In the late ’50s, all the American cars were big. They were long and heavy. Some were starting to grow fins. The Buick had enough chrome in its grill to build a ferris wheel.
The Oldsmobile, if it were properly fitted with a howitzer and some camouflage, could go into battle. Every year the American cars got longer, heavier, and more bizarre in design. We all waited each year to see what the new monsters would look like.
When the ocean liner RMS Saxonia docked at Liverpool, England on June 6th, 1956, I was in for a big surprise. At fifteen years of age, being quite impressionable, the first thing I saw on our six-week tour of Europe left me with a lasting memory. I said, “Look at those little cars!” I had never seen such a thing. Our ’53 Buick back home could swallow one of these things for lunch.
I wondered if we might take one of these strange “little” cars home as a souvenir, much like one would a refrigerator magnet or key chain. I can still picture those tiny four wheelers dockside at Liverpool. My mom, with her discerning eye, concluded that they were, “cute.”
Today, there are small cars all over the place, so I laugh thinking back to how amazed I was to see those “little cars.” The first really small car I ever owned was a 1969 Datsun. Of course, that was a Japanese car, and didn’t rekindle any memories of Europe. But, now that Fiat has come back to the American market, I might have to look at one of those after the lease runs out on my huge Hyundai Sonata, which incidentally, doesn’t have enough chrome to make a key chain.
Originally published November 5, 2015, as “On the Dock at Liverpool.”
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