The post-World War II revival of the European automobile industry is considered among the most dramatic success stories in modern industrial history. The most remarkable revival was in West Germany, where allied forces had destroyed almost the entire auto industry.
To get the West German car plants back on their feet significant financial aid and access to advanced production technologies were made available by the UK occupation forces.
First to shows signs of recovery were Volkswagen, who had already proved that they could make good cars, and continued to do so throughout the Fifties with the Beetle.
Among the few other West German car plants who succeeded in re-establishing themselves during the decade were Borgward, BMW, Mercedes Benz and Opel.
The French automobile industry returned from World War Two in much the same shape as before hostilities began. Despite being at the epicentre of hostilities, car factories in France did not suffer the same levels of collateral damage than those of the UK and West Germany and could get back into production quickly.
Although there were a number of small specialist car manufactures focusing on the local market, it was the "Big Three ", Renault, Peugeot and Citroen who dominated the domestic market, also taking their share of the Northern Europe market- Belgian, Holland, Austria as well as some inroads into the south of Scandinavia and Northern Spain.
The car industry in Scandinavia, virtually non-existent during the post-war years, two companies, Saab and Volvo formed only in the late Thirties so that Sweden, who remained neutral during the war could at least have the ability to produce aeroplanes and light military vehicles to protect the nation in the event of an attack from the East. ( which never transpired).Left with considerable manufacturing capacity, Saab and Volvo began to produce private cars, starting with just a single model each, designed to meet the demands of Scandinavian winters .
In Italy, Fiat continued to lead the way developing cars explicitly targeted for the mass market. Even during the austere immediate post-war years Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, to give them their full title succeeded in dominating the industry in the south of Europe thanks to winning combination of design flair, brilliant engineering and aggressive marketing, masterminded by the Agnelli family.
Largely covering the mid to upper range saloon car sector, Lancia retained their domestic market share throughout the Fifties, with their well-designed models although never really succeeding to enjoy the much needed export sales during that period.At the top end of the market Ferrari , headed by the enigmatic Enzo, made the overdue and much needed transition from producing world leading racing cars to road cars. More or less hand-produced, Ferraris were as much as in demand as they were in short supply during the Fifties.
As the Fifties was drawing to a close, against all the odds, the European car industry was already beginning to make an impact on the export markets of the World.
Leading the recovery were the West German car plants who had received significant financial aid and access to advanced production technologies, especially from the Allied forces.
All through the second half of the Fifties, the European public had money to spend, and a fair proportion of their budgets was assigned to making themselves mobile, often for the first time.
European car makers played their part in making this happen,offering cars to suit every budget and purpose. There were even a select few who could afford to " dig deep" and get their hands round the driving wheel of a luxurious Mercedes Benz, Ferrari or even Citroen's futuristic DS21.
Throughout the decade, the European car industry, especially West Germany, went from strength to strength.Unlike their counterparts over the channel, the European industry worked hard to establish and maintain proper labour relations that ran on well into the Sixties and Seventies, in stark contrast from the ongoing and ever-increasing problems that the UK industry went through.
All the history of the Great British and European cars of the Fifties and Sixties, the people that made them – as well as how to acquire, restore and maintain a classic car of your own.
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