Throwback Thursday: Fins!

Sixty car model years ago (1959 for those of you who are mathematically challenged) the trend of fins on American cars reached its zenith. (Speaking of Zenith does anyone remember the radios and TVs manufactured by the company with that name? “The quality goes in before the name goes on.” They were the first company to develop High-Definition TV in North America.)



No car epitomized tail fins more than the Cadillac. These pictures are from the 2004 edition of History of the American Auto by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide®. It is not my intent to blatantly and wantonly violate copyright laws. It’s just that this page is perfect for this post. (To the book publisher: When/if I get paid for this blog let me know how much I need to compensate you. Seriously, a company that would hound me for showing part of one page from an almost 700-page book is out of its mind.) How about this photo of a car that is not a Cadillac:


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From pinterest a picture of a 1959 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. By the way, I have been informed—and am always grateful when I learn something new—that the “Custom” is just part of the name of this car.

The beginning of the “fin era” as it is now known began with the 1948 Cadillac. Whether it was Harley Earl or Frank Hershey who actually had “the light bulb” is not important, in my opinion, but little doubt exists that the fins were inspired by the twin rudders of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning aircraft.


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A Barrett-Jackson photo of a 1948 Cadillac Fleetwood Convertible with the tail fins visible. Obviously they are quite modest compared to what fins would look like a decade later. Chrysler chief designer Virgil Exner played a large role in fins becoming more popular with his “Forward Look” design.


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A Wikimedia picture of a 1959 Chrysler Windsor. Note the body line rising from front to back, which was a key element in the Forward Look design.

After 1959 fins were phased out rapidly and were “extinct” by 1963 except at Cadillac, which retained the element in its designs into the mid-1960s although in a much less obvious way. From a rear view of a 1965 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special Brougham:


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In my opinion the ’59 Cadillac tail fins are garish (almost no paradigm of excess is successful), but I like the design of many cars from that era with fins. Here is an example of such a car:


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From a picture of a 1957 Oldsmobile 98. I don’t usually like four-door cars, but this one speaks to me in part because of the look of the rear including the fins.

Would any of you like to share pictures/experiences relating to “fin cars?” (No relation to fin tech…)






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4 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Fins!

  1. Virgil Exner’s best work was with the “$100,000,000 Look” of the ‘55-‘56 Mopar line followed by the “Forward Look” ‘57-‘59s, of which the best were ’57-’58. The ‘59 restyle wasn’t very successful. With the ‘60 and even more so with the ‘61 Mopars, he had earned the sobriquet “Virgil Excess”. That monicker was fueled in no small measure by the planned “asymmetrical” ‘62 models. Upper management intervened and scrapped the asymmetrical look – but Chrysler shot itself in the foot with the premature downsizing of the ‘62 Plymouth & Dodge based on something a Chrysler executive THOUGHT he heard at a Detroit cocktail party! (He thought he heard that GM was planning to downsize their ‘62s.) Alcohol impaired hearing & thinking brought Chrysler to its knees! You just can’t make this stuff up!


    1. Harley Earl hired Exner to his first job in automotive design and, as you know, Exner worked at Studebaker before going to Chrysler. As to the story about how Chrysler made the decision to downsize its cars, real life is stranger AND more interesting than fiction. Thanks for the comments, sir.


  2. Everytime I see those tail fins, I think of Perry Mason. It’s hard to believe how big cars were back then. But back then we weren’t so worried about fuel efficiency, and global warming (the human-induced version) wasn’t being discussed yet. Fun to look at these.


    1. John Kraman, one of the hosts of Mecum Auto Auctions on NBCSN, has said the real reasons he watched Perry Mason were Barbara Hale and the cars.


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