Midcentury Style – A Guide to Products for Late-’40s and Early-’50s Cruisers
There’s a lot of potential in midcentury American car offerings, as evidenced by the tough-looking ’54 Chevy built by Scott Sullivan shown above.
Ever notice a slight gap of model years while walking through your typical cruise night or coffee get-together? You’ll see some late-’20s and early-’30s rods, a ’39 or ’40 Ford, and then it skips to some Tri-five Chevys and on to early-’60s rides and muscle cars. There’s often a gap representing cars from the late-’40s and early-’50s – cars with a lot of potential, but that are often overlooked. Goodguys has always recognized the appeal and importance of these midcentury cruisers.
Following World War II, it took a few years for new designs and technology to hit dealer showrooms – most ’46-’48 models were modestly facelifted versions of their ’40 and ’41 predecessors. The 1949 model year marked a new beginning for most domestic automakers, with advances like independent front suspensions becoming more common and distinctive slab-sided “envelope” body designs becoming more popular. We also saw the development of overhead-valve V8 engines, with Cadillac and Oldsmobile leading the way.
Long popular as custom fodder, late-’40s and early-’50s cars are well suited for a variety of styles, from simple resto-rod cruisers, to performance-based machines with hot rod flavor, to low-and-slow taildraggers. These cars are still relatively plentiful, and they’re well supported by the aftermarket if you know where to look. We checked in with some manufactures to see what they had to offer, focusing primarily on ’49-’54 models, but sprinkling in a few options for ’46-’48s, as well. Take a look and see what parts might be available for your midcentury cruiser.
As cool a cruiser as a ’50 Merc makes, the steering, like any vintage car, leaves a lot to be desired. Not only is the steering action seriously dated, but they’re likely worn out and far from ideal from a safety point of view.
To bring you peace of mind and a much-improved steering feel, Borgeson Universal has developed an integral power steering conversion box for the 1949-51 Mercs. The box bolts to the frame with no modifications and is supplied with a pitman arm to connect to the existing steering linkage. The new power steering box is a bit longer and requires shortening the factory column about 3-inches. You’ll be amazed at how power assist along with a quicker ratio will transform your Merc’s overall drivability!
Radial in a Bias
Many enthusiasts love the look of bias ply tires on classic cars, but in the same breath, most people don’t like to drive any distance on them. Coker Tire has the answer for those who want the period-correct appearance of a bias ply tire but crave the improved ride quality of a modern steel belted radial.
Coker’s American Classic bias-looking radial was specifically designed for cars built from the late-’40s through the early-’60s. With nine sizes, and options for a wide or narrow whitewall along with a blackwall, the American Classic bias radial product line is the perfect fit for many restored classics, hot rods, and customs.
Total Cost Involved Engineering
IFS Your Chevy
One of the best handling upgrades you can make to a ’46 – ’54 Chevy car is by upgrading to a newer Independent Front Suspension such as the system offered by Total Cost Involved. This Coil Spring IFS is engineered for easy installation with a broad range of alignment adjustments so you can dial-in your application.
TCI has re-engineered its original spring towers to utilize a vertical metal plate to mount the upper control arms. This design provides easier camber and caster adjustments via shims instead of alignment slots and T-bolts for a stronger, more secure alignment. The system is backed by TCI’s Dual Warranty, which covers wear and tear items, while a lifetime warranty is placed on their manufactured components.
New Port Engineering
Many rodders overlook the importance and safety of a quality windshield wiper motor – until they’re driving through a storm. Making a long drive with a blurry windshield is no fun and a driving hazard that can easily be avoided thanks to New Port Engineering and their full line of direct-fit wiper motors and accessories.
New Port offers a bolt-in, heavy-duty 12-volt wiper motor for ’52-’54 Mercs. The heavy-duty, sealed motor delivers reliable performance with their clean-wipe technology. The strong motor provides quiet operation and even has two speeds and an option for intermittent action. Mounting brackets are included for factory fit and more kits are available for Chevy, B-O-P, Ford, Dodge, Henry J, Packard, Nash, Studebaker and Hudson models – if you don’t see your application listed, give them a call!
