Impractical Now, Easy in the 1950s: Americans Traveling to Europe With Their Own Cars
Flashback to the times before Covid: if you were an American visiting Europe, or a European tourist going to the US, chances are you did not travel by ship.
Well, that’s what airplanes were invented for, right? To allow for faster travel. To give people the exhilarating experience of being crammed, with as many others as possible, into a metal tube densely filled with no-legroom seats. Every inch of space on an aircraft has a price. You want more, you pay more.
So, when you find out how glamorous traveling on an ocean liner was in the 1950s, it’s hard not to be jealous.
Keep in mind that it’s not a cruise ship on which you spend your vacation. Rather than that, it’s a ocean liner, a way of getting from A to B (assuming A and B are on the opposite sides of the Atlantic). It does what today’s airplanes do. It’s just classier.
Ocean liners (most of them) went the way of the dinosaurs somewhere around the 1960s. They lost to jet airplanes. By the way, everybody believed — back then — that supersonic airliners would soon become the new normal. At that time, the world seemed to be conquered — people reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench, they went to space, soon they were about to land on the Moon. It was perfectly reasonable to think that by the year 2020, we would have colonies on Mars and holiday resorts on the Moon.
Anyway, there’s something about the way Americans experienced Europe in the 1950s and early 1960s that’s gone with the death of ocean liners:
They brought their own cars.
Wait, don’t people still do it when relocating (for a longer period of time or permanently) to Europe? As it turns out, they do, but not that often. You’d need to make arrangements to ship the car, wait maybe 2 weeks for it to be delivered, and you may come to the conclusion that a locally bought car will save you problems in the long run. So it’s not such a default choice.
And no one does it when going for a short time trip to Europe — well, maybe rich people paying for car transport by air.
But the way ocean liners operated in the 1950s and 1960s encouraged people to take their cars with them.
In the early summer of 1966, the whole family went off to Switzerland. Since I thought that ship travel would soon be a thing of the past, I had booked travel on the SS United States from New York to LeHavre, France. We also took along our “small” car, a green two-door Studebaker that I had been using to go back and forth to the office. The car was loaded on the ship — at no extra cost — and when we arrived in LeHavre, the car was down on the dock, ready to drive off before we all disembarked…
That’s from the memoirs of Professor Herbert Freeman, but there is a website¹ where you can find many more stories like this:
After a time we came to the shores of Ireland, on to England, and finally France where we disembarked and reunited with my father who was waiting for us. Our car, a 1957 Pontiac, had came over with us and after we drove to Paris where within a day or two of that incredible experience I found myself on top of the Eiffel Tower.
The occasion was the military transfer of my father, a US Marine officer, to London for duty there for two years. My father, mother, younger brother and I were in adjoining staterooms and our family car also traveled with us in the hold. (…) When we docked at Southampton we went ashore and had to wait for our car to be unloaded. It was soon swinging in the air from a loading boom and being lowered to its owners.
I have two other photos from 1955 taken on the upper deck of SS America during a voyage from USA to Europe (Le Havre or Bremerhaven). These passengers toured Europe that year in their large Cadillac automobile. I was wondering if their car might have traveled with them on this cruise liner.
Let’s not forget that these ships were fast. Not airplane fast, of course, but fast. The SS United States, on her first voyage, crossed the pond in three and a half days, with average speed of 41 mph; it became 35 mph in later years. It’s as if somebody had built a road bridge over the Atlantic (and then demolished it, as today’s car-carrying ships don’t come close to these speeds).
Driving around a foreign country in your own car is definitely a different experience than just renting a vehicle abroad. It’s too bad that, if you want to take your car with you, the Atlantic seems to be a bigger barrier today than 60 years ago.
No matter what Europeans may have thought of overized, fin-tailed Cadillacs rolling on narrow European roads.
This article previously published on Steemit.