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The Parking Lot Series: Torrance, California

Today’s circa 1959 image takes us to a parking lot at an unknown location in Torrance, California. Parked here is a mix of domestic and imported cars and trucks, the earliest dating back to the late-1940s and the newest vehicles appear to date from 1959 to possibly 1960.

The parking facility apparently is located in front of a shopping plaza containing a Sears store as an Allstate car care center can be seen at the far side of the lot with a series of gasoline pumps out in front of the building.

Tell us what you find of interest in this photograph courtesy of the Huntington Library.

43 responses to “The Parking Lot Series: Torrance, California

  1. I think I spot a ’60 Ford wagon a couple rows back, and most likely a ’60 Mercury a few rows behind it. I’d guess this picture is from 1959, considering that most of the cars seem to date from 1958 and back.

  2. The newest car I see is a `60 Falcon at the far left in the main photo, also in addition to the usual Beetle there is a TR3 by the light pole up front and way way in the back by the gas pumps? appears to be a 2 seat T-Bird. Its interesting that based on recent auction results the most valuable car here might be the Bianchina convertible front and center by the pickup and `58 Ford.

    • And just to the left of that white VW is what appears to be (drumroll) a Renault Dauphine (yay!) but… what is that car just beyond the VW.? The rounded roofline with the full length canvas roof suggests Fiat but the long hood throws me.

  3. What a changes a few years will make. At this time very few foreign cars are represented. (I only see the Renault convertible.) In about 10 years how the mix will change! At one time most shopping centers and free standing Sears stores around here all had gas pumps and repair bays. Most were even selling Italian produced and designed motorcycles made by Puch and sold under the Allstate Brand. Honda would establish their dominance of the two wheel world in the next few years as Harley-Davidson tried to sell obsolete designs, poorly built and expensive North American made cycles including a line of small displacement bikes that were rebranded Aermacchis made in Italy and sold as Harley-Davidsons owing to a partnership with the Italian Company. Like the big Harleys, obsolete designs and poor manufacturing kept them from ever reaching any level of success.

    • Meanwhile Monkey Wards was selling Italian Benellis badged as Riversides, my first bike. Actually reasonably handsome for the time altho I may be biased there.

  4. Haha,… remember, back in the days cartoonists would make fun of the little imported cars that would fit in the trunk of an average American car… The total height of the tiny Autobianchi matches exactly the same level as the bonnet of the Ford truck next to it. The Ford (with a homemade camper conversion?) can eat the dwarfed micro-car for breakfast and swallow it with one bite!

    Newest car appears to be a 1960 Ford Wagon. Also, I think I can see the tail and windshield of an XK 120 Jaguar?

  5. Center of the lead photograph is am early METROPOLITAN and just forward of it slightly to the right is a 1960 FORD beach-wagon. Just behind the METROPOLITAN, and bit to the left, is a 1953 BUICK.

    • The METROPOLITAN looks like it ‘s a 1956 to ’58 model as the lower part of the vehicle looks like it is painted white and there is no side-vent window [as these were added in 1959].

  6. In the lead image, right in front, is that a German Goggomobile? It sure makes today’s Mini look spacious! One row over I spot a `60 Ford wagon–either Ranch or Country Sedan; one of the two. Next to it is a `56 Star Chief Custom Catalina. 4-5 rows beyond, a `60 Chevy 4dr. wagon as well as at least two `59 Plymouth wagons in the mix.
    (It would be fun to be given a set of keys, and 5 minutes to find the car they fit. If you win, you keep the car!!)

    • That rear trunk certainly looks like an Autobianchi; I don’t recall any Goggomobils with rear air vents. The Autobianchi had those because it was a Fiat 500 with a different body, using a rear-mounted two-cylinder engine.

      It could be either a Cabriolet (no B pillar, regular doors) or a Transformabile (B pillar, suicide doors). I can’t make out enough detail from that angle to tell which it is, but the Transformabile is more likely, since it entered the market in ’58 and the Cabriolet in ’60.

    • Indeed a Bianchina trasformobile,there was no truth in in the rumour that it came free in a corn flakes packet.Reliable mechanicals and an eyewatering price.If you Google it you get a California car come up//pale blue now..?

  7. I found one of the little Autobianchi’s at a local foreign car repair center here in Kailua-Kona the other day ! What a neat little car.. the one here is fully restored, but I admit I had to “look ’em up” to learn about them. There is also what looks like an old Triumph TR series just above and to the right a bit over the Autobianchi. Super pic of lots of very neat, desirable old cars ! Love that black 55 or 56 “plain” ( not a Crown) Victoria back in the group.

