In the decade following 1929′s infamous Black Friday, the automotive industry—among most others—was struggling to stay afloat in a drowning economy. Luxury automakers were in the worst peril—luxury auto sales came to a near standstill as the Great Depression unfolded. But, some say, that just as Americans found ingenious ways to creatively—and economically—solve their every day problems, automakers developed their own tricks for making a little go a long way. By the end of the decade, as the country rounded the bend towards war, the automotive industry was accelerating, yet again. Here are the top 5 iconic American classic cars of the Thirties—the stalwart survivors and the chic child of a new epic in automotive history:
1.1931 Cadillac Twelve
The 1931 Cadillac Twelve and its brother the Cadillac Sixteen, whose names referred to their engines was the natural next step for Cadillac after the V-8 received so much attention—and so garnered so many sales for GM. Cadillac had been struggling to improve its V-8 and ended up concluding that the best way was through a larger displacement and higher compression—thus the V-12 and the V-16 were born. The V-16 came first, followed by the V-12—the Cadillac Twelve—9 months later, boasting 368 cubic inches with dual carburetors and 135 horsepower. Both cars were famous for their free revving and smooth ride. The Twelve was offered in 20 different models—the Sixteen in 50. With the Twelve’s success, Cadillac’s reputation came to match its advertising claims as “the standard of the world.”
2.1932 Packard Eight
Packard, one of the only independent auto manufacturers to survive the Depression, kept making a good thing better with the Packard Eight, which came out in 1930. The car’s closed body models as well as the convertible, the roadster, and the Speedster, were sights to behold with their majestic, streamlined design a la Ray Dietrich’s design team. The car sat on a 127.5 inch to 147.5 inch wheelbase, depending on the model, and buyers could choose how much power they wanted, from the 320 cubic inch I-8 with 90-110 horsepower all the way up to the 384 cubic inch-er with 135 horsepower and, because Packard switched out its transmission midway through the year, restorers can choose between a three-speed and four-speed transmission for their Packard pet projects.
3.1932 Ford Deuce Coupe
The “Little Deuce Coupe” of Beach Boys fame, was born as the Model 18 coupe in 1932. No longer Ford’s golden child, the Model A needed an update and the Model B came to the rescue. Even more compact than previous Fords but with a roomier cab, the Model B swiftly caught up with Chevrolet, which had been nabbing Ford’s sales by introducing more style and comfort options earlier. The Model 18, styled after the Model B, was offered in a coupe—that which you know of as the “Deuce” today. Low, sleek, and soft to drive, the Deuce Coupe was Ford’s handsomest car yet—and its most advanced. The Model 18 came with a V-8, not a 4 cylinder engine with 65 horsepower. Never before had a budget-friendly, mass-produced car featured a V-8 engine under the hood. Sure, it didn’t hit Packard speed, but it didn’t have a Packard price, either!
4.1932 Lincoln K-Series
The 1932 Lincoln K-Series was one of Lincoln’s first appearances as part of the Ford family, having made its official debut with its new parent company the year before. Edsel Ford, in charge of overseeing Lincoln after its acquisition, paid special attention to the development of the Model K, as the K-Series was alternatively called. With rounder lines and a longer body than its predecessor, the L-Series, the K-Series lifted the Lincoln marque from almost-certain doom. The Model K was available with two engines—the KA, a 384.8 cubic inch V-8 with 120 horsepower, or the KB, a 447.9 cubic inch V-12 topping off at 150 horsepower. Style-wise, the Model K was easy on the eyes and detail-oriented buyers could specify their design dreams to a T (or a K, rather) by ordering custom coachwork. A new grille, As the Depression lifted, the K-Series received more attention, eventually commissioned as a specially-ordered touring car for President Roosevelt. Who knows what kind of fabulous success the Model K would have had in a Black Friday-free economy.
5.1939 Mercury Eight
The 1939 Mercury Eight, released at the end of the turbulent Thirties, was a sign of what was to come in the auto world post-Depression. Originally destined to be the Falcon, one of Edsel Ford’s designs, the Eight eventually evolved into the Mercury—a nod to the Roman god. And the Eight didn’t have to borrow any Ford or Lincoln hand-me-downs. It used all new body panels and its wheelbase—116 inches—was longer than its Ford cousins. Under the hood, the 95 horsepower V-8 was nothing to sneeze at—indeed, it was part of the reason that Mercury earned a reputation for itself as a performance brand. Its no wonder the Mercury Eight grew in popularity over the coming decade—later on, the 1949 Eight starred alongside James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, making Mercury almost as big of a star as Dean was!
For more on the top iconic American classic cars of the last century, stay tuned for the upcoming post—the Forties!