Help dating old photo with cars
June 12, 2010 7:37 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone help date this photo by looking at the cars? (United States, 1950's)

It was enclosed with a box of correspondence all dated 1957. It is for a website for work and I don't want to look stupid. I can always put "circa 1957" but if I can avoid it I don't want someone saying: "Dumbass, that's a 1958 Plymouth blah blah..." For a lot of the photos I'm having to put "unknown" or "circa," but with the cars I thought I might have more of a shot dating it.

The building is the courthouse in Asheboro NC if anyone cares.
posted by marxchivist to Grab Bag (22 answers total)
center car appears to be a 46-48 Chevrolet Fleetline. See pics here: and here
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:12 PM on June 12, 2010

woops, second link should be this
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:13 PM on June 12, 2010

Those look much more like 1940s, very early 1950s models, actually. I don't think any of them are from later than 1957. By then the styling of Chevrolets, Plymouths, etc had changed considerably.

Also compare this poster of 1950 model Chevrolets to a 1955, 1956, or 1957 model.
posted by jedicus at 8:14 PM on June 12, 2010

The car in the middle (the shiny one, darker color one) is a 1942 Buick Sedan (at least I think it is, after matching some wallpaper: 1, 2). I'm pretty confident that the other cars in the photo are pre-war also,
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 8:15 PM on June 12, 2010

I was going to say more like mid 40's to late 40's based on the car stylings, but take it with a grain of salt as I'm not sharp enough to identify the specific models.
posted by drpynchon at 8:19 PM on June 12, 2010

Aren't all those cars from the 40's? For reference see here. These are all ford vehicles but notice the dramatic change in body style in the 50's.
posted by substrate at 8:23 PM on June 12, 2010

Is there a year on the license plate that you can see? The scan is not detailed enough, but perhaps with the original photo and a magnifying glass, you'll be able to discern the year.
posted by nightwood at 8:29 PM on June 12, 2010

The cars are late 40's, although they weren't necessarily brand new when the photo was taken. The license plate is of a style North Carolina replaced for 1956, so the photo was almost certainly taken before 1957.
posted by Snerd at 8:29 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

One on the left is a 1940 Plymouth sedan.
posted by jamaro at 8:29 PM on June 12, 2010

The one on the right looks to be a '39 Chevy (note hood ornament).
posted by jamaro at 8:37 PM on June 12, 2010

Previous answers are right, all the cars are from the 1940's. The one on the far right appears to be a 1939 Chevrolet sedan. Note the vent above the front wheel, the front fenders with the squared-off trailing ends, the exposed hinges, and the suicide doors. The fender-mounted headlights also appear to be a match.
I think the one on the far left might be a late pre-war or early post-war Chrysler as well. The gas cap is in the same place in both pictures.
It's worth noting that car production stopped from 1942 until the end of the war, so designs stayed essentially the same from then until around 1950. Plus, maybe there just happened to be some old cars in the lot when the photo was taken. The left-hand one looks like it's got missing paint on the trunk lid and its bumper is pretty dented up.
posted by azuresunday at 8:39 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

On preview, jamaro nailed it.
posted by azuresunday at 8:46 PM on June 12, 2010

The car in the middle is a 1940s Pontiac. The three chrome strips on the side are the tipoff.
posted by zombiedance at 9:10 PM on June 12, 2010

My vote for the middle car is also early '40s Pontiac (the shape of the rear door in relation to the rear fender is really different on the late '40s/early '50s Chevy Fleetline, and I don't think the '42 Buick has quite the same ultra-long "fastback" profile).
posted by scody at 9:24 PM on June 12, 2010

Re: dating the picture, if you have other older known-date pictures of the same building, compare the landscape growth.

The statue is a CSA monument in front of what looks like a court house in the south in winter, maybe at some point the statue was moved? Though probably not before civil rights.

There are two gentleman with hats visible, one to the left of the left-car, one right in the middle of the left-car, his head showing over the car top (almost blends in with the shrubbery) - hat fashion styles maybe telling.

zombiedance: "The car in the middle is a 1940s Pontiac. The three chrome strips on the side are the tipoff."

Agreed good catch. According to the lit, the style was basically the same from 1942-1948

If it was me, based on the apparent age of all three cars (model year and how old they appear to be), and hat fashion styles, I'd put the picture at anywhere from 1942 to 1952 on a bell curve (the ends least likely) so "circa" 1947 would be the middle call.
posted by stbalbach at 10:52 PM on June 12, 2010

The car on the left has a visible license plate - so 1950s North Carolina license plate styles (and 1940s) should help narrow it down.
posted by milkrate at 11:50 PM on June 12, 2010

It's worth noting that car production stopped from 1942 until the end of the war, so designs stayed essentially the same from then until around 1950.

