– By LARRY PRINTZ

The Virginian-Pilot

I recently stumbled upon three issues of Consumer Reports’ auto ratings reports, dating from 1957 through 1959. I leafed through the 1957 issue with wonder. These cars, now considered collectible, were new then. What did Consumer Reports think of them?

Since all cars were large, the ratings were broken up by price into four groups.

Chevrolet topped the first group, low-priced cars ($2,253 to $2,631). Tagged a best buy, the Chevy 210 drew praise for its exceptional power, good fuel economy, precise handling, rattle-free body and quiet running. But CR disliked its hard ride. At the other end of the group was Studebaker; the Commander, President and Champion models were judged to be poorly built and “burdensome to drive.”

Group 2, lower medium-priced cars ($2,727 to $3,178), saw Oldsmobile’s Rocket 88 lead the ratings. Testers thought the car was well-engineered, powerful, roomy, reliable and well-built, although styling hindered the 88’s practicality. As you might have guessed, the Studebaker President, the brand’s top-of-the-line model, came in last for the same reasons as the rest of the line.

A more powerful version of the Oldsmobile, the Super 88, led group 3, upper medium-priced cars ($3,212-$3,849), for much the same reason as it led group two. At the bottom of the heap was the Packard Clipper. The once-proud brand had become little more than a Studebaker President with Packard trim and we know what the magazine thought about Studebaker.

The car Packard once competed with, the Cadillac 62, led Consumer Reports’ high-priced car group ($4,054-$5,614). Its quiet cabin, build quality and high resale value earned the rating, but testers found the Lincoln Capri’s handling and performance superior, while the Chrysler Imperial had a better ride. The Buick Roadmaster came in last in this group, mainly because of its overly soft ride and indifferent build quality.

Interestingly, there’s also an article on foreign sports cars, of which the magazine said that “most cost less than a Cadillac. They’re half the size and twice the fun.” While Consumer Reports made no recommendations, there was a photo of the Jaguar XK 140.

In some ways, this magazine proves the old saying about antique cars: What’s popular new will be popular when it turns old.