Can You Ace This 1950s Car Quiz in 6 Minutes?


John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: PCH

About This Quiz

In the aftermath of WWII, the 1950s brought expanding economies in Western nations, new science advancements, "I Love Lucy," jet air travel and the race to space. The cars of the decade reflected those developments in sleek, low styling, a new wave of powerful V8 engines, more widely available automatic transmissions and air conditioning and even high-beam headlights that could dim automatically when oncoming traffic was detected.

American cars grew larger in the 1950s, and by mid-decade many had sprouted tailfins, a styling appendage originally seen on the 1948 Cadillac. Most brands introduced flashier luxury models, while Chevrolet and Ford brought out their two seat Corvette and Thunderbird, respectively. A booming post-war economy in the U.S. revved up demand for exciting new models, as well as cheaper “second” cars for families in suburbs.  

The 1950s brought some impressive successes, like the iconic 1955-1957 Chevys, bit also dismal failures, most famously (or infamously) the 1958-1960 Edsel from Ford. Do you know why the Edsel failed? And, why did other brands, like Chrysler’s DeSoto division, also disappear?

The big, flashy, powerful cars of the 1950s seemed to defy the cold war fears of the period. The chrome, fins, and sheer girth would eventually get out of hand, but the drama was fun while it lasted.

So, then, how well do you know 1950s cars? We’ve sprinkled this quiz with some surprises to really test you. So jump in and take an unforgettable mid-20th century ride!

The 1955 Ford Thunderbird was meant to be a direct competitor to which vehicle?

Chevrolet introduced the Corvette in 1953, and Ford was able to quickly develop its own two-seater, the Thunderbird, for 1955. The “T-Bird” was redesigned into a larger, four-seat model for 1958, however, ending the short-lived rivalry between these models.


The Roadmaster Skylark was made by which company?

Buick’s 1953 Roadmaster Skylark was a limited-production convertible with a unique custom body and loaded with luxury. Built to showcase the brand’s all-new V8 engine, it cost $5,000 – nearly 50 percent more than standard Roadmaster convertible. Buick made 1,690 Skylarks for 1953 and another 836 for 1954. The Skylark name was later used on 1960s compact and midsize models.


What was an unmistakable feature of the 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville?

Cadillac sparked the tailfin fad in 1948 and took it to dizzying heights with its 1959 design, which featured rocket-like taillights protruding from the upper part of the frighteningly pointy, chrome-tipped fins.


Which company made what many consider the most iconic American car of 1957?

The 1957 Chevrolet became not only a car-culture icon, but a pop-culture icon, too. It remains one of the most recognizable cars of the 20th century, featured in movies, television shows, advertising, music videos and more.


The Super was a full-sized car from _____.

Buick’s Super model, offered from 1940 to 1958, combined the brand’s largest body, also used for the Roadmaster, with mid-range features for a lower price.


Which cars came with the TorqueFlite automatic transmission?

In 1957, Chrysler began equipping some of its cars with the new TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission, replacing the two-speed PowerFlite. The original TorqueFlite served reliably in everything from big luxury cars to muscle cars and economy models until the 1980s.


Oldsmobile was known for making a model called the _____.

Oldsmobile introduced the 98 as its top-of-line model for 1941, the name being derived from the company’s large “Series 90” body with an inline-eight cylinder engine. The 98 name stuck around through 12 model generations until 1996, although by then its original meaning had become obsolete.


Which company introduced the Powerglide transmission in 1950?

Chevrolet introduced its PowerGlide automatic transmission in 1950 and used it until 1973. Other General Motors divisions used different automatics from the late 1940s until early 1960s, including Buick’s Dynaflow and the Hydra-Matic used by Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Pontiac.


DeSoto cars were made by which parent company?

Chrysler Corporation introduced DeSoto as a kind of “junior” brand in 1928, but by the 1950s, it was essentially just a cheaper, slightly restyled Chrysler. Sales plummeted with the recession of 1958 and never recovered, and Chrysler dropped the brand after a few thousand 1961 models were sold.


True or false, was the Ford Mustang introduced in the 1950s?

False: Ford introduced its low-priced Mustang sport coupe and convertible in April 1964 as 1965 models.


What was the Chevrolet Nomad?

Chevy introduced its Nomad in 1955. The first three model years, Nomad was a uniquely styled two-door wagon with a special fastback rear window. From 1958-1972, Chevy used the Nomad name on a series of conventional four-door wagons.


In 1959, which company unveiled its Invicta model?

For 1959, Buick replaced its Century model with the Invicta. It used the 325-horsepower 401 cu.-in. V8 from the larger Electra in the shorter body of the LeSabre, which had a 250- horsepower 364 cu.-in. V8.


The Super Turbo Fire V8 was an option in which cars?

Chevrolet introduced its 265 cu.-in. V8 engine, later to be nicknamed the “small block,” in 1955 models. The base version, called the Turbo Fire, had a two-barrel carburetor and was rated at 162 horsepower. The optional Super Turbo Fire version substituted a four-barrel carburetor and added dual exhausts to boost output to 180 horsepower.


The Series 62 was a full-sized car from which company?

