Rod & Custom has been preaching the gospel of '50s cars as long as there have been '50s cars. We've been even stronger cheerleaders since R&C's return in 1988, because many rodders seemed to forget these neat machines during the ascent of the street rod movement. Today we'd like to sermonize on the subject yet again.

Truth is, it's easy to make a case for '50s cars-their assets are obvious. Cars from the '50s are still relatively plentiful and continue to be affordable as long as you're not dead-set on a Tri-Five Chevy or '50 Merc. Furthermore, many came with V-8 engines, and almost all have suspension designs that are superior to their '30s and '40s counterparts, so there's less need to re-engineer the chassis and drivetrain. On top of all that, the aftermarket is continually developing more wares for post-'48 iron, making mechanical updates and visual improvements easier than ever.

Most importantly, '50s cars are cool. Always have been. They garner attention both on the street and at events and have a way of putting a smile on your face. Bigger and heavier than earlier iron, '50s cars make comfy highway flyers that beg you to take them on cross-country jaunts. Plus they've got oodles of room, so you can bring along the whole gang for a traveling party. Simply put, '50s cars are fun.

Something For Everyone
Perhaps more than any other decade before or since, the '50s represents a kaleidoscope of automotive styling. Dawning with bubbly, rounded, leftover '40s designs, the decade saw an abrupt advancement in style, resulting in long, low, Buck Rogers-inspired creations bursting at the seams with fins, chrome, and panache. Park a '50 Chevy next to a '59 Impala and you'll understand the decade's radical transformation. Consequently, there's a little something from the '50s to suit just about every rod or custom taste.

With fluid lines and simple trim, early-'50s cars present a perfect blank canvas on which to express your inner automotive designer. The conservative styling is easily cleaned up with frenched headlights and shaved handles, while custom grilles and trim swaps can work wonders to dress up the dowdy nature inherent in many lower-priced cars. That was one of the original goals of automotive customizing-to make your cheap car look like a more expensive model, or better yet, a coach-built creation. Many early-'50s cars are also great candidates for top chops, both from an aesthetic standpoint (it makes them look longer and more sleek) and a practical one (simple top designs and glass shapes make the job easier than it is on later cars).

Cars from the later '50s are pretty flamboyant in factory form, so they tend to require less radical restyling (think '57-60 Cadillacs and Mopars, or '58-60 Chevys). Many of these cruisers only need custom finishes to look "custom," so it's no wonder the era gave rise to wild paint trends like candies, 'flakes, flames, scallops, and panel jobs. Perhaps the biggest ailment from which many late-decade cars suffer is gaudy, excessive chrome, but that's easy enough to remedy-just shave the emblems and extra gingerbread to let the true styling shine through. Top chops are more difficult due to wraparound windshields and curved backlights, but a few brave souls still tackle the task with impressive results. The trick is the keep it conservative-a 2- or 3-inch lid lowering is all that's necessary for most late-'50s rooflines.

Do It Your Way
There's not much need to bore you with advice on buying a '50s car because it should be easy to find scads of potential projects by scouring swap meets, want ads, and the Internet. What's more important is what you do when you find that cruiser. These days the options are wide open-you can build a traditional 'sled, a hot rod, a slick contemporary custom, or any combination thereof. We combed through our photo files to show you some of the better examples we've seen recently, with an emphasis on real-world rides our readers can relate to. We hope they'll spark your interest and imagination, and maybe inspire you to start (or finish) your own '50s project. The cars are out there-isn't it time you joined in on the '50s fun?

Resto To Rod
If you're anything like me, starting projects is far easier than finishing them. Pair that with the fact that '50s cars have had a half century to deteriorate, and the idea of building a cool cruiser from a basketcase is even less appealing. So maybe it's time to consider a restored '50s car for your next project

Plenty of restored '50s cars can be found in the classifieds and at swap meets, many at reasonable prices-particularly offbeat models and amateur restorations. The buy-in will obviously be more than a bargain-basement project, but the payoff is the ability to enjoy the car immediately and modify it in increments as time and funds allow. With a few exceptions, you can typically buy a finished car for less money (often a lot less) than it takes to build one.

To prove that I practice what I preach, I recently bought a '51 Plymouth Suburban as a daily driver. Purchased for $4,000, the wagon is an older restoration with presentable paint, decent upholstery, and a stock, running drivetrain. Immediate plans call for new wiring, a little lowering, and disc brakes, with an engine upgrade and other mods coming down the road. I'll let you know how it goes.-Damon Lee