Not quite. The gradual sweeping back of the front fender went from just before the front door (like the car on the left) in the early 40's to incorporating the front door (like the car in the centre) in the mid 40s and to being incorporated into the entire side of the body in 1950.

The car in the middle is certainly the newest and will therefore put an "earliest date", and it is almost certainly a 1946 Pontiac (see here and enlarge). Fenders are the same, same shaped rear side windows and of course the prominent stripes.

Combining this with Snerd's information will give you a time frame of 1946 to 1956
posted by Neiltupper at 12:21 AM on June 13, 2010

The Pontiacs of that era are tough to ID nowadays because Pontiac was one of the first car companies to come out with multiple trimlines. The trimline differences were often very subtle and the best I can do is to go by process of elimination. The car in the center is definitely a Pontiac Streamliner 4 door sedan. Pontiac suspended production from '43-'45 so the question for me is are these pre or post-WWII autos.

Working backwards, it's not a '48 because the tripled chrome trim (officially called "speed line ribs,") along the sides went to a single bar that model year.

The 1947 sell sheet shows the upper horizontal body-spanning trim has been replaced by a short streak on the front flank.

The speed line ribs on the car in marxchivist's photo terminate in a badge behind the front wheel, that badge signified the car is a straight-8 cylinder (vs six). Here's an ad photo and a vintage postcard for the '46 sedan. It's got the speed line badge but the upper trim resembles the '47. Here's the same badge on an unrestored '46 coupe, note the upper trim, so I feel pretty good about eliminating 1946.

In 1941, Pontiac hadn't yet clearly delineated Streamliners from Torpedos but neither model's bulging front fenders extended past the door hinge.

Here's a restored '42 sedan. Note how the fender bulge extends onto the door. It also has what appears to be the correct trim, including a straight-8 badge but shade tree restorers might inadvertently mix and match trim so it's not as definitive as having the original sell sheet or an unrestored vehicle to compare against. Here's a sales photo of a '42 sedan [first image in Flash slideshow], correct fender line and upper trim but with an additional upper badge and no straight-8 badge. Here's another sales brochure image and a magazine ad of a '42 Streamliner, correct fender line and its upper trimline more closely resembles what we're looking for but no straight-8 badge (maybe it's a 6). But here's my favorite photo: look at this poor old rust bucket and notice the crazy knobby shape of the vertical rear bumper bars, same as on the car in marxchivist's photo. I'm pretty sure the one in marxchivist's photo is a '42 (and it's so awesome to see one mint).

Am I obsessed with old American cars? Why yes, yes I am.
posted by jamaro at 12:24 AM on June 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

As there was virtually no style change between 46 and 47 (this was when styles were implemented for two year periods) and given the colour of NC license plates for those two years, I revise my guess to a 1947 Pontiac Torpedo 4 dr
posted by Neiltupper at 12:53 AM on June 13, 2010

This seems to the (old) Randolph County courthouse in Asheboro, N.C.?

On this page detailing the history of the courthouse, you can see in modernish photos that an annex was built to the right that is absent in your photo (looks like it has since been demolished, but the photo with the 1970s cars shows it). That annex was built in 1950, if I'm reading that PDF right, so the photo is almost certainly pre-1950.
posted by maxwelton at 1:13 AM on June 13, 2010

From all that I can tell, researching both in my book, Cars of The 40's, the long sedan in the middle is a '42 (pre-war) Pontiac Streamliner, probably straight-eight because of that chrome strip running the length of the car just under the windows. This was the first year Pontiac's design continued the front fender into the front door. This doesn't date the picture, as that model was repeated in 1946, because all production stopped during the war and car makers started up continuing with the '42 models.

There's no other way to tell when the photo was taken, based on any of these cars, since they are all pre-war. (The two on the left - barely see the taillight of one - are both '40 Plymouths - city fleet cars? Who gets to park in front of the court house?) People kept their cars for a long time back then, so this four-door black sedan could be a brand new Pontiac or one that is several years old. On the other hand, it was unusual to see that many early 40's model cars once we got into the 50's, as everyone wanted to take advantage of the great economy.

I would date the picture from late 1942 to 1947-8.

Bill King
an "old" car buff
posted by dorle2you at 3:56 AM on June 13, 2010

The leftmost license plate is "5?2-999". My guess is that it is some sort of custom plate where some big county boss was able to get a "999" ending so everybody (including cops) would recognize his plates.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 4:07 AM on June 13, 2010

« Older Tutoring at university: What to expect and what is...   |   Trying to Talk to a Landlord, Episode 372 Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.