There were other kinds of car enthusiasm in those days. NASCAR enthralled crowds in the South with rough-and-tumble oval track racing. Hot rodders were tearing across salt flats in search of impressive speeds and hurtling their cars down quarter-mile drag strips, legal and illegal, to find out who had the fastest car. Their culture was centered on the Detroit iron and the V8 engine. Sports car purists turned up their collective noses at the greasers and their homebuilt rods and an "us versus them" mentality resulted. It remains to this day. Yet, a few mavericks found the lightweight small-block V8 could be a formidable weapon on a road-racing track, especially when cobbled together with a lightweight chassis. The American V8-powered road-racing special was a fierce beast that could occasionally humble the most sophisticated blue-blooded European sports car.
Things couldn't last. As the 1960s dawned, everything began to change. Racing became a business, and eventually a big business. Professionals filled the top spots on the grids and the only way to compete was to spend more money. Regulations began to determine more and more of automotive design; wacky ideas were discouraged as the needs of lawyers and safety advocates took precedent over the desires of wild-eyed racers. Cars became safer and much more reliable, but lost some of the cheeky fun that is expressed by an Austin Healey Bugeye or a Porsche 356. There's a reason why so many cars at car shows are from the '50s.
Today, anything from the '50s is automatically cool. Furniture that was once considered cheap and disposable is now chic, collectible, and stylish. Household items that were flea market staples now bring top dollar, and even the most mundane of automobiles from that era are dragged out of their slumber, tarted up with glossy paint jobs or left as "barn-finds." It's getting harder and harder to find a ratty old sports car from the '50s-they have either been restored at a cost many times their original purchase price, or have rusted away and returned themselves to the earth.
Fifty years have passed since that last day of 1959. Our future, and especially our transportation future, appears bleak to those of us who like cars and enjoy driving. It is important therefore to remember that at the end of the '50s, things looked pretty bleak too. An oil crisis had just been narrowly averted, pollution was destroying the planet, the Cold War made everyone edgy, and nuclear annihilation was the sword hanging over civilization's head. Every generation faces its challenges, and to a certain extent, the automobiles they build for themselves reflect their dreams and desires. The question we need to ask today is this: What kind of cars will our generation build for themselves?