The Spiciest Sports Cars of the '50s
Plus, Curated Mid-Century Modern Home Listings from Across the Country
We spend a lot time here talking about post-war architecture, but maybe not enough about automotive. The 1950s weren’t just a great era for homes and furniture and today we’ll prove it.
So, what was the greatest sports car of the 1950s? Here are a few ideas:
1956 BMW 507
How cool is the 507? Well, Elvis Presley owned two of them. Manufactured from 1956 to 1959, the BMW 507 was the brainchild of automotive legend Max Hoffman (more on Max to come). The roadster was envisioned to fill the market gap between the expensive Mercedes 300SL and cheaper offerings from MG and Triumph. The 507 was powered by a 3.2 liter V8 and came with a 4-speed ZF transmission. Higher than expected manufacturing costs made the car more expensive than intended, with pricing starting around $10,500 USD (~$117,000 in today’s dollars). In the end, only 252 units were built, making them predictably collectible (and spendy) today.
1955 JAGUAR D-TYPE XKSS
Futuristic and aggressive, the Jaguar D-Type was built to win Le-Mans, which it did in 1955, 1956, and 1957. You couldn’t buy the race car, but a street-legal variant called the XKSS was offered in limited quantities. Steve McQueen famously owned one and enjoyed driving it fast. The actor was reported to have received so many tickets that his driver’s license was nearly suspended during his first year of XKSS ownership. If you want an XKSS today, get ready to pay more than a beach house for it. Seriously, they cost $18M
1956 PORSCHE 550 SPYDER
The 550 is so classic and influential it’s kind of hard to imagine it not existing. Building off the success of the 356, Porsche built the mid-engined 550 with an air-cooled 4-cylinder engine in both 1.1 and 1.5 liter variants. The car was a motorsports success seeing class wins at Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana. James Dean owned one of the first 90 550s, numbered 130 (VIN 550-0055). The car served as his race car and daily driver. A 1955 crash in the vehicle resulted in the actor’s early passing. The 550 is among the most frequently reproduced classic automobiles ever.
1954 MERCEDES-BENZ 300SL GULLWING
Obviously the 300SL has to be here, just look at the thing. The SL was introduced to the American market at the suggestion of old Max Hoffman who understood first-hand the stateside demand for high-performance sports cars. When it came to performance, the SL or “super-leicht”, delivered. The 300 SL, capable of reaching speeds of up to 263 km/h (163 mph), was the fastest production vehicle available at the time of its release. The gull-winged coupe version was produced from 1954 to 1957 with some 1,400 units produced.
Fun fact: The 300 SL is the only car on this list available for play on Mario Kart
1959 FERRARI 250GT SWB
So choosing just one 1950s Ferrari is impossible. After all, they all have V12s and look incredible. Ferrari as its own brand was still fresh, having released the first Ferrari-badged production car in 1947. First unveiled October 1959 in Paris, the short-wheelbase 250 GT began racing and selling quickly.
Like other 250s, the 250GT SWB featured the famous V12, this version producing nearly 280bhp. The combination of the SWB’s 2,400mm wheelbase, low weight, and well-sorted suspension produced excellent handling. The model was a consistent GT-class race winner. Today the car is remembered as a perfect “dual-class” Ferrari - one that the owner could drive to the track, race, and drive home.
Disclaimer: Lists like this one are of course bait and inevitably snub some great picks. What about the American cars you might ask? One could make a great case for the Corvette C1. The Ford GT and Mustang wouldn’t be released until 1964. What about Aston Martin? Yes, the DBR1 or DB4 deserve some love. Comment what else I missed below.
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