It is a secret to nobody that car styles have changed over the years and the changes define the eras.


This unremarkable observation leads directly to this question:


What were the features that best defined the different eras?




Let’s start with the pre-war era. The strongest feature of the 20s and 30s cars was their fenders; the ones which some car show visitors believe are a kiddy slide because of their design.


The original fenders on most pre-war cars have a distinct flowing wave design that makes them very synonymous with the Capone and Dirty 30s eras. Take away the fenders and you have an early hot rod.


The 40s car designs were halted by the war effort and essentially stuck in neutral until the introduction of the ’49 models, but the fenders were flattened on the top and they were no longer useful as a kiddie slide.




They were fenders usable as a diaper changing station for the post-war baby explosion, but no longer a slide.


Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the 40s car was their unremarkable style because this era was not exactly a hotbed of creative automotive design.


However, the small tail fins on the 40s Caddies turned out to be the shape of the future.




The future was the late 50s when giant fins on cars marked the wildest era of car designed ever seen in the automotive world-then or now. Nothing has ever matched the finned car for pure creativity and nothing has ever defined an automotive era like fins on a car.




These cars were four-wheeled reflections of the early days of the space race and a jet-aged mood prevailed in Detroit. Some of them even had push button automatic transmissions to reflect the new age of supersonic speed in the skies.


The finned cars were flightless and not supersonic, but they rocketed down the freeways at pretty impressive speeds in the 50s.


The 60s were the muscle car era where big blocks put out big horsepower and made factory street wars a weekly occurrence. The cars were beefed-up sedans in most cases, along with a pony car segment thrown into the mix.




One of the most notable features of the 60s era was the fastback design. The fastback was an elongated roof design that made cars look fast while at a standstill and it was a fundamental component of the 60s automotive philosophy.




Throw a monster engine and a factory four-speed into the mix and Detroit put the fast into the fastback formula.


The 70s were a time of change in the automotive world because the sudden loss of a secure oil supply in North America meant a sudden aversion to gas-hungry muscle cars.


The appearance of the small car on the North American car scene, whether it was a Vega or Datsun, became a part of the game in the 70s.




However, the 70s will always be defined by the large cars from that era. An Arab oil embargo could not kill the appetite for the big cars in the 70s, even giant cars with anemic horsepower during that era.




Big was still beautiful in the 70s and the big cars were large and in charge.


The design of cars has changed immensely over the years and it is easy to see how they defined different eras over the generations.


The attraction of every car show is when you get to see the different car eras parked next to each other.


Jim Sutherland

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