When Cars Had Fins

1960 Cadillac tail fins

I was born in 1959, when fins were at their peak. From the massive vertical fins of the 59 Plymouth to the low sleek ones on the 59 Chevy, fins were everywhere in this era.

The thing about fins was that they were actually more common in my childhood years of the mid to late 60’s than the late 50’s. That’s because there were lots of late 40’s-early 50’s vintage cars on the road in 1959 whose rounded shapes were in direct contrast to the knife-edged fins that ran on either side of the trunk.

The 1960’s models saw fins shrink, but they were still there. So fins could be seen all over the highways when my mind started permanently filing things away in my memory banks about the time the Beatles stopped touring.

The Plymouth Fury was introduced in 1956. Not only did it come with some beautiful fins, it also hit 149 miles an hour at Daytona! This was one mean way to get around town.

Soon, fins were seen on Caddys, Fords, Chevies, Pontiacs, and everyone else who survived the automobile industry’s reduction years of the 50’s. The rounded look was gone, not to return until the 90’s.

My dad was partial to Plymouths. Their fins were gone by the time I started remembering individual cars about 1966. But I’m sure he must have owned finned vehicles before that. Later in life, he invested in a 1961 Caddy convertible that sat in the garage. That big monster had some nicely subdued fins. I can’t remember when he sold it, it must have happened after I left home.

1959 Plymouth

Why were fins all the rage in the late 50’s-early 60’s? It was our parents’ rebellion against growing older. The WWII generation was now approaching their thirties and forties, and we all know what that does to you. So a sleeker, jet-age car did much to stave off the thought that you were getting to the age that you remembered your parents being!

The senior statesmen amongst us Baby Boomers may well have owned the beautifully finned cars in their youth. After all, a 56 Fury was quite affordable by the time 1964 had rolled around. And if the engine was in decent shape, it was also still extremely fast!

Of course, I was just a kid. My first car, a 1966 Falcon, was far from a finned speed machine. And practically everything I owned after that was either made in Japan or Germany. So, sadly, the finned era passed my by.

But if you remember JFK, I’ll bet you also remember outrageously huge cars festooned with fins that made them look more like space ships that mere mundane automobiles.

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