in common, they are all grandfathers of well known cars today, they all show gorgeous rounded, clean lines popular throughout vehicles of this era, and this trend was to continue and become more refined into the next decade. They were excellent manufacturers of 1950s imported cars.

    Mercedes-Benz 300 Gullwing  More than 1100 of the vehicle's total production of approximately 1400 units were sold in the US, making the Gull wing the first Mercedes-Benz which sold in bulk outside its home market and credited for changing the company's image in America from a manufacturer of solid, but staid, cars to that of a producer of sporty automobiles.

    Porsche 356 A

    BMW 507


    During the decade of the 1950s, Jaguar experienced unprecedented success. From a small plant in 1928, by the 1950s, the auto company needed a much bigger space in Coventry. In 1934 the company reported that exports amounted to less than ten percent of total sales; by 1951 exports of their 1950s imported cars amounted to 84 percent of total sales.

    This is all due to Jaguar car's popularity in the US. Road & Track and Popular Mechanics magazines in which readers selected Jaguar as the world's most popular sports car, with Porsche a distant second in both polls had made the Jaguar marquee a household word in the automotive industry and one of the most popular makers of fifties car imports.

    Add to that the success of Jaguar racing team which won the prestigious 24-hour LeMans race in 1953. A growing numbers of drivers competing in international races began to use Jaguar engines in their own 50s autos. As Jaguar team drivers earned plaudits and laurels for Coventry, export sales continued to increase, particularly in the United States.

    Mercedes Benz

    The Mercedes-Benz Corp. offered 300SL in its lineups of 1950s cars. It is a two-seat, closed sports car with characteristic gull-wing doors, and later, offered as an open roadster. Built by Daimler-Benz AG the road version of 1954 was based on the company's highly successful competition-only sports car of 1952, the Mercedes 300SL which had less power, as it still had carburetors.

    The 300SL was best known for both its distinctive gullwing or butterfly wing doors and for being the first-ever gasoline-powered car equipped with fuel injection directly into the combustion chamber. The gullwing version was available from March 1955 to 1957. American well-heeled buyers couldn't get enough of these 1950s imported cars.

    More widely produced (25,881 units) and starting a year later was the similar looking 190SL with a 110hp 4cyl engine, available only as roadster (or with an additional hardtop, as Coupe Roadster). Production for both the 190SL and 300SL ended in 1963 when the 230SL was introduced.

    A street version of the 300SL would be a commercial success, especially in the US hungry for sporty 1950s foreign automobiles. Built completely with steel except for the aluminum bonnet (hood), doors and boot (trunk), the 300SL could have been ordered with an all-aluminum outer skin, saving 80 kg (176 lb), but at tremendous added cost.

    First with fuel injection was the 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster.

    1956 Mercedes 300SL Coup 

    In Mercedes-Benz fashion, the "300" referred to the engine's cylinder displacement, in this case, three liters. The "SL", as applied to a roadster, stood for "Sport Leicht" or "Sport Light."

    In 1952, the 300SL racing history includes overall wins at Le Mans, Berne, Nürburgring, and Mexico's Carrera Panamericana. These successes, especially those on the high speed open road races, were rather surprising as the engine was fitted with carburetors and produced only 175 hp, less than the competing models of Ferrari and Jaguar, and less than the road car later on.

    But low weight and low aerodynamic drag made the 300SL fast enough to be a challenger. Superior reliability made it a winner among 1950s imported cars.

    Today, the 300SL with its unique doors and technological firsts is considered one of the most collectible Mercedes-Benz models of all time, with prices reaching well past the US$400,000 mark. In addition, Sports Car International magazine ranked the 300SL as the number 5 sports car of all time. Great 1950s imported cars.

    The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is inspired by these 1950s automobiles.