No Limit Engineering
Low Ride IFS
No Limit Engineering offers an IFS system engineered specifically for use with air bags so you can get your old Ford or Chevy to sit as low as you want. Their complete RoadGlide and AirGlide kits are based on the proven Mustang II design but incorporate a more secure shim-style alignment, have upper and lower shock mounts, bump stops, and air bag mounts. No Limit uses their own Smart Spindle and Rotor that accepts an 11-inch rotor.
The RoadGlide systems are available for ’41-’48 Fords and ’49-’54 Chevy cars and are supplied with everything you need for installation from hub to hub, including the main crossmember, tubular A-arms, power rack and pinion, upper mounts, rotors and all the necessary hardware.
Owners of 1949-52 Chevys will be relieved to see that they can start with an all-new, high-quality gas tank for their cars. TANKS, Inc. offers a new steel 18-gallon tank that is alloy coated to protect against corrosion. The tanks are 1-inch deeper than stock, but fit in the stock location and are supplied with straps and a 1.5-inch mandrel-formed filling tube.
A standard five-bolt sending unit mount is provided and the tank can be used with an stock-style fuel pickup for carbs or one of TANKS internal pump assemblies for fuel injected applications. The tank is engineered with a recessed area for the sending units to ease installation and wiring.
Art Morrison Enterprises
When you’re working with a 70-year-old car, there can be a lot of surprises that pop up such as a rusty or bent frame. Almost anything can be fixed, but you’d still be stuck with ancient technology and are just waiting for more unpleasant surprises. Sometimes it’s just best to start with a new foundation such as a GT Sport Chassis from Art Morrison Enterprises.
The AME Chassis, available for ’49-’54 Chevrolet passenger cars, features all the necessary body, bumper, engine, transmission and core support mounts to bolt on the body. The engine mounts are set up for a small-block Chevy engine while the use of adapter plates will allow you to install any of the LS or LT engine platforms. With their Sport IFS front and triangulated four-bar rear suspension systems, you’ll end up driving a classic Chevy that feels like a modern car.
Midcentury Chevys look great lowered over a set of whitewalls, like Dennis Rivera’s ’50 Fleetline, or with a little more hot rod flair, like Baker Kirkpatrick’s ’52 Chevy with five-spoke mags and redline tires.
Six in One
The dashboard, specifically the gauge cluster, of a ’49 or ’50 Chevy is an example of simplicity in packaging. With the fuel level, temp, oil pressure and battery charge surrounding the speedometer within a single circle, every important detail was kept right in front of the driver. If you plan to update your car, but want to keep the factory design, turn to Classic Instruments.
Classic offers a ’49-’50 Chevy package that features the fuel, temp, oil psi, voltage and a tach all in one direct-fit package. The assembly bolts right into the dash and their Zeus Speedometer Technology makes calibrating the electronic speedometer easy. All of the electronic sending units are included and features LED lighting with a built-in dimmer. The assembly works directly with ECMs or a VSS signal so no additional boxes are required for a clean, simple installation.
Owners of ’49-’51 Fords can turn to Fatman Fabrications for a long list of suspension upgrade kits for their cruisers. But when you’re working with a chassis that is seven decades old, why not step up to a completely fresh foundation with one of their complete new chassis!
Fatman’s bolt-in chassis features heavy-wall steel construction and is designed with factory-located mounting points for the body and bumpers. Four-wheel disc brakes, premium coil-overs from RideTech, a power steering rack, and a 9-inch rear axle loaded with a posi and 3.70 gears are just a few of the standard features supplied. A stronger chassis with improved suspension geometry and components is a win for classic Fords.
10 Pieces for Peace
Wind noise and window rattles can make for an annoying ride in any classic car. To answer the needs for a quiet seal every time you roll up the window of your midcentury cruiser, Steele Rubber offers a 10-piece kit window felt kit.