  8. Not for nothin,’ but what nice size parking spaces. For cars as large as they got by the late fifties, there’s still plenty of room for getting in and out without a door ding. Conversely, on the other sid e of the country, I’ve often wondered how these big, wide cars sped around NY’s narrow Hutchinson River Parkway without playing bumper cars. I was there, in my parents 60 Bonneville, but too young to visualize it now…

  9. This is at the Del Amo shopping center before it became a Mall. Auto center is still there on the south side off of Sepulveda …

    • They weren’t really needed for vehicles that were going on two-lane roads (one in each direction) because there wouldn’t be anyone to your right unless you were making a pass, in which case you already knew they were there. Technically, they’re still not required. As long as the interior mirror gives a field of view of 20 degrees and can see the surface of the road from 61 meters (~200 feet) behind the vehicle to the horizon, a passenger-side mirror is optional. They’re governed by Federal regulation 49 CFR 571.111; for passenger vehicles, section S5 is the most relevant portion of the regulation.

    • The truck is not the only one without a right side mirror. I can find only one on all the cars as well. I don’t know about other makes, but into the 1960s, the left side mirror was still an option on IH pickups.

      Times have changed.

      • This truck “had” a right side mirror, the base is still visible on the door. With the extra width of the camper body it would have been a necessity for backing in anywhere.
        Brian in Ontario CANADA

  10. I like the 1958 Chevrolet Impala top left and the c. 1953 Lincoln Capri left front. My 1952 Capri was a great car and advertised as having a 100,000 mile engine, which was true since I bought it at that mileage.

  11. Center of the second close up is the back of a Chevy 5 window pickup and on the far side is another early 50’s Chev pickup.

  12. Corner of Sepulveda and Hawthorn Blvds. We lived just a couple miles away. As I recall there was also a Buffums dept store in tgat shopping center. I remember that in those days Sears Chraftsman tools included a selection of Whitworth as well as SAE and metric standards, to accommodate the surging plopularity of imported cars.

  13. I believe this to be the east side of the Del Amo mall: its roughly across from the Toy World store my dad managed. It’s so strange to see an unexpected memory from my childhood!

  14. This is the Del Amo Shopping Center open air mall, which started with a groundbreaking ceremony in December 1957. Officially beginning operations in February 1959 when the “Broadway” department store opened, Sears opened later that year, and J. C. Penny in 1961. After linking up with the Del Amo Fashion Center across the street, from November 1981 until August 1992 it was the largest mall in the United States.

    A bird’s eye view of the location can be seen at the following link (replace the instances of the word “dot” with a period symbol). The Allstate service center building can be seen in this photo

    blogs dot dailybreeze dot com/history/2011/12/08/marriage-of-the-malls/

  15. The oldest car I see may be a 1946-48 Chevrolet Fleetmaster behind the 1960 Ford wagon. Today, I see a lot of 15+ year-old cars on the road but not in this picture. A testament to how much better cars are today than in the “good ole days”.

  16. Been hanging around and loving cars for many years.
    Midwest boy for a little over 50 yrs. Now in CO and
    love it. Not big on West Coast cars, so am asking if
    someone here can tell me what a “Bianchina” is?
    Seems to be pretty well known to a lot of contribu-
    tors here. Completely unfamiliar to me. Thanks

    • “The Autobianchi Bianchina is a minicar produced by the Italian automaker Autobianchi, based on the Fiat 500. It was available in various configurations: Berlina (saloon), Cabriolet (roadster), Trasformabile (convertible), Panoramica (station wagon), and Furgoncino (van). The car was presented to the public on 16 September 1957 at the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan.”

      You can find a lot more info on Wikipedia which is where I grabbed the paragraph above from after I searched for “Bianchina.”

  17. What is noticeable are the number of Rambler station wagons, indicative of their popularity. Significant also are the absence of Studebakers, Packards, Hudsons and Nashes only a few years after their demise.

  18. Granville Pool makes reference above to Buffums.
    Wonder if anyone might have a picture of one of
    their stores? The only connection I have to that
    name in So. California is with a history of “The
    LA Times” Norman Chandler married to Dorothy
    Buffum. Would assume it is the same family.

    • Go to Google Books, and then search for “Buffum Store,” and you should get quite a few results. The second entry I saw was “Long Beach Art Deco – Page 12” which had four photos of one of their stores. One of the photos shows they sold automobile tires, accessories, etc.

