Research help needed: subculture and cars of the '50's...

I’m in need of subject matter experts: specifically, knowledge of the “greaser” subculture as it stood in the mid to late '50’s, and of the cars of the era (or earlier; late 40’s to early '50’s). Google has been spectacularly unhelpful in helping me with the former and can’t really help my questions with the latter.

You can either PM me if you feel you know enough about one or the other or both to answer my questions, or express interest in discussing in this thread; either way.

Thanks in advance to anyone/everyone who answers!

You may have better luck looking for information about the Hot Rod culture.

For which? Both? :slight_smile:

I think the Hot Rod culture was the start of the Greaser culture, so mainly that. Early Hot Rods were made from early used cars and created a generational break. The owners of the early mass produced cars were like the adults who began purchasing PCs in the 80s and 90s. The Hot Rodders were like their kids who grew up with computers and are now the computer builders. I’m no expert on the matter, but I think Greasers were more of an urban phenomenon, part of that broader culture of people who customized cars instead of just buying them. The Stock Car culture is supposed to have developed out of the moonshiners in the southern states in a more rural environment. They live on today as NASCAR while the Hot Rodders legacy is drag racing in the IHRA (International Hot Rodders Association) and the custom car culture (see Ed Roth).

Good luck with your project, it should be fun. I hope you have a garage, you won’t be able resist.

Too bad my dad and my uncle are gone. They were both self-described greasers. That’s how they met, over cars. They, along with their buddies, would drive out to the country, buy a few jalopies between them and soup them up. Then they’d show and race them down University Ave in St. Paul. Somewhere around here I have a picture of my mom leaning up against a car her brother (said uncle) did up with lovely cheetah print upholstery, circa 1954.


“duckbill” haircut first pic

Movie “Grease” (referenced above)

Tight white T-shirts with a pack of cigs tucked up under the left arm

cigs were “cancer sticks”

the nasty “hoodlums” (from whence “hoods”) carried switchblades

Poodle skirts

Greasers were not the type you took home to meet the folks - they were vaguely (or explicitly) violent.

On “Happy Days”, if you see a very early episode, the original Fonzi was a dangerous character who made Mrs. C visibly nervous.

Fonzi’s leather jacket was the mark of a hoodlum, as was his motorcycle. and hair.

Rebel Without a Cause has a good depiction of the bad boys and girls

Others seem to think the term was limited to hot rodders - I was a kid, but remember them as a distinct sub-class who lived on the wrong side of the tracks.

wiki stands with me

Please expand on this (especially since Wikipedia’s article is kind of sparse). To what extent do the two types “cross over” (i.e. how are they like each other? Do the qualities and interests of one type often get reflected in the other?)?

What highlights should I take out of Rebel Without a Cause? (I’ve never seen the film, and while I should probably seek it out and watch it as a classic film, I’m not sure I’ll be able to.)

Speaking of Rebel, check out the biopic James Dean: Race with Destiny for the scenes in which the studio hires greasers tor the cast to study.

Early hot rods were made mostly out of 1930s cars, which is one reason so few surviving 30s cars are stock.

I’d say that the Greaser sub-culture expanded beyond the aspect of customizing and souping up cars to a social culture as well. Ducktails and leather jackets are an example of the non-car related social aspects.

By the time I was in high school in the 70s there was still a Greaser sub-culture, distinct from the Jocks, Rah-rahs, Freaks (drugs and Rock and Roll), and Straights (nerds, geeks, and dull people), but their interest in cars was the primary distinquishing feature.

The period in The Outsiders is a bit later but also relevant due to the interactions between the Greasers and the higher-class Socs.

My impression is that most of the early hot rods were made from cars found at the junk yard that wouldn’t have been preserved anyway. But many of the modern recreations of early hot rods have taken up the few remaining stock parts.

Or are fabricated from the ground up by the likes of Boyd Coddington.

Book or film? Or does it not make a difference?

Great stuff so far, though! (Though this does point up a reason I kinda dislike not having physical video stores around; I’m not sure how to get a hold of the films mentioned here temporarily, and I already have a Blockbuster card, while I don’t have a Netflix subscription.) Keep it up, especially anyone who has the car expertise I mentioned!

It’s been a while since I saw the film but I recall it followed the book pretty well. The book would probably be better for the greater detail.

Although you’ve asked specifically about cars and the Greaser connections with them, it would be more instructive, I believe, to include the biker culture of the earlier '50’s which led into the cars of the mid-50’s. The Wild One (1953) specifically.

Other movies which helped to establish the overall decay in juvenile attitudes would include Blackboard Jungle (1955) and others already mentioned upthread.

Regarding hot rods of the era, some episodes of Car Crazy should be of interest. The Tommy Sparks episode, for example.

I think he’s in the same category as Ed Roth, a car designer on top of being a builder and customizer.

Check out Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.