Steele’s kit is ideal for ’46-’54 cars as it includes all the window felts and the run channel needed to complete any two-door cruiser that has a vent window divider. They’ll even show you how to properly bend, shape and attach them with helpful how-to videos on their YouTube Channel. Once installed, your windows will seal tight with a smooth up and down movement of the window.
When it comes to instrumentation for classic Chevys, Dakota Digital has them covered. They offer multiple gauge faces with a number of LED backlighting options to perfectly fit your interior design. Dakota’s products are designed to bolt in place of the factory assemblies and are packed with modern technology and features for today’s hot rods.
The gauges provide precision values with solid-state sensors for oil psi, coolant temp, and vehicle speed. It’s also simple to integrate more readings such as outside air temp, a compass heading, or even transmission temp without the clutter of additional gauges. Interfaces are also available for compatibility with both OEM and popular aftermarket EFI systems.
Framed in Chrome
When it comes to replacing the lenses, trim surrounds, and other details of your ’49-’54 Chevy, KNS Accessories has you covered. After all, it’s the little details and pieces that add up to make a big difference in the overall appearance of your cruiser.
One of their latest offerings is a chrome license plate guard, originally made for the front of ’49 Chevys. The smooth chrome surface surrounds the plate adding protection along with enhanced style. With a little modification, the guard can easily be made to fit many ’50s bumpers, which is one reason these guards have been popular on traditional-style customs for decades.
It seems as though the ’49-’51 Mercury was just meant to be customized. They wear a chop, body mods, and a serious drop so well, but typically the suspension and ride is seriously compromised. Roadster Shop set out to change that with their REVO IFS Chassis.
Roadster Shop designed its own front suspension to give these full-size custom Mercs the ride quality they deserve. Their unique system provides controlled roll centers, eliminates bump steer, and provides optimized camber and caster curves to deliver the best combination of ride quality and street performance. With 5.5-inches of wheel travel and positive and negative bump stops, the REVO front end allows smooth articulation through the full range of motion, creating comfortable, balanced and street friendly dynamics. Make your Merc ride as great as it looks!
In Search Of
It’s somewhat easy these days to find replacement parts and upgrades for popular Ford and Chevy models from the ’40s or ’50s, but what do you do when you’re looking for an idler arm for a ’46 Cadillac Fleetwood or a pitman arm for a ’53 Willys CJ-3? You head right over to Rare Parts, Inc. and check out their Diamond Series line Steering and Suspension Parts.
The Diamond Series line is full of brand-new components designed for the classic and hot rod market. Each part is updated to exceed OE specs and is tested in-house to verify fitment, strength, and overall quality. When it comes to steering components, Rare Part covers applications dating back to 1920 with bolt-on components built to modern specifications.
Midcentury Mopars have plenty of potential, too. How about Larry Thompson’s clean ’50 Plymouth convertible or Doug Scott’s ’50 Plymouth Suburban wagon.
Looking for modern tech built into a stock-appearing gauge or something a little more custom for your classic cruiser? Thanks to CON2R’s TwinThree instrument design, you can easily design your own with their online Instrument Builder page.
The TwinThree cluster consists of two 6-inch diameter gauges separating the speed, fuel, and temp into one, with the tach, volts, and oil in the other. The gauges feature modern technology, including electronic stepper motor drives, a PCB controller, and LED halo lighting. You can stick with a vintage look or jump on their builder page to select different colors, lettering, needle designs, even the top mph of the speedometer!
Rock Valley Antique Auto Parts and Tanks
Odds are that the original gas tank of your old cruiser has already been patched and likely seen better days. Rock Valley Antique Auto Parts and Tanks offers new stainless tanks for most late-’40s and early-’50s makes and models so you can rest assured of no leaks or foul smells every time you fuel up.
Rock Valley’s tanks are crafted from 304 grade stainless and fully TIG welded and pressure tested. They offer tanks for standard carbureted engines as well as models with in-tank pumps to support electronic fuel injection systems and modern engines.
