Hooniverse Asks: ’50s Edition- What’s the Greatest Race Car of the Nineteen Fifties?

The 1950s represented a golden age of motor racing. Pretty much everything set to track was still front-engined, and a famous adage expressed of the era is that back then the tires were skinny and the drivers were fat.
Consider some of the cars that first saw the light of day during that rock and roll decade: the Mercedes 300SLR, Jaguar’s C and D-Types, and the Birdcage Maserati which closed out the decade,  just to name a few. The ’50s also saw NASCAR gain prominence as governing body, and of course that racing series provided a platform for a number of American cars to show their mettle.
We’re looking at all things automotive in the ’50s this week, and today, we want your vote on what was that decade’s greatest race car. Which one do you think takes the checkered?
Image: Simanaitis Says

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  1. Kiefmo Avatar

    Despite reverence for the roof’d-and-gullwing’ed version, it certainly isn’t this one.

    1. Scroggzilla Avatar

      And you say this because?

      1. Kiefmo Avatar

  2. jim Avatar

    I can’t decide beetween the Maserati 300S and the 450S

  3. GTXcellent Avatar

    There will be countless nominations for Europe’s finest sports cars (and rightfully so) so I’m going to go in a different direction – the Hudson Hornet. Arguably the car that helped usher in stock car racing to the masses.

  4. Scroggzilla Avatar


    1. Scroggzilla Avatar

      Or, the 550 RS

    2. engineerd Avatar

      It’s hard to argue against the D-Type considering its success in endurance racing including a three-peat at Le Mans.

  5. Alff Avatar

    I’m confident all of you smart people can arrive at the answer. Instead, I’ll take this opportunity to express my admiration for a class of 50’s racer – the etceterini. Here’s an excellent page about them…

    1. The Rusty Hub Avatar
      The Rusty Hub

      I somehow missed this post the first time around, but I also posted this link. These cars are amazing.

      1. Alff Avatar

        It must have been a fantastic time to be a gearhead.

  6. Tanshanomi Avatar

    I am going to nominate the Ferrari 246. Because, as Woody Allen said, “80% of success is showing up.”

  7. The Rusty Hub Avatar
    The Rusty Hub

    So many to choose from: Maserati 250F, Jaguar D-Type, Kurtis Kraft Offys, Porsche 356 and 550, Jaguar XK120,
    I think the one with the greatest legacy, though, has to be the Cooper-Climax T51. It was the first F1 champion with the engine behind the driver, which of course has become the model not only for race cars but also for the highest-performing road cars.

    1. The Rusty Hub Avatar
      The Rusty Hub

      They weren’t probably the “greatest” racecars of the ’50s, but the SCCA H-Mod cars take the cake for most Hoon-worthy. The rules basically put the cars at 750cc (maybe 850cc) or smaller and since there weren’t really bike engines, that meant using Fiat or Crosley engines and then souping them up. Bandini famously built a twin-cam head for the Crosley that, depending on what you read, might have made 110 horsepower at 12,000 RPM. In the late 1950s. Cars were generally spaceframe or using a Fiat frame or something similar with a fiberglass body over the top and either homemade or adapted components just about everywhere else.
      Almost all of them were one-off “Specials,” built in amateur racers’ garages and the fiberglass body molds were frequently done without drawings or engineer consulting, just aiming for a streamlined teardrop shape, as was best understood at the time to be aerodynamic. The end result was usually a sub-1,000 pound racecar that was utterly dangerous to race. And yet race they did. As I understand, few of them are left intact.
      If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend perusing the Etceterini archives on them:

      1. The Rusty Hub Avatar
        The Rusty Hub

        Oh, god. I’d forgotten about how awesome this picture is. Mini D-Type H-Mod, FTW.

    2. crank_case Avatar

      The mid engined coopers would be my choice too, it brought single seaters into a tottaly different era. There were other stabs at the idea before like the Auto Unions, but they pefected it. The early F3 coopers where made using two Fiat Topolino front ends to give independent suspension too, which is a great example of the British “Garagista” thinking that changed F1 over the next few years.

  8. Chuck Pasadena Avatar

    The Lincoln Capri, finishing 1-2 in class at the 1953 Carrera Panamerica.
    Photos from Hemmings.com

  9. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    Lotus Eleven? Simplicity and lightness meet aerodynamics and an Index of Performance win so convincing the French couldn’t rules lawyer it away.

  10. wisc47 Avatar

    Aston Martin DBR1. Greatest? Maybe not, though it did win the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans. Greatest looking? Well it certainly is a contender.

  11. Tomsk Avatar

    The final Cummins Diesel Special Indy car was an amazing machine. Its turbocharged 6.6L straight-six (installed just 5-degrees off of horizontal, allowing for an insanely low profile) made about 380 horsepower, yet could easily complete the 500 mile race on one 50 gallon tank of heating oil. Freddie Agabashian qualified it on pole for the 1952 Indianapolis 500 with a new record average speed of 138 mph and change, and was running as high as fifth before the turbo inlet became clogged with klag and other debris, forcing a retirement at about 1/3 distance (though a complete engine teardown done 16 years later revealed the crankshaft was also on the verge of snapping in two).

    1. 1977ChevyTruck Avatar

      Wha… Never knew they existed, but now… I think I have a new favourite race car, ever, not just 50s!

  12. cap'n fast Avatar
    cap’n fast

    memory lane is a truly torturous path best trod only in one’s mind. however, it should be noted there were never cars in the 1950s that were truly great, only truly great drivers. a truly great driver would make a car with dynamically unstable characteristics perform so well that fans attributed the performance to the machine instead of the man. there were no computers for any of the vehicle systems as used today and all functions of the cars were controlled by the driver or the mechanics.