  19. I see a ’53 or ’54 Ford coupe-yes I said coupe, not a sedan! Also absolutely love those ’57 Chevy “150’s”, they are so much better lookin than the gaudy Bel Airs.

  20. Hi Ace – Thanks for your info on the Bianchina. I’m not
    a total idiot, just old and never think about Wikipedia to
    answer my questions. Your time and trouble are greatly
    appreciated. Another thing I like about this site. Jim H.

  21. The first thing I noticed was how much care people took when parking their cars. Evidently they cared a lot more for their cars or were more considerate of those around them. I spent a great deal of my parents money on many trips to Del Amo.

  22. I see a great row of interesting tiny cars lined up right down the center of the photograph. Past the Autobianchi is what appears to be an MGA. Further back is the cute Metropolitan and beyond, next to the ’57 Ford is what I would guess is a Triumph?

  23. The Ford Pickup with the “Camper” was near the beginning of the “Pickup with camper craze”, beginning with home-mades, it “caught on” with small factories making the campers for hunters, fishermen and Construction Worker’s tools security. Then came the Cab- overs, and all of a sudden — 3/4 ton Pickups became popular again to minimize the sway and carry the vacation load of a family, no such thing as seat belts , just lectures for the kids in back! Then, came a “boot” to the cab, then came a longer camper beyond the tail gate , then came 8 foot beds, overload springs, etc., as campers became More popular, then came the one Ton chassis , no bed, duallies, and frame mounted camper. Highway 395 (fishermen) was full of 1/2 ton V-8 Ford cab- overs on “opening day” in 1956 — and this eventually led to Fewer “farmer” beds and full sized beds to accommodate all of the new camper styles in years to come , including today’s expandable Bus sized Diesel powered Motor Homes, and elite camping grounds —an escalation that was/is way beyond the original intent ! Something for everyone, but the enhanced cab- over was always my favorite. Edwin W.

  24. Buffum’s Dept. Stores was a joy to shop and yes it was founded by Dorothy Buffum (and family). It was a significant high end regional chain.

    Plenty of knowledgeable staff, top quality products, not too overwhelming to shop and browse, and very courteous help throughout. They had a flagship store in Santa Monica, then expanded to Ladera Heights (west edge of Inglewood near growing newer homes area of Fox Hills), then the big store in Del Amo Center, Torrance. I believe they did have one in the gigantic South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. The last one I knew of was in Westminster Mall (north coastal Orange County) to serve booming Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Seal Beach and Westminster. Stores were sold eventually and many re-activated by May Co. another major local historic So. Cal. quality dept. store chain. Buffums smartly stayed out of expanding into automotive, optical, electronics, major appliances, hardware/tools, food sercvices, photography portraiture, and other extensions. They were not a discounter operation. Employees liked working at the stores.

    The pressure on all department stores has been continuously intense for decades to be competitive and still provide service and plenty of quality inventory (all difficult vs. shopping at home via the Internet now). The only major chain on West Coast offering similar traditional superb custmer personal service is Nordstrom. Based in Seattle, but has several high end stores in major cities. They concentrate on upper middle class to very high end market customers. They currently have several locations in So Cal area of Orange County: Huntington Beach, Irvine, South Coast Plaza (Costa Mesa), and Newport Beach. All are completely comfortable and peaceful shopping experience locations including valet car parking at the door and optional shopper concierge service. They also have a chain of self serve Nordstrom Rack stores (some actual quality clearance items, not a ton of imported junk). They seem to truly believe “Customer is King”.

    They seem to be surviving nicely with their intense focus on quality products and quality, personal attention to service. Let’s hope they survive and prosper.

    The big Sears store in Del Amo, Torrance was a major retailer in its heyday. I believe it is still surviving, even under the recent wave of closures by Sears Holdings. Let’s not forget their nation wide contributions to our Automotive needs for daily drivers and our DIY needs with services and quality products including Craftsmen Tools (sold off last year, but still going strong). Their history is truly deep in our great country. They continue to have excellent in-home shopping via their web site and excellent shipping and pickup options. The variety of interesting cars in the Sears Del Amo parking lot is fascinating and quite representative of our suburban culture in those fast growth days.

  25. It appears photo is Sears automotive store at Torrance Blvd. and Sepulveda with rising hill of Palos Verdes in background.
    Sears Buildings are still there and being used for automotive service by Sears.
    The whole open lot to the left is now a Target store and parking lot.
    Super black and whit photo of the day!

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