Cadillac offered its Series 62 model from 1940 until 1964. Late-1950s versions got noticeably sleeker and lower, and, like all Cadillac models, sprouted towering tailfins.


In 1958, which company began making the doomed Edsel automobiles?

Ford introduced the 1958 Edsel, named for Henry Ford’s only child, as a sub-brand offering what was supposed to be a futuristic mid-priced wonder car. The Edsel’s unattractive design, however, turned away customers, while those who did buy it found plenty of quality lapses. It became an instant failure that caused Ford to lose a whopping $250 million.


In the 1950s, which company made the Hornet?

In the early 1950s, the Hudson Hornet was built lower than other cars of the period, which helped make it handle well and make it a champ in NASCAR racing. In the Pixar animated film “Cars,” the character “Doc Hudson,” voiced by Paul Newman, was a Hornet.


What was a defining trait of the Chevrolet Bel Air?

From 1950 until 1957, the Bel Air was Chevy’s top model, featuring fancy trim and a touch of interior luxury. Then, in 1958, Chevy added an even higher trim level called Bel Air Impala, which then became simply Impala for 1959.


The Buick LeSabre was first offered in which year?

Buick rolled out its LeSabre model for 1959, borrowing a name from a radical concept car for its base-level full-size model. It would prove to be Buick’s most popular car for many years, and the model name lasted until 2005.


The Chevrolet 150 was mostly intended for which market?

In the mid-1950s, the Chevrolet 150 was its most sparsely equipped and lowest-priced model, intended mainly for fleet buyers. Any customer could order a Chevy 150, however, and dealers might keep one or two in stock to attract economy buyers with a super-low price.


Which of the following car companies sold the most vehicles in the 1950s?

American carmakers sold a whopping 59 million cars from 1951-1960. Of those, 13.4 million, or nearly 23 percent, were Chevrolets. Ford came in second with 12.3 million, and Plymouth was third with 5.6 million.


The Blue Flame Six was an engine that made it into cars from which company?

In 1953, Chevrolet offered its old inline-six cylinder engine, a pre-WWII design, in two types. Cars with the Powerglide automatic transmission got a 235 cu.-in. version called the “Blue Flame,” while cars with a manual transmission got a 216 cu.-in. version called “Thrift King.” The Blue Flame, with some tweaks to give it 150 horsepower, was used in the Corvette introduced that year.


What was notable about the Nash Metropolitan?

Nash designed its tiny Metropolitan to be a “second car” for a two-driver family. Though designed in the U.S., the Metropolitan, offered from 1954-1962, was made under contract by Austin Motor Company in England and had no Nash parts.


The Pacer was sold under which brand?

Long before American Motors Corporation (AMC) used the Pacer name on a bulbous late-1970s compact, Ford’s ill-fated Edsel brand used it in 1958 for the model above the entry-level Ranger.


What sort of car was the Chrysler Saratoga?

In the 1950s, Chrysler’s Saratoga was the mid-line model positioned between the Windsor and New Yorker. All shared the same body but varied in standard equipment standard V8 engine power.


Crosley was known for making very ____ cars.

Crosley, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, began making super-compact cars in 1939 and built them until 1952. Crosley models were just about 145 inches long, weighed 1,100-1,400 pounds depending on body style and used a 26-horsepower 724cc four-cylinder engine. The 1949 Hotshot model was a stripped-down roadster.


In 1952, General Motors introduced the Autronic Eye in some models. What did it do?

Think automatic high beams are a new idea in your 2019 luxury car? Think again. General Motors offered its Autronic Eye feature in some cars starting in 1952. It used a light-sensing photo tube encased in what looked like an alien death ray sitting atop the dashboard, pointing out the windshield to detect the lights of oncoming cars.


What memorable hood ornament was featured on the Nash Metropolitan Series III?

Though tiny, the Nash Metropolitan could be flashy with two-tone paint. In 1958, the Series III model added the “Flying Goddess” hood ornament seen on larger Nash models. The ornament was, essentially, a chrome and apparently nude flying woman.


In 1959, Buick began making a full-size luxury car with which name?

Buick introduced the Electra for 1959 as a replacement for the top-of-line Roadmaster model. This was the year of Buick’s wild-looking angled tailfins. The Electra name continued until 1990, by which time it had become a front-wheel drive model.


What sort of vehicle was the BMW 507?

Built from 1956-1959, BMW’s 507 was a high-end roadster with a small V8 engine. It was originally meant to sell about 5,000 cars a year, priced at $5,000 and with the U.S. as its prime market. Plans went awry, though, and just 252 were built, costing $10,000 each. In 2018, a 1957 BMW 507 sold at an auction in England for $5 million!


Which company began making the "B" and "RB" big-block engines in 1958?"

Chrysler Corporation introduced its B and RB-series V8 engines in 1958 to replace the heavier and expensive-to-build FirePower (hemi-head) V8. The B engine was available in 350, 361 and 383, and 400 cu.-in. displacements, while the larger RB (“raised block”) versions went up to 440 cubic inches by the mid 1960s. The famous 426 Hemi of the mid- and late-’60s was based on the RB.


Explore More Quizzes

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!