    More makers of 1950s imported cars


    Ferrari (now owned by Fiat) is passion on wheels. The theme continued through such models as the Ferrari 340 America and 375 MM of the early 1950s cars. These 1950s cars could be driven to the track, compete for the checkered flag, and carry their driver to dinner that night. This was the romance of the dual-purpose sports car, an ideal that culminated with the Ferrari 250 GT SWB coupe of 1959.

    The Ferrari 375 MM racer of the 1950s wasn't a world apart from Ferrari road cars. After that, the all-out performance demanded by competition and the veneer of civility required by Ferrari’s wealthy non-racing customers sent his road cars along their own route.

    Ferrari 340 MM


    After World War II, Toyota was kept busy making trucks, but by 1947 it began making the Model SA, called the Toyopet, a name to stay with Toyota for decades. The Toyopet was not powerful and had a low top speed – 55 mph from a 27 horsepower engine – but it was designed to be cheap, and to handle the rough roads of postwar Japan. By 1955, Toyota was making 8,400 1950s imported cars per year and by 1965, 600,000 cars per year.

    Toyota also produced a civilian truck named the Land Cruiser. Styled like Jeeps, the original Land Cruisers were based heavily on the legendary Dodge half-ton weapons carrier as well as the Bantam (predecessor of the Jeep). They used a bigger engine than the Jeep (their Chevrolet-clone six) and a size and configuration more like the Dodge weapons carrier, whose capacity it shares (one half ton).

    In 1955, Toyota produced its first luxury car, the Crown, powered by a four cylinder, 1.5-liter engine with a three-speed column shift, followed by the 1-liter Corona; only 700 1950s cars per month were made in 1955, but this rose to 11,750 in 1958, and 50,000 per month in 1964. The start of Toyota's international sales of 1950s imported cars.

    In 1958, Toyota started selling these cars, the Land Cruiser and Toyopet to the US. While neither sold well, the margins on the Land Cruiser were better, and the Toyopet was withdrawn while Toyota designed a car specifically modified for the American market – a strategy which later gave us the Avalon and Camry.

    A 50s Toyota Land Cruiser which was based on the US Jeep.


    When Volvo (now owned by Ford Motor Company) presented an open 2-seater sports car with a body made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic in 1954, it was something of a sensation. However, the car did not go into production until 1956 and, after a great many problems, production was wound up in 1957. By this time, 67 of these 1950s imported cars had been produced.

    From the beginning, the idea was that this car would only be exported. A convertible was not regarded as wholly suitable for the Swedish climate. However, in spite of this, most of the 1950s cars were sold on the Swedish domestic market.

    The car was based on standard components, mainly from the Volvo PV444, but it was built on a separate tubular frame. The engine was a developed version of the 4-cylinder, 1.4-litre engine from the PV444. Using twin carburetors, a different camshaft, larger intake valves and higher compression, this engine developed 70 bhp.

    Volvo P1900  Demand was low, and the build quality was not up to Volvo standards for these 1950s imported cars.


    1956 Popular mini of the Fifties: the Isetta signals BMW's entry into the small car sector 1957 "Stretch" version of the Isetta: the BMW 600 with a Boxer engine takes a maximum of four passengers. In 1959, after sustaining heavy financial losses in the big limousine sector, a merger with Daimler-Benz is planned. The 700 model is the first big-time series success for a BMW car.

    The 1955 BMW Isetta 300 was the world's first mass-production 3-Litres/100km car. It was the top-selling single-cylinder car in the world, with 161,728 units sold. It was a small car that used the scooter and named it Isetta—an Italian diminutive meaning little. Renzo Rivolta who built the small car, licensed Isetta to BMW and to companies in France and Brazil.

    1950s BMW 700

    The BMW 700 completely shed the bubble car look, was reasonably priced  with distinctive styling, not weird unlike the Isetta.

    1956-1959 BMW 507

    BMW 507 is a roadster that was produced by BMW from 1956 to 1959. It ended up being too expensive, resulting in a total production figure of 252 cars and heavy losses for BMW.


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