The back nine of the 50s was an extraordinary time for style on Detroit’s finest because it was the era of the fin.
The United States and the Soviet Union had begun a space race in the late 50s and it was a time for giant rocket-powered plans to conquer the next frontier of outer space.
The need to demonstrate superiority was a white hot issue for both countries as they loaded up on nuclear weapons and heated up a Cold War. They decided to take it outside the boundaries of Earth and that was the start of the Space Age.
Detroit paid tribute to this new period of space exploration with a design plan that mimicked the futuristic game plan for rocket powered chariots into outer space. The cars began to sprout fins and the car designs got more outlandish as the 50s moved toward the 60s.
Some of the cars even featured push-button automatic transmissions to give them more of a push-a- button-ignite-a rocket-and-fly kind of image.
The fins became a prominent style choice for General Motors and Chrysler in the latter part of the 50s, driven by the impact of Mopar’s Virgil Exner-driven “Forward Look” cars and General Motors’ Harley Earl and his stable of finned warriors.
Ford also produced finned cars, but their vehicles were more subtle by comparison to their Big Three rivals. Studebaker also bought into the finned look big time in the late 50s.
The finned look faded quickly in the early 60s, although the boys from Chrysler produced a large stable of 1960 finned cars and the Chrysler Imperial kept the look for the early years of the 60s. But Virgil Exner’s dream of fins forever was crushed and he left Mopar when they went to a newer fin-less look.
Now we find ourselves in 2013 and the space race is largely an extra-terrestrial exercise to place as many satellites in earth orbit as needed to ensure every earthling has at least one cell phone. Fins are long gone, and maybe now is the time to think about them as a style feature again for cars.
There was something outlandishly appealing about fins on cars and I believe that today’s models could be morphed into a finned look that would place a unique stamp on the cars.
Car companies could design their own finned beauties that would be a signature look for their brands and make it pretty easy to identify the cars on today’s roads.
I love the old finned cars and so do a lot of people at shows because there are far fewer of these beasts on the road in 2013 and they are definitely appealing to people who remember them on the road, as well as younger car guys who are too young to remember a time when finned dinosaurs ruled the planet.
Detroit could change that reality in a heartbeat and go boldly where they have been before when it comes to fins.