Full disclosure here: Jimmy Buffett was actually talking about a bar filled with too many dudes and not enough chicks when he wrote “Fins”.
But the sentiment could really be applied to the Detroit car style in the late 50s, and Buffett is more than old enough to remember finned cars.
The most iconic examples from the 50s are the ’57 Chevy and 1959 Cadillac, both made famous in movies, song and pop culture. The Chevy carries the biggest brand identity with the late 50s and the Caddy carries the biggest fins of the decade.
However one cannot ignore the Forward Look from Chrysler in the 50s. The entire line carried some of the most interesting cars built during an era when fins on cars were symbolic of rocket fins as the United States and USSR reached for the sky in the early stages of the space race.
The Chrysler 300 letter cars combined brute Hemi-powered force to win the race on the ground, and they were equipped with push button trannies to dial up velocity. The fins on Mopars from the late 50s have a huge following of admirers in the 21st Century.
One of the smaller manufacturers also had some of the nicest fins-Studebaker. The Studies of the late 50s were equipped with bolt-on fins as the cost-conscious manufacturer dealt with the harsh reality of cost issues.
The result was an earlier model style with an added finned look to keep Studebaker in the game with the big boys from Detroit. The idea worked very well for the “little company that could” in the 50s.
The other little car company was Rambler, and they operated under the same budget restrictions as Studebaker. Nevertheless, a Rambler also sported fins in the 50s and looked good in the process.
The Blue Oval Boys were, for the most part, understated in the fin department. Ford took a rather modest approach to fins, but they did produce a pretty big fin for the 1957 Lincoln models.
These days it would be difficult to confuse a North American car born in the back nine of the 50s with any other era of automobiles. The fins on these vehicles have never been copied on any cars since the Eisenhower administration, with the possible exception of the Sunbeam Tiger-which is automatically disqualified for being British.
Unfortunately, it has been a long time since we had fins to the left and fins to the right in any abundance on our highways. The finned look got retro in a hurry and now that style has made the cars one of the rarer finds at car shows- with the notable exception of the ‘57 Chevy.Cousins like the 58 Olds won’t get the same recognition.
They are still stamping out body shells for the ’57 Chevy in after-market heaven where there is indeed life after death for these famous cars. The same could definitely not be said for any of Detroit’s other less famous finned cars, most of them were simply reincarnated as kitchen appliances- no fins and a basic culinary function over automotive style.
A stylish and lesser-known finned survivor from the 50s will always draw plenty of attention at shows.
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