The first thing I noticed was that groups of 8 cards all share the same color block, although some blocks take up the entire span of the card top. The above sheets shows the first 8 cards in the set. This pattern continues until we hit #80. The full sequence of 8 card "color blocks" runs Blue, Yellow, Pink, Green, Red, Blue, Yellow, Pink, Green, Red. Perfection! Even the lone card with a full bleed color block, # 49, which depicts the Long Island Automotive Museum, has a hint of yellow on it's upper left border. This makes sense, it was printed amidst a run of yellow:
After #80 we get matched pairs. Here is a sheet running from #81-88:
Does this mean yhe first series ended at #80 and not #100 as most guides suggest? Quite possible I think but it's not an iron clad case as Topps was using 100 card half sheets in the time frame this series was printed.
Pink makes its first appearance starting at #85 by the way. I won't show every iteration but we then get a group of four blues, four more pairs, then four pinks, ending at #104. Then there are groups of the familiar 8 in yellow and blue, bring us to #120. Three groups of four follow (ending at #132, followed by 12 reds! Those are probably a group of 4 and and then an 8 but who knows? Groups of four then alternate again until we land at #160, generally considered to be the end of the second series. Remember, each group of 2, 4, 8 or 12 runs consecutively in an odd,even pattern when the colors are matched up. Then we get to #161, which features ten 1954 models:
Missing, one-sorry (it's a 1954 Hudson). The colors now run out of sequence. There are five matched pairs in the series (yellow, pink, blue,, green and red) but they are not consecutive and exhibit randomness. This group of ten is far more difficult than the prior 160 cards and the pricing is higher by a factor of about 15 to 20! So they were either deliberately short printed or tacked on at the end of a run. Either way, they are tough. Plus they have a whole new style of caption, a sort of Deco looking font.
The fonts in the set are organized in a logical way and there are three of them used in the entire set. Here is the Old Time font used for any vehicle from 1920 or earlier:
Newer models had a font that is now called, fittingly, Bazooka:
While this Nash font shows the Deco look:
Note the small font underneath identifying it as a 1953 make. A couple of 53's don't have the year shown in front for some reason but all of them that do have the little 1953. 1954 brings a new look for the new models, prominently showing the 1954 model year in the main caption, at least for US and UK makes:
Foreign makes, other than the lone example from the UK ( Bristol) all feature small, three wheeled cars but totaling only two in the run, get a Bazooka font for their 1954 style caption:
While all 1955 models, which appear in yet another run of ten difficult cards, get the Deco treatment as well:
The end of the set again arrays in five colors with unmatched pairs. I am missing a few but nine of these are US models, with a total of five makes from 1955 plus another three-wheeler thrown into the mix:
The big story with the cards from #171 to 180 though is on the backs, although there is another oddity as well. Here is #176, an austere looking Chrysler from '55 (not sure if that is red, or orange which would have been a new color):
The back looks fairly normal but red backs in the last series are ridiculously tough and priced at a ratio of something like 30-1, if not more. That's because there are, for some bizarre reason, more "common" blue backs:
These are easier than the cards from #161-170, or so the conventional hobby wisdom goes. Note the gap to the left and right of the blue bar at the top of the back. every card from #1-170 has full bleeds to the left and right edges; the cards from #171-180 do not and it suggests they were printed separately. The blue color for the end of the run has not been explained anywhere I have looked.
The red back also lacks the full bleed:
There is one other thing....while that Chrysler red back above has a full bleed front color panel, it may be miscut. I only have the one red back super-high so can't quite resolve it, since it's possible the reds bleed to the edge (can;t find enough examples to tell) but the blues all have a sliver of white off to the cut edge of the color block:
This too suggests a different print run as the first 170 cards all have full bleed to the side and top of the front color block. As we have seen with the 1953 and 1954 baseball cards, Topps would match colors when printing cards in this fashion in a"pivot point" grouping of four. The white border certainly does not seem to suggest the final ten cards were printed like the previous 170.
So what does it all mean? Well, we have the late December of 1953 contest expiry on an insert that came in the five cent packs and given the long lead time Topps had on their dated inserts, late spring of '53 is certainly a possibility for the first series. The 1954 models are more vexing; did they come out with a second series in late 1953 or were they a true 1954 issue added on to a second run of the second series, or even a delayed run that only came out in '54? And don't even get me going on the super high's! Plus there is an old hobby publication referenced by Chris Benjamin in his 1930-60 Guide that stated Topps added 20 cards to the set in 1956!
I think I will ponder this a bit more, there are still the full width bleeds to think about. Those may have something to do with speed.