Pop Culture 1954: The Year The Car Sales War Heated Up

1954 Chevy Bel Air 2-door sedan. Photo from www.barrett-jackson.com.

Best selling car tag line has prompted a sales race once a second auto manufacturer came on the scene. For the past century, it’s been a Ford vs. Chevy war since Chevrolet began selling cars in 1912. Honestly, it wasn’t much of a selling war in the beginning with Ford outselling Chevy 30 to 1 at the start. The margin had closed to 3 to 1 by 1920.

Ford began a changeover from the Model T to the new Model A cars in 1927 which took them offline for much of the year, allowing Chevrolet to lead in sales for the first time. This allowed Chevy and Ford to really start the battle by trading the top selling spot back and forth for the next few years. Chevy sold the most in 1928, Ford took over in 1929 and 1930. Chevrolet led from 1931 through 1934 and Ford took over in 1935.

Chevrolet decided they liked the title as the best selling auto manufacturer and outsold Ford 44 times in the next 47 years (Ford led in 1957, 1959, and 1970).

The 1954 Ford Crestline. Photo from www.hemmings.com.

There was one year in the middle of this Chevrolet run that stood out as the bloodiest battle year between the two manufacturers: 1954. The companies did not publish sales reports in those days, so there was no clear sales winner for the year. In February of 1955, the R.L. Polk & Co., an organization that reported on motor vehicle statistics, declared a sales winner for 1954 by number of vehicles registrations. They had Chevrolet winning by 17,013 cars. This was a slim margin considering that the two manufacturers combined sales for the year were over 2.8 million cars.

There is no doubt that 1954 was a unique year for the automotive world, not only for the Ford vs. Chevy sales race, but other milestones stood out. General Motors produced it’s 50 millionth car, the first automatic toll collection machine made its appearance in New Jersey, and Mercedes introduced the 300SL coupe, with its gull-wing doors. Nash and Hudson merged to form the American Motors Corporation (AMC) and the Nash Metropolitan, built by the Austin Motor Company, went on sale for $1,445.

1954 Chevrolet 210. Photo from www.hemmings.com.

We wondered what the rest of 1954’s pop culture looked like, and taking inflation into account, we discovered that things weren’t that much different today. Here’s a sample of what things cost in 1954:

  • New car: $1,950
  • Gasoline: 22 cents a gallon
  • New house: $17,500
  • Average monthly rent: $85.00 per month
  • Bread: 17 cents a loaf
  • Milk: 92 cents a gallon
  • Average annual salary: $4,000
  • Minimum wage: 75 cents per hour
  • Movie ticket: 70 cents
  • Life magazine: 20 cents

Bill Haley and the Comets hit “Rock Around The Clock” set a new standard in pop music in 1954. Photo from wikipedia.org.

Other 1954 Pop Facts:

  • Most popular Rock And Roll Song: Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets
  • NBCs The Tonight Show was first aired with Steve Allen as the host
  • Marilyn Monroe marries Joe DeMaggio
  • Elvis Presley begins his music career
  • The top popular films were White Christmas, The Caine Mutiny,  The Glenn Miller Story, and On the Waterfront.
  • Celebrities born in 1954 include Condoleezza Rice (Nov 14), Bruce Hornsby (Nov 23), Jackie Chan (Apr 7), and John Travolta (Feb 18).

Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio on their wedding day in 1954. Photo from wikipedia.org.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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