Tubing & Lines
There is an art to making fuel or brake lines, especially when it comes to flares and tight bends. If you’re your replacing a shorter line, it can be a rewarding experience to do it yourself, but when it comes to crafting a line that forms neatly to the chassis from front to rear along with the proper flares and fittings, it’s best left to the pros such as Classic Tube.
Classic Tube offers OEM-fitting brake, fuel and transmission lines for most ’46-’54 models. They can also duplicate your patterns if you send the lines in to their Lancaster, New York, facility. If you still decide to try your hand at making your own lines, they also offer flaring and bending tools along with coils or straight lengths of stainless, OE steel, aluminum and Cupronickel tubing and fittings.
Chassis Engineering Inc.
With more than 50 years of experience designing and manufacturing hot rod suspension kits and components, Chassis Engineering Inc. knows how to make a midcentury hot rod ride. One of their most popular upgrades is their bolt-on independent front suspension.
The key to the bolt-in system is an innovative crossmember with an interlocking design that creates a strong foundation for the suspension. CEI offers just the crossmember, or a complete kit which includes tubular control arms, spindles, disc brakes, and the steering rack. CEI is now part of the Heidts Suspension family with complete line of made-in-the-USA hot rod components.
Classic Car Stereos
It seems that retaining the factory look of your cruiser while disguising modern tech updates is the thing to do these days. You hear about it with tires, engines, and even in slight body modifications, but what about the radio? Classic Car Stereos brings modern Bluetooth, auxiliary inputs, and a digital tuner into an OEM-looking radio.
Each radio is designed to fit right into your dashboard with no cutting or modifications to provide a correct factory appearance. The needle even moves while you search for a new station! The radios are perfect for show car restorations and Classic Car Stereos offers high-quality replications for 1951-54 Chevys and 1949-50, 1954 Fords (and many later models).
With your suspension and driveline all dialed in, it’s time to think about personal comfort – meaning the seat of your cruiser. A sunk-in, spongey seat with broken springs is far from comfortable and likely doesn’t offer much in the appearance column, either. In that case, it’s time to put a call into Wise Guys.
Wise Guys offers seats built to fit right into ’46-’54 rides. All their seats are based on a new frame constructed of 16-gauge steel, and then powder coated to last for miles and miles. The seat backs will recline backward (and forward) to find your most comfy position. Seats are available bare or can be finished to your design from a catalog of materials including leather, suede, Naugahyde, and more.
Chevs of the ’40s
With a name like Chevs of the ’40s, you get a pretty good idea that these guys know their Chevys. They also offer restoration parts for earlier models and are a resource for parts to fit Chevys up through 1954. They’re a one stop shop when it comes to restoring your classic Chevy from bumper to bumper.
Speaking of which, one area where they really shine is their offerings of all new bumpers including brackets, bolts and end caps. Their catalog includes stock-style chrome bumpers, polished stainless versions, and even some custom “Briz” polished alloy bumpers with ribs for a nice custom touch.
Flat Out Engineering
C4 Front End
Flat Out Engineering wants to help you make your fat-fendered Ford handle like a Corvette! They designed their weld-on front crossmember kit to accept the control arms and spindles of a C4 Corvette. This combination delivers the stronger Corvette hub bearing and brake assemblies, making your hot rod an updated classic that will perform as good as it looks!
Each crossmember is designed to fit the specific frame of your vehicle to provide the correct mounting points to obtain the correct geometry, handling and anti-dive characteristics as a C4 Vette. Combined with Flat Out’s coil-overs and a new power steering rack, you won’t believe the handling and comfort of your street rod.
Street Rod Engineering
Updating the rear suspension of any vintage car is important to achieve improved ride characteristics, handling performance, the proper stance, and the strength to handle big tires with big power. Street Rod Engineering is ready to help you achieve these goals with their triangulated four-link system for your classic.
SRE offers their rear suspension kits for most applications. The kits include heavy-wall tubular steel links, heavy-duty premium spherical rod ends, a beefy crossmember mount for the coil-overs and three-point adjustable lower coil-over mounts to help set the ride height just right. They also have options for air-controlled suspension systems and